Bourgeois Culture Isn’t Coming Back

 

Two law professors, Amy Wax and Larry Alexander, recently stirred up some excitement when they published an op-ed arguing that America should return to bourgeois values. The position they presented was thoroughly conventional on the right, having been reiterated over the decades by Irving Kristol, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Charles Murray, R.R. Reno, and many more. Naturally then, the liberal legal establishment went nuts, denouncing Wax and Alexander as racist xenophobes. A movement was started to take away Wax’s 1L course (because it’s really not fair to force entry-level law students to take classes from a racist xenophobe). It was exactly the sort of silliness we’ve come to expect from liberal academia.

Very little of substance was said by either side in the ensuing debate, with the left mostly repeating, “This is all very offensive,” and the right mostly repeating, “You are emotional and intolerant.” I don’t think the op-ed was offensive, and I agree that the left is emotional and intolerant. Nonetheless, I’m beginning to think that this particular piece of conventional (conservative) wisdom may have passed its sell-by date. It was good advice for someone, somewhere, but it may not apply to our particular time and place, for reasons that this incident itself helps to illustrate.

Whether it’s “protect the guardrails” or “preach what you practice” or “restore bourgeois values,” there is an underlying premise to this argument that may just be incorrect. We are presuming that most Americans (but particularly the prosperous and influential liberals whose behavior we most hope to influence) still share a substantive moral outlook of a sort that could ground healthy cultural mores. Here is what Wax and Alexander’s description of the sort of “guardrails” they would like to see rebuilt:

Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

That all sounds very nice, but what sort of moral outlook grounded those norms in the period they remember so fondly? First and most important, there was widespread deference to a broadly Judeo-Christian and traditional morality. That supplied the basis for all kinds of derivative social and moral precepts, spelling out the obligations one had as a spouse and a worker and a citizen. Second, the hardships of the earlier 20th century (the Great Depression and the World Wars) instilled a sobriety and discipline in American culture, which helped bolster all those good, Franklin-esque bourgeois values. Prudent advice about working hard and saving money is much easier to sell when a society has fresh, painful memories of experienced hardship. Third, there was still a pretty strong sense of ethno-cultural solidarity among Americans … but especially white Americans.

The importance of this third item (historically) is hard to evaluate. Both the alt-right and the left are inclined to think it very important, while I am sure Alexander and Wax would dismiss it as trivial and very much dispensable. I used to agree with them, but of late I am more uncertain. That is, I very definitely do not wish to help forge an ethno-national sub-culture (and neither do Alexander and Wax!), but I worry that it may have been a more important factor than I previously believed in the rosily-remembered mid-century, and that there may actually be a non-trivial connection between collapse of a common bourgeois culture and the decline in racism. In any event, it would be interesting to see more liberals argue that case intelligently, instead of flinging accusations.

However we rank these three “sources of solidarity,” it’s clear that they’ve all declined dramatically since the mid-20th century. Liberals are offended (perhaps rightly) by the ethno-nationalism, but they’re scarcely less offended by traditional morals, and the foundation of shared hardship is simply a thing of the past. It’s fine to rhapsodize about a common culture with shared bourgeois values, but what if we just don’t have the necessary components anymore? We can’t expect liberals to preach things that they just don’t believe.

A defender of the bourgeois-values camp might object: Are we really sure that affluent liberals don’t have the appropriate beliefs? After all, their on-the-ground lifestyles look pretty bourgeois. What Robert Putnam calls “neo-traditional” marriage (contracted among affluent professionals who establish themselves professionally before marrying, then devote enormous energies to their offspring), is nearly as stable as the “Ozzie and Harriet” model of the 1950s. Affluent liberals love safety, security, and decency in their “safe space” neighborhoods and campuses and workplaces. Why can’t they preach the relevant values to the masses? In the eyes of someone like Charles Murray, affluent liberals just look like hypocrites, nominally holding to a more libertine and subversive moral outlook even as they hoard the goods of bourgeois living for themselves.

