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McCloskey Again: The Bourgeoisie is not That Interested In Power

I'VE been blogging and writing about Deirdre McCloskey's Bourgeois Equality for the last week. It was a disappointment to me because it didn't take the argument beyond The Bourgeois Virtues  and Bourgeois Dignity.

McCloskey's big idea is that the Great Enrichment of the past 200 years, from $3 per day to $100 per day, did not come from capital accumulation and/or institutions but from rhetoric. People started to dignify the occupation of trader and innovator and refrain from smothering innovations in their cradles. And the result was what we see around us.

But I wanted something more, and I didn't get it. So I blogged my complaint here and then wrote about it in today's American Thinker piece: "Attention Deirdre McCloskey."

But the McCloskey dead end forced me to think. What is it about the bourgeoisie, you and me, that McCloskey is missing? And then I got it.

The bourgeoisie is just not that interested in power.

So I wrote in the AT piece:

When you are not that interested in power, you find that the whole world opens up to you. Now the way is clear to get into “virtue” and “create a rhetoric” to “dignify” innovation and “having a go,” and watch the Great Enrichment sweep across the world. Now the way is clear to free the slaves and enfranchise the working class, and even indulge upper-class women and sexual adventurers in their shallow enthusiasms and conceits. All because you are not that interested in power.
All down the ages, rulers have been obsessed with power. In Nicholas Wade's memorable words: "men like power and will seize it if they can." And so, down the ages, men have been at each others' throats, and mankind has been half throttled.

But what if a race of men arose that were not that interested in power? They would be men -- and women -- that did not feel the need to slip the stiletto in the other guy's ribs first, just to be on the safe side. They might be men that lived according to the iterated Prisoners Dilemma, and believed that you generally offer trust and reciprocity to other people, on principle. But if they show they are untrustworthy then you stop dealing with them right now. This new race might be men that thought about what they could offer to the world before they started to think about what they wanted from the world. They might be men that surrendered to the verdict of the market and did not, like union workers and crony capitalists, go running to the government for a sweet use of force whenever things went against them. They might find, to their amazement, that such behavior would result in a Great Enrichment, as per McCloskey, that increased per capita income from $3 per day to $100 per day in 200 years while also increasing human population from one billion souls to seven billion souls.

Then we get to understand the fatal mistake that our liberal and lefty friends have made. They think that the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything is power. Power to the people. Power to educated evolved people like us. Power to government. Power to the experts. Power to peaceful protesters. Power to traditionally marginalized groups. Power to suppressed voices. Power to silence "hate speech." And so on.

And it is not just wrong. It is folly. Worse than a crime, it is a blunder.

You can see where this faith in power comes from. It comes from Nicholas Wade's words, that men like power and will seize it if they can. It seems to be the answer to everything and maybe it was in the old hunter-gatherer days. If you want food, you better grab it before someone else gets it. If you want to eat you must defend your territory, to the last man.

But the market system changes all that. Because all of a sudden, things aren't a question of life and death, of kill or be killed. Now everything is negotiable. Now the question is what you can make that other people want to buy. Maybe it is a product, maybe it is a skill. Maybe it is just labor.

Hegel in his dialectic of Master and Slave has a parallel analysis. When two men meet in the wilderness, it is a question of kill or be killed, a Fight to the Death, unless one of the combatants surrenders and becomes a Slave. What humiliation! And yet it is the Slave that benefits from the relationship, because he learns how to master Nature in his Work for the Master, and then he begins to desire freedom. Yet that will be achieved not by another fight to the death, but by getting the Master to recognize him, the Slave, as another person, not just as a subordinate Slave.

Our lefty friends, unfortunately, cannot seem to escape from the dead end of Mastery. They must be Masters, that is all.

We are seeing, at this very moment, the problem with Mastery. Nicolás Maduro is Master of Venezuela, and a lot of good it is doing him and the Venezuelans.

Imagine what Venezuela and even the United States could become if the rulers and their supporters just weren't that interested in power.

Just like the bourgeoisie.

perm | comment | Follow chrischantrill on Twitter | 05/31/16 12:56 pm ET

How to Put Conservatives Back Together Again

AFTER all the division and the tearing-apart of the 2016 election what happens next for conservatives and Republicans? John O'Sullivan gives us a tour d'horizon that reminds us that we are always arguing and divided. But he makes important points about the Trumpites that need to be shared. Especially the question of entitlements. Conservative writers have long pointed out that the present ...

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perm | comment | Follow chrischantrill on Twitter | 05/30/16 2:36 pm ET

Tocqueville's Other Book: The Old Regime Before the French Revolution

I finally got to the end of Deirdre McCloskey's overmannered Bourgeois Equality, and then lightning struck. I just happened to stumble over a copy of Alexis de Tocqueville's The Old Regime and the French Revolution in the remainder stacks at HalfPriceBooks. For $1.00. Plus tax. OMG. Tocqueville argues that the French Revolution changed nothing in France. Really. The most famous event in ...

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perm | comment | Follow chrischantrill on Twitter | 05/27/16 1:38 pm ET

McCloskey Again: Why Not Call The Book "Bourgeois Rhetoric?"

DEIRDRE McCloskey has finished her magnum opus Bourgeois Trilogy with Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World. And now I've finished the book, all 787 pages. Start over: Conservatism's Big Problem. I'm afraid I have a problem. What was the point of the third volume? McCloskey has said it all already. Here is how I understood her message five years ago ...

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perm | comment | Follow chrischantrill on Twitter | 05/26/16 2:05 pm ET

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RMC Contents
Chapter 1: After the Welfare State
Chapter 2: Down in South Carolina and Out in Brooklyn

THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM among western cultural elites is that God is dead and we are well rid of him.... more

Chapter 3: Awakenings of Monotheism
Chapter 4: The Nineteenth Century From the Top Down
Chapter 5: The Nineteenth Century From the Bottom Up
Chapter 6: Popular Religion in the Nineteenth Century


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Armstrong, Karen, A History of God

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How education was doing fine before the government muscled in

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F. A. Hayek, Law Legislation and Liberty, Vol 1
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John Zane, The Story of Law
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David Beito, From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State
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How the US used to thrive under membership associations and could do again

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How Christianity is booming in China

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Work to restore the Road to the Middle Class. Here’s how. Ground it in faith. Grade it with education. Protect it with mutual aid. Defend it with the law. more>>


The Road to the Middle Class is a journey from a world of power to a world of trust and love. In religion, it is a journey from power gods that respond to sacrifice and augury to the God who makes a covenant with mankind. In education, it is a journey from the world of the spoken word to the world of the written word. In community, it is the journey from dependence on blood kin and upon clientage under a great lord to the mutual aid and the rules of the self-governing fraternal association. In law it is the journey from the violence of force and feud to the kingŽs peace, the law of contract, and private property.



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China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
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Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ‘we should...’.
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