Friday, December 24, 2010

McCloskey Week: The Messenger

The message of Deirdre McCloskey's mammoth Bourgeois Cycle -- in The Bourgeois Virtues and Bourgeois Dignity -- is that good old bourgeois culture and ideas are a mammoth blessing on humankind. Whatever middle-class people say about middle-class prudence, the bourgeoisie is not a One Big Thing class. It practices all the virtues, devoted to the sacred as well as the profane. And it is the triumph of bourgeois dignity, the success of innovation and the good old college try--over aristocratic pride and peasant doggedness--that has elevated humankind from a perilous life consuming $3 per day to the present US consumption rate of $120 per day, a change that has particularly benefited the poor.

Back to start: Conservatism's Big Problem.

But what about the messenger? Deirdre McCloskey is perhaps more interesting than her message, for Deirdre McCloskey started out life in 1942 as Donald. Only in the 1990s did s/he take the plunge and decide to become a woman.

Thus we have the most unapologetic apology for the bourgeois culture and capitalism being written by a transsexual. The conservative heroine of our time is a GLBT chappie or chappette.

And not just that. McCloskey is a multi-disciplinary writer, an economist, expert in economics and economic history who is also well-read in philosophy and literature and culture. On top of that, she affects a girlish style that no woman-writer-wanting-to-be-taken-as-seriously-as-a-man would ever dare to essay.

In my view, we conservatives have needed a Deirdre McCloskey for decades. We have needed a serious political philosopher that knew the foundations of the grand western project but also knew all the ins and outs of recent cultural thought, the modernisms and post-modernisms that leaves most conservatives non-plussed and resentful.

The great question of the coming years is what comes after the century of big government and the centralized administrative state. Its ruling class has been, in McCloskey's words, the post-1848 clerisy, the cultural and intellectual movement that appeared on the radar in the revolutions of 1848 and has dominated culture and politics ever since. Our task is to delegitimize this cruel, corrupt, unjust, wasteful and deluded movement and substitute something else in its place. We cannot do this without thinkers that "know the best that has been said and thought in the world" in the words of Matthew Arnold, and are not afraid to shout it from the mountain-top.

Something tells me that the utterly shameless Deirdre McCloskey is just what the world has been waiting for. God does indeed play dice, and He does indeed like a cosmic joke. So the idea that the conservative future should be midwifed by a flaming transsexual girlishly arguing for a return to the virtues and a celebration of bourgeois culture and dignity is so crazy that it must be right.

And Deirdre McCloskey has only just begun. Volume three of the Bourgeois Cycle is already written, and three more volumes are planned.

McCloskey calls her books "The Bourgeois Era," but I think she is mistaken. Her project is of Wagnerian scope, and her bourgeois project is just as over-the-top as the Ring Cycle. So, for me, her bourgeois project is nothing less than "McCloskey's Bourgeois Cycle."

Next: Big Fact vs. Big Mistake.

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