I think this view fundamentally misunderstands the ethos of America’s prosperous classes. It’s not really right to call their lifestyles “neo-traditional.” It would be nearer the mark to describe them as “neo-Epicurean.” They don’t really believe in virtue per se; instead they find meaning in a widely distributed range of experiences. Highly-valued commodities include education, fulfilling careers, diverse cultural experiences, intimate relationships, and sex. These are not the highest priorities for tradition-minded Christians or Jews. Our upper classes have left that behind, and are now centering themselves around a kind of neo-pagan good-life philosophy.

Epicureanism has its attractive points, but it’s not great at ennobling the common man. In any given society, there will be relatively few people who have the wherewithal to live the good life, and to those who don’t or can’t, the neo-Epicurean doesn’t have much to say. It’s inherently an elitist perspective. Since the American ethos contains significant anti-elitist currents, that creates certain problems. Liberals also retain some neo-Marxist commitments that mix rather badly with their breezy affluence. That partly explains why they’re in such a tangle of moral angst, sweating bullets (and throwing temper-tantrums) over every variety of “privilege” and howling over every “microaggression.” They can’t really reconcile their personal philosophy with their broader social commitments.

Nevertheless, the neo-Epicurean ideal isn’t going away. It’s too important for giving meaning to the lives of upper-middle-class Americans. In light of that, urging liberals to “preach what they practice” just isn’t going to help anything. They are preaching what they practice, when they tell everyone to stay in school, do what they love, and explore their sexual identity. That advice just doesn’t work out nearly so well for people with fewer material and social resources. It certainly isn’t a promising foundation for a new bourgeois culture.

Affluent liberals have plenty to answer for, and working through the tensions in their current commitments will be a daunting task. Still, the charge of cultural hypocrisy may actually be ill-founded. They aren’t closet traditionalists who refuse to let the less-fortunate in on the secret. They’re silver-spooned bohemians who honestly don’t have any answers to the question of why non-elite life is still worth living.

I’m not sure how we’re going to navigate this deep cultural divide, but it might help to start with a better diagnosis. We may also need to accept that a common bourgeois culture probably isn’t in the cards for American society, at least not in the near future. Conservatives may still be hanging onto the bricks, but the mortar is just gone.

There are 152 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    So, BoBos in Paradise!

     

    • #1
  2. A-Squared Coolidge
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Rachel Lu: We may also need to accept that a common bourgeoisie culture probably isn’t in the cards for American society, at least not in the near future. Conservatives may still be hanging onto the bricks, but the mortar is just gone.

    Then we are probably done as a country.  A free nation needs something like a bourgeoisie culture to operate effectively, a nation that relies on a shrinking number of workers to pay taxes to support a growing number of people unwilling to work cannot last.

    Of course, I always take this opportunity to point out that Marx felt that mankind had an innate need to work, and it was only the evil class system that kept people from working.  We have proven this to be false beyond any reasonable doubt.  Without that core premise, the rest of communism collapses immediately. Of course, every thinking person realized this decades ago.  Unthinking people still haven’t realized this.

    • #2
  3. A-Squared Coolidge
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Of course, I’ve been saying we’ve been past the tipping point for a while now.

    • #3
  4. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    I do think “Bobos in Paradise” still holds up as the best “elite book” written in recent (though it isn’t even that recent!) times. Brooks actually tried to understand the elites on their own terms, where most people devote the bulk of their energy into slotting them into a pre-cut villain role.

    • #4
  5. The King Prawn Member
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    I wish I had something intelligent to say in response to this because it is fantastic. I’ll mull it over a bit. Thanks for posting it!

    • #5
  6. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Rachel Lu: I’m not sure how we’re going to navigate this deep cultural divide, but it might help to start with a better diagnosis.

    Part of the split among conservatives is that one part does navigate this deep cultural divide, and one part doesn’t. Deep purple conservatives (and that is probably most Ricochetians) see the purpose of the massive amounts of cultural capital blue milieus still possess as something more than Epicurean; nonetheless, they’re at ease with this “Epicurean” accumulation, so at ease that they may not appreciate that, whether it’s preserved for Epicurean reasons or not, a lot of it is still being preserved – and by blues, no less! Pure reds aren’t at ease with the Epicurean accumulation of what is, in fact, still cultural capital, no matter why it’s accumulated, one reason for their dis-ease often being less access to that capital. Reds and purples are supposed to be allies, but one ally is one one side of blue culture (more cultural capital than blues), the other on the other side (less cultural capital than blues), so blue cultural capital gets between them and complicates things.

