Tuesday, May 24, 2016

McCloskey Again: 787 Pages For What?

The third volume of Deirdre McCloskey's Bourgeois Trilogy is out, Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World, all 787 pages of it.

And I am left wondering: what exactly is new in the third volume that had not been thoroughly thrashed out in the first two volumes, The Bourgeois Virtues and Bourgeois Dignity?

So I went back through my McCloskey Week blogs of 2010 to see what I had understood from reading the first two volumes.

OK, so the first volume was all about The Bourgeois Virtues, that, whatever the bourgeoisie says, it is not a Prudence Only operation, but a culture that embraces all the virtues, the four classical virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Courage, and the three Christian virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love.

There is a lot of stuff in Bourgeois Equality about the limitations of Prudence Only, and a restatement of the need for all the virtues. Frequently.

The second volume was Bourgeois Dignity. Here McCloskey pointed out that the rise of the bourgeoisie coincided with the upvaluing of the middle class and the things that it did.
People stopped sneering at market innovativeness and other bourgeois virtues exercised far from the traditional places of honor [in religion, politics, and war].
Instead people started to approve of innovation, at least until the clerisy started to badmouth it. And so we got the Great Enrichment of the last 200 years from $3 per day per person to $100 per day per person, and more.

So what is left to say in Volume Three, Bourgeois Equality? I think what is left is to lay down a thundering World War I artillery barrage to assert without limit that McCloskey's ideas about the rise of bourgeois virtue and bourgeois dignity are right and everyone else's ideas about accumulation, about technology, about science, about capital markets, is wrong.

What is new is that McCloskey has come up with a new catchphrase to replace "capitalism," which has been a leftist pejorative at least since 1848. She calls our current way of life "trade-tested betterment." She means by that bourgeois entrepreneurs coming up with innovative ideas for betterment, such as, oh, smartphones, and then submitting them to the test of the market.

The villains of Bourgeois Equality are the people of the "clerisy." But the clerisy were marked out already in The Bourgeois Virtues, as the "opinion makers and opinion takers... readers of The New York Times...  book readers... My people. Like me."

So I guess that explains the gratuitous swipes at conservatives as equally to blame for standing in the way of "trade tested betterment" as the post-1848 clerisy. You gotta throw some red meat out to the lefty intelligentsia or they won't read to the end.

But does it work? The New York Times reviewed The Bourgeois Virtues, damning it with faint praise. But Bourgeois Dignity didn't rate a review. However, The Wall Street Journal gave McCloskey a chance to write up Bourgeois Equality last weekend, so that's all right.

I get an eerie feeling, reading Bourgeois Equality, because McCloskey seems to have read the same books that I have. She's all over the Dutch for inventing the modern economy; she's all over the Dutch invasion of Britain in 1688. She takes a strong line against Karl Polanyi and his Great Transformation. She admits coming late to Willa Cather, as I did, and she's dipped into Charles Taylor, as I have.

But she seems to miss out on Hegel. Hey kids. I am talking about Hegel's Master and Slave (Herr und Knecht) thingy from his Phenomenology of Spirit, which I am reading from Alexandre Kojève's Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. The big point of the Master and Slave thingy, in my view, is the valorizing of work. The Master, according to Hegel, who wins the Fight to the Death, appropriates the work of the Slave, and lives a life of leisure. But the Slave, forced to work for the Master, learns to transform the world by his work, transforms what is given, and transcends himself and learns about personal autonomy. In other words, the Slave, through his work for another, learns to value freedom and autonomy and learns how to transform the world by his work. He is on the way to becoming a true bourgeois.

Of course, in the real world, men go to work not because they lost the Fight to the Death with the Master but because, as Willa Cather writes in The Professor's House, when a man is "very much in love and must marry at once" he needs a job. It is not the Master that enslaves him and puts him to work but his love for Lillian.

There is not a word of this in McCloskey, and this is a scandal. How is it that I, a mere racist, sexist, bigoted homophobe conservative, can find out that every serious lefty is supposed to have read Kojève and that I should too so that I can understand the mind of the left and at this very moment am reading it faithfully and learning it and inwardly digesting it while shooting star McCloskey completely missed out on it?

I guess it is back to the drawing boards for McCloskey, to get started on Volume Four.

Meanwhile, I am coming up to the last section of Bourgeois Equality and hoping that it will be a Battle of Kursk barrage on the "clerisy." But who knows?

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