    If you’re deep purple, your access to the riches of Western culture seems fairly secure, actually, which makes it easier to bond with blues over preservation of that culture, even if the blues are “only” preserving it for Epicurean reasons. If you’re angry red (the color description for an oranger rather than purpler red), your access to those riches is not secure. You’re more likely to be alienated from the riches of Western culture, to be cut off from a lot of the cultural heritage that blues still enjoy and pass on, even if blues haven’t got a grand plan for why they still pass it on. Indeed, the fact that blues still enjoy it and pass it on might make it seem as if blues are asserting their power to take your culture away from you!

    A purple conservative meets a blue Shakespeare enthusiast and thinks of the blue’s enthusiasm, “Cool, Shakespeare!” Cultural inheritance in that case serves as a common bond, despite politics, opening the way for a cooperation which actually does quite a bit to pass on the culture. An angry red conservative meets a blue Shakespeare enthusiast, and is more likely to think of the blue’s enthusiasm as corrupting and depriving – “The blues took our jobs and our guns, now they’re taking our Shakespeare, too!” When your own connection to your cultural inheritance feels insecure and alienating, the defensive posture that sees what might actually be a cultural interest in common as an attack on the last shreds of your culture you have left is much easier to adopt.

    • #6
  7. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    This is a really interesting question.

    My first thought is that there is a sort of trickle-down Epicureanism that I first noticed when Martha Stewart started designing products for K-Mart. You can buy sushi at a grocery store in DownEast Maine, gyro sandwiches with tzaziki at Arby’s and Dunkin’ Donuts is selling lattes and trying to look more like a bohemian coffee shop to compete with the “bohemian” coffee shop that is now a fixture in every even remotely “hip” neighborhood of every American city from Tulsa to Bangor.

    My second thought is that the bourgeoise virtues could resurrect themselves quickly if and when the conditions that enable deviation from those virtues were withdrawn, simply because only those who exhibited them would be able to thrive.

     

    • #7
  8. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Rachel Lu (View Comment):
    I do think “Bobos in Paradise” still holds up as the best “elite book” written in recent (though it isn’t even that recent!) times. Brooks actually tried to understand the elites on their own terms, where most people devote the bulk of their energy into slotting them into a pre-cut villain role.

    As for the mis-diagnosis. Truth is, conservatives have no coherence; but so long as the libertarian-conservative identity works, the myth that Silicon Valley’s full of conservatives in the closet will continue. Sen. Paul might go talk to Silicon Valley–but it means nothing.

    Then, too, how many conservatives really want to put time & effort into rebuilding associations no longer extant? Hoping that there’s some free market identity that will help things out, if not solve social problems, is easier.

    What have conservatives to show for their belief in the free market so far as association online goes? & institution building?

    This strikes me as the main reason for the mis-understanding of productive liberals as libertarians & therefore conservatives. The reality is, individualism is still corrupting associations. & no one really knows what an association of the future might look like, a core & a model for a coalition-

    • #8
  9. The King Prawn Member
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    A purple conservative meets a blue Shakespeare enthusiast and thinks of the blue’s enthusiasm, “Cool, Shakespeare!” Cultural inheritance in that case serves as a common bond, despite politics, opening the way for a cooperation which actually does quite a bit to pass on the culture. An angry red conservative meets a blue Shakespeare enthusiast, and is more likely to think of the blue’s enthusiasm as corrupting and depriving – “The blues took our jobs and our guns, now they’re taking our Shakespeare, too!” When your own connection to your cultural inheritance feels insecure and alienating, the defensive posture that sees what might actually be a cultural interest in common as an attack on the last shreds of your culture you have left is much easier to adopt.

    Hmm. I’m more likely to think of the angry red conservative as not recognizing Shakespeare as part of his cultural inheritance.

    • #9
  10. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    The King Prawn (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    A purple conservative meets a blue Shakespeare enthusiast and thinks of the blue’s enthusiasm, “Cool, Shakespeare!” Cultural inheritance in that case serves as a common bond, despite politics, opening the way for a cooperation which actually does quite a bit to pass on the culture. An angry red conservative meets a blue Shakespeare enthusiast, and is more likely to think of the blue’s enthusiasm as corrupting and depriving – “The blues took our jobs and our guns, now they’re taking our Shakespeare, too!” When your own connection to your cultural inheritance feels insecure and alienating, the defensive posture that sees what might actually be a cultural interest in common as an attack on the last shreds of your culture you have left is much easier to adopt.

    Hmm. I’m more likely to think of the angry red conservative as not recognizing Shakespeare as part of his cultural inheritance.

    There is some recognition. Shakespeare as a Good Thing About Western Culture even if you’re not personally acquainted with his works. But it’s an alienated recognition. It’s not a sense of ownership. It’s not enough familiarity to be confident that, hey, Shakespeare can be my turf, too, if I want it to be – it doesn’t just have to be the turf of those preverted blue theatre types (not to stereotype or anything!).

    • #10
  11. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Anyhow, culture isn’t something you just have worthy or unworthy opinions about, it’s something you do. And a lot of blues still do it, even if their opinions about why it’s worth doing are unworthy. To be too much in enmity with them is to put yourself at odds with what vehicles are still left for passing on the culture. For example,

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    Then, too, how many conservatives really want to put time & effort into rebuilding associations no longer extant?

    At least if your interest is in the arts, the associations which are still extant (though often in need of maintenance and repair if they’re still to keep going) are likely to be pretty deep blue. Do you therefore not associate? One thing I’ll say for libertarian types I know is that, as they do strive to be less “tribal”, generally the red-blue tribal split is not enough to keep them from associating with these groups, at least not in my experience (which I admit is mostly with UofC-type libertarians).

    • #11
  12. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Anyhow, culture isn’t something you just have worthy or unworthy opinions about, it’s something you do. And a lot of blues still do it, even if their opinions about why it’s worth doing are unworthy. To be too much in enmity with them is to put yourself at odds with what vehicles are still left for passing on the culture. For example,

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    Then, too, how many conservatives really want to put time & effort into rebuilding associations no longer extant?

    At least if your interest is in the arts, the associations which are still extant (though often in need of maintenance and repair if they’re still to keep going) are likely to be pretty deep blue. Do you therefore not associate? One thing I’ll say for libertarian types I know is that, as they do strive to be less “tribal”, generally the red-blue tribal split is not enough to keep them from associating with these groups, at least not in my experience (which I admit is mostly with UofC-type libertarians).

    That doesn’t strike me as the relevant thing. If red types wanted to start their own associations, nothing would stop them-

    • #12
  13. ThomasAnger Member
    ThomasAnger
    @

    Two points. The first is trivial (in relation to the subject of this post), but I can’t refrain from noting the repeated misuse of “bourgeoisie”, which refers to a class of people. What is meant is “bourgeois”, used as an adjective to modify “values”.

    Substantively, once onstructive social norms (e.g., work rather than welfare, marriage before children) have been breached on a large scale (i.e., in Charles Murray’s “Fishtown”) can’t be put back together again. Not on a large scale among persons now living, at least.

    However, many aspiring escapees from “Fishtown” (and its equivalents among blacks and Hispanics) will emulate the social norms of the middle and upper-middle classes. Those who are steadfast in their emulation are more likely to escape their respective white, tan, and black “ghettos” than those who don’t try or give up.

    But “ghettos” will persist for as long as government provides “freebies” to people for not working, for not marrying, and for having children out of wedlock. And I see no end to to the “freebies” because (a) there are a lot of votes in the “ghettos” and (b) there are too many members of the middle and upper-middle classes — mainly but not exclusively “progressives” — who would rather give a man a fish every day instead of teaching him how to fish.

    • #13
  14. Jamie Lockett Member
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    A challenging and depressing argument. I need to think in this one.

    • #14
  15. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    ThomasAnger (View Comment):
    Two points. The first is trivial (in relation to the subject of this post), but I can’t refrain from noting the repeated misuse of “bourgeoisie”, which refers to a class of people. What is meant is “bourgeois”, used as an adjective to modify “values”.

    Substantively, once onstructive social norms (e.g., work rather than welfare, marriage before children) have been breached on a large scale (i.e., in Charles Murray’s “Fishtown”) can’t be put back together again. Not on a large scale among persons now living, at least.

    However, many aspiring escapees from “Fishtown” (and its equivalents among blacks and Hispanics) will emulate the social norms of the middle and upper-middle classes. Those who are steadfast in their emulation are more likely to escape their respective white, tan, and black “ghettos” than those who don’t try or give up.

    But “ghettos” will persist for as long as government provides “freebies” to people for not working, for not marrying, and for having children out of wedlock. And I see no end to to the “freebies” because (a) there are a lot of votes in the “ghettos” and (b) there are too many members of the middle and upper-middle classes — mainly but not exclusively “progressives” — who would rather give a man a fish every day instead of teaching him how to fish.

    It’s probably too simplistic an analysis, but in my mind the welfare state is to blame for most of the ills of society.  Get rid of that, and the rest takes care of itself.

    • #15
  16. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Rachel Lu: Since the American ethos contains significant anti-elitist currents, that creates certain problems. Liberals also retain some neo-Marxist commitments that mix rather badly with their breezy affluence. That partly explains why they’re in such a tangle of moral angst, sweating bullets (and throwing temper-tantrums) over every variety of “privilege” and howling over every “microaggression.” They can’t really reconcile their personal philosophy with their broader social commitments.

    I don’t know if this is peculiar to Americans— the (Western) Europeans seem to be doing pretty much the same thing, only more so. I don’t feel that the U.S. is suicidal, but I tend to agree with Douglas Murray that the Epicurean elites of (again, Western) Europe really are.

    • #16
  17. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    I think this view fundamentally misunderstands the ethos of America’s prosperous classes. It’s not really right to call their lifestyles “neo-traditional.” It would be nearer the mark to describe them as “neo-Epicurean.”

    I too am still digesting the entirety of this, but the above certainly strikes a chord.  One notable aspect of most of this new group is that they are, by credo, non-judgmental.  And to a fault.  I think it would be fair to say that, in previous generations, the judgmental nature of the bourgeoisie (sometimes rooted in religion, for better or worse) created a degree of pressure on those below them in lifestyle/social status to improve their lot.  Many often did.  Now commentary (i.e., “judgements”) about the underclass and its causes is highly frowned upon, even condemned, as Prof. Wax’s experience illustrates.

    • #17
  18. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    ThomasAnger (View Comment):
    But “ghettos” will persist for as long as government provides “freebies” to people for not working, for not marrying, and for having children out of wedlock. And I see no end to to the “freebies” because (a) there are a lot of votes in the “ghettos” and (b) there are too many members of the middle and upper-middle classes — mainly but not exclusively “progressives” — who would rather give a man a fish every day instead of teaching him how to fish.

    Seriously, do you think ghettos did not pre-exist the welfare state and that ghettos are a function of the welfare state?

    I have never bought Murray’s thesis. The 1940s to early 1960s for the lower middle class was an anomaly and he has always taken it to be the norm.

     

    • #18
  19. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    It’s probably too simplistic an analysis, but in my mind the welfare state is to blame for most of the ills of society. Get rid of that, and the rest takes care of itself.

    I tend to agree. Or at least, I think it would be worth a try.

    We had long, long arguments about SSM and living-together-out-of-wedlock which I won’t resurrect, but one of my arguments was that marriage has endured as an institution in every human culture (with what are really minor variations) because marriage works. I know many,  many couples who never got legally married. They own property together, they have children together, they are recognized by everyone in their social environment as kin/family, but they will proudly declare themselves somehow outside of “traditional” marriage. They aren’t. If they break up, it is a divorce, in every conceivable (and painful) sense of the word.

    At the moment, in Fishtown, we are actively disincentivizing marriage and even “marriage.” My work takes me into households where “Dad” technically “lives with Mom” and the nights he spends with his girlfriend and their progeny are scheduled so as not to violate the rules that would disqualify this “single mother” from receiving full welfare benefits.

    You could either get rid of welfare or, if you’re too squeamish about those poor kids, you could weight the welfare incentives in favor of marriage—that is, you don’t get more for additional kids, but you do get more for having biodad on the premises. Do that, and my guess is that marriage would make a big comeback.

    Work would make a big come-back too if the contributions of “Dad” weren’t subtracted from but rather added to welfare. Also—my personal favorite—if you excused anyone currently receiving welfare benefits from having to abide by minimum wage laws.  That way, welfare moms and dads could compete with (hopefully fewer) illegal immigrants for those all-important entry-level “dead end” jobs —fruit picking, lawn care, housecleaning—and begin to establish the skills and the resume to enter into the mainstream economy.

    As for sex—I think we can trust the feminists to keep sucking all the joy out of that Epicurean experience.

     

    • #19
  20. Johnny Dubya Member
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

     

    When I first read their piece, I found the inclusion of “coarse language in public” to be somewhat of a surprise, but also appropriate.  It is one of many smaller signs of the erosion of bourgeoisie culture, along with others including the proliferation of body graffiti, the normalization of coarse language in music heard on the radio, and general disrespect and disregard for other people in public places – this last category including talking and texting in movie theaters, wearing backpacks on public transportation, aggressive behavior by drivers toward pedestrians, etc.

    As a matter of fact, sitting next to me on an otherwise-quiet commuter train this morning were two young men in business suits who peppered their conversation with frequent f-bombs.  I considered asking them to watch their language, but one of them was African-American and given the current tensions in our culture, I thought better of it.

    And during my subsequent subway ride this morning I was whacked in the torso by a tennis racket handle sticking out of a backpack worn by another rider.  My wife returned yesterday from Tokyo, and she reported that the subways have a strict policy against the wearing of backpacks.  So do the NYC subways.  The difference is that in Tokyo the riders respect authority and in NYC, they do not.  In addition, the Japanese benefit from a hive-mind mentality that is impossible to achieve in the U.S.’s diverse culture.

    • #20
  21. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    A-Squared (View Comment):

    Rachel Lu: We may also need to accept that a common bourgeoisie culture probably isn’t in the cards for American society, at least not in the near future. Conservatives may still be hanging onto the bricks, but the mortar is just gone.

    Then we are probably done as a country. A free nation needs something like a bourgeoisie culture to operate effectively, a nation that relies on a shrinking number of workers to pay taxes to support a growing number of people unwilling to work cannot last.

    Of course, I always take this opportunity to point out that Marx felt that mankind had an innate need to work, and it was only the evil class system that kept people from working. We have proven this to be false beyond any reasonable doubt. Without that core premise, the rest of communism collapses immediately. Of course, every thinking person realized this decades ago. Unthinking people still haven’t realized this.

    We’re going to be crushed, probably by the East Asians, who still value hard work, education, family.

    • #21
  22. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    Rachel Lu: It’s not really right to call their lifestyles “neo-traditional.” It would be nearer the mark to describe them as “neo-Epicurean.” They don’t really believe in virtue per se; instead they find meaning in a widely distributed range of experiences. Highly-valued commodities include education, fulfilling careers, diverse cultural experiences, intimate relationships, and sex.

    Okay. So they’re doing the right things for the wrong reasons.

    Rachel Lu: Epicureanism has its attractive points, but it’s not great at ennobling the common man. In any given society, there will be relatively few people who have the wherewithal to live the good life, and to those who don’t or can’t, the neo-Epicurean doesn’t have much to say.

    Here’s my disconnect — what causes the commodities of intimate relations and well-adjusted children, so valued by the neo-Epicurean elites, that make them impossible for non-elites to pursue?  Sure, not everyone is going to travel the world or have a fulfilling career (or even the luxury of working part-time to stay home with their children), but elite levels of money aren’t necessary for a loving marriage or raising children. Why can’t the commoners follow the elites’ lead toward stable families, even if both the elites and the commoners aren’t really sure why they’re doing it?

    • #22
  23. Judithann Campbell Member
    Judithann Campbell
    @

    Rachel Lu: We are presuming that most Americans (but particularly the prosperous and influential liberals whose behavior we most hope to influence) still share a substantive moral outlook of a sort that could ground healthy cultural mores

    Are prosperous and influential liberals really the people whose behavior we most hope to influence? I never thought of it that way, and I think it is a mistake to think that way. I know-I don’t just know, but am related to-some prosperous liberals, and God forgive me for saying this, but I don’t have much use for them, and I don’t feel too bad about saying that, because they have no use for me. Rachel’s description of their worldview as Epicurean is probably accurate, but no matter how you describe their worldview, they are a destructive force. They are not just not helpful, they are destructive.The only people in any social class lower than theirs whom they will kind of tolerate are those who vote as they do-anybody and everybody else will be called a racist, or an Uncle Tom if they aren’t white. The only reason these people survive in any capacity is because of the welfare state; if it weren’t for that, they would be universally reviled, as opposed to just mostly reviled as they are now.

    We should not waste our time trying to convince and work with people like Hillary Clinton; the only reason they have any power is because they literally pay people to vote for them. Money is all they’ve got, and they are actively hostile towards lower class people who do not need or want their money. We should pray for them, but that is all we can do: thinking you can persuade them with reason is a pipe dream.

    • #23
  24. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    ThomasAnger (View Comment):
    Two points. The first is trivial (in relation to the subject of this post), but I can’t refrain from noting the repeated misuse of “bourgeoisie”, which refers to a class of people. What is meant is “bourgeois”, used as an adjective to modify “values”.

    Substantively, once onstructive social norms (e.g., work rather than welfare, marriage before children) have been breached on a large scale (i.e., in Charles Murray’s “Fishtown”) can’t be put back together again. Not on a large scale among persons now living, at least.

    However, many aspiring escapees from “Fishtown” (and its equivalents among blacks and Hispanics) will emulate the social norms of the middle and upper-middle classes. Those who are steadfast in their emulation are more likely to escape their respective white, tan, and black “ghettos” than those who don’t try or give up.

    But “ghettos” will persist for as long as government provides “freebies” to people for not working, for not marrying, and for having children out of wedlock. And I see no end to to the “freebies” because (a) there are a lot of votes in the “ghettos” and (b) there are too many members of the middle and upper-middle classes — mainly but not exclusively “progressives” — who would rather give a man a fish every day instead of teaching him how to fish.

    It’s probably too simplistic an analysis, but in my mind the welfare state is to blame for most of the ills of society. Get rid of that, and the rest takes care of itself.

     

    • #24
  25. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Kate Braestrup (View Comment):

    Rachel Lu: Since the American ethos contains significant anti-elitist currents, that creates certain problems. Liberals also retain some neo-Marxist commitments that mix rather badly with their breezy affluence. That partly explains why they’re in such a tangle of moral angst, sweating bullets (and throwing temper-tantrums) over every variety of “privilege” and howling over every “microaggression.” They can’t really reconcile their personal philosophy with their broader social commitments.

    I don’t know if this is peculiar to Americans— the (Western) Europeans seem to be doing pretty much the same thing, only more so. I don’t feel that the U.S. is suicidal, but I tend to agree with Douglas Murray that the Epicurean elites of (again, Western) Europe really are.

    You were thinking of Douglas Murray, too? Odd, that…

    My guess is he fits this description:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Deep purple conservatives (and that is probably most Ricochetians) see the purpose of the massive amounts of cultural capital blue milieus still possess as something more than Epicurean; nonetheless, they’re at ease with this “Epicurean” accumulation, so at ease that they may not appreciate that, whether it’s preserved for Epicurean reasons or not, a lot of it is still being preserved – and by blues, no less!

    It’s easy for “you don’t love what I love enough” to slip into the despair of “you don’t love it at all”, especially for those whose own love is quite fierce – and, just taking another wild guess here, guys like Murray and Scruton could fit the Wodehousian description, “Warm-hearted! I should think he has to wear asbestos vests!”

    • #25
  26. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Hang On (View Comment):
    Seriously, do you think ghettos did not pre-exist the welfare state and that ghettos are a function of the welfare state?

    Yes. And I’ll tell you why: the welfare state has succeeded in rescuing the poor from all the conditions that used to exist in the old-school ghettos. Poor adults and their children are no longer ragged, skinny and shoeless. They have more living space, better medical care and more stuff— cell phones, televisions, cars, furniture—than my husband and I ever had when we were young marrieds.

    This is, by and large, a good thing. That is, not-starving is good.

    The ghettos, however, still exist. Why? And, more important, whether were talking inner city Chicago or a trailer park in rural upstate New York, why are they miserable, violent, dirty, scary places to live?

    Why aren’t “the poor” able to escape? The only answer I can come up with is that we have, in our do-gooder wisdom, invented a welfare regime that not only enables but encourages dysfunction.  Children are growing up with parents who teach them that it is profitable to be dysfunctional and disabled, and the important life-skills to be learned consist of lying and gaming the system rather than on such ordinary and generally salubrious behaviors as getting out of bed in the morning, getting dressed and going to work. The result is a culture of poverty that exists even when actual poverty—that is, material want— does not.

    I agree with you that the 40s and 50s were an economic anomaly, and that it is too tempting to think of them as the norm. But it’s hard to think of any era in which people who waited to be married before they had children, worked hard, exercised self-discipline and avoided substance abuse and crime did not do a whole lot better than those who neglected these virtues.

    • #26
  27. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    I don’t have time to get into this right now, but I just wanted to say that your analysis on this, MFR, is really interesting; I hadn’t thought about it in quite that way. I would clearly count as a “purple” conservative in this sense! Reflecting on this more…

    • #27
  28. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    It’s easy for “you do not love what I love enough” to slip into the despair of “you don’t love it at all”, especially for those whose own love is quite fierce – and, just taking another wild guess here, guys like Murray and Scruton could fit the Wodehousian description, “Warm-hearted! I should think he has to wear asbestos vests!”

    I don’t know Scruton well enough to say, but Douglas Murray is very warm-hearted, if by that you mean sympathetic to the plight of migrants even as he supports the right (and need) of native-born Europeans to maintain their culture. And he doesn’t just mean highbrow culture, but ordinary culture. Indeed, it is ordinary, quotidian British life (for example) as lived by middle and working-class Britons that is being affected most by the flood of immigrants. It is their children’s schools that are filled with non-English speaking children, their daughters who are targeted by grooming gangs, and their neighborhoods that no longer look and feel like home.

    The ability of the upper-class Epicureans to put distance between themselves and the results of the policies they are so self-righteously enthusiastic about is part of the problem, I think.

     

    • #28
  29. Amy Schley Moderator
    Amy Schley
    @AmySchley

    Kozak (View Comment):
    We’re going to be crushed, probably by the East Asians, who still value hard work, education, family.

    I want to bring this up in the context of this:

    Rachel Lu: They don’t really believe in virtue per se; instead they find meaning in a widely distributed range of experiences. Highly-valued commodities include education, fulfilling careers, diverse cultural experiences, intimate relationships, and sex. These are not the highest priorities for tradition-minded Christians or Jews. Our upper classes have left that behind, and are now centering themselves around a kind of neo-pagan good-life philosophy.

    Judeo-Christian culture is not the only culture that values hard work, education, and family. While as a western chauvinist I would prefer the US to keep its Judeo-Christian culture, it could, at least theoretically, be a country that believes in hard work, education, and family while being Boho neo-pagan or even Asian old-school pagan.

    The notion that stable families are only a white Judeo-Christian thing is bigotry, whether one thinks being a husband and a father is “acting white” or thinks without Christian virtues there’s no such thing as a stable family.

    • #29
  30. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    At least if your interest is in the arts, the associations which are still extant (though often in need of maintenance and repair if they’re still to keep going) are likely to be pretty deep blue. Do you therefore not associate? One thing I’ll say for libertarian types I know is that, as they do strive to be less “tribal”, generally the red-blue tribal split is not enough to keep them from associating with these groups, at least not in my experience (which I admit is mostly with UofC-type libertarians).

    That doesn’t strike me as the relevant thing. If red types wanted to start their own associations, nothing would stop them-

    You know the saying it takes capital to get capital? Cultural capital is also like that. If you and yours have lost the habit of being in these associations, and especially if you’re otherwise overwhelmed by life, it’s hard to know where to start, no?

    Once an association is already established, you can actually be a fairly incompetent organizer and still serve a useful role. I have. I also know some, much more organized than myself, who have started associations, but they started with a working knowledge of (and social connections from) the other associations they’d been a part of, as well as a great deal of education and organizational energy.

    We lament the fact that the minimum wage keeps the unskilled out of lower-paying but resume-building “training jobs”, jobs where you learn, if your family didn’t already teach you, at least some of the habits of being a basically organized person. It helps to have these organizational habits in abundance if you plan to start your own association from scratch, but those with less cultural capital are less likely to have these habits in abundance.

    • #30

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.