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Off-the-books America Playing the "Violence" Card

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Ammo for the Battle of Ideas

by Christopher Chantrill
January 04, 2011 at 12:50 pm


DON’T get too excited about the extra congressional seats for red states, warns Jonah Goldberg. In red states like Texas, some of those new districts will end up as Democratic and Hispanic. In fact, he says, conservatives shouldn’t rely on demographics to solve their political problems. “The only way for the GOP to make real progress toward becoming a majority party is by making and winning arguments.”

Among the best arguments being made right now is Deirdre McCloskey’s is making in her mammoth Bourgeois Cycle. First she published The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce, a full frontal argument for the virtues, all seven of them. We should abandon the rage for the One Good “as maximum utility, or as the categorical imperative, or as the Idea of the Good,” and especially the modern rage for Prudence Only. We should embrace, in all their complexity, the four pagan virtues: not just Prudence, but Temperance, Courage, and Justice. And then reach out to the Christian virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love.

You can see the grand strategy here. You take a dirty word like “bourgeois” and unfashionable “virtue” and combine them into a fighting manifesto. Then you up the ante for volume two.

Just in time for Christmas, McCloskey has delivered the second installment of the Bourgeois Cycle. It’s called Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World. In Volume Two McCloskey argues that the Great Fact of modern prosperity comes down to one thing. People stopped sneering at bourgeois merchants. (Very possibly, but bourgeois dignity, dahling?)

More or less suddenly the Dutch and British and then the Americans and French began talking about the middle class... as though it were dignified and free. The result was modern economic growth.

And just in case you weren’t paying attention, we are talking about growth from $3 per day production and consumption in 1800 to, in the US, $120 per day, or 40 times the wealth in 1800.

OK, let’s forget 1800. Let’s look at the great economic story of today. No, we are not talking about the Great Recession. Writes McCloskey.

The Big Economic Story of our own times is that the Chinese in 1978 and then the Indians in 1991 adopted liberal ideas in the economy, and came to attribute a dignity and a liberty to the bourgeoisie formerly denied. And then China and India exploded in economic growth.

We are not talking about the Chinese and the Indians struggling to a modest prosperity a generation later, we are talking about explosive growth starting the very next day—the day after the ruling class lifted the Maoist totalitarian controls and the Fabian-inspired “license Raj.”

The rest of Bourgeois Dignity is devoted to refutation of other explanations for the Industrial Revolution explosion. No it wasn’t the Protestant Ethic, for Catholic businessmen are just as purposeful as Protestant businessmen; it wasn’t the exploitation of the workers, for you don’t increase prosperity by 40 times for everyone including the exploited workers by reducing the food intake of the workers from $3 per day to $2 per day. It wasn’t the profits from the slave trade, or the enclosure movement, or favorable geography, or extraordinary thriftiness, or even property rights. No, argues McCloskey, none of that can explain an explosion in wealth of 40 times. What creates the explosion in wealth was

stumbled into by the United Provinces in the seventeenth century, and then by the United Kingdom imitating the bourgeois Dutch in the eighteenth century. The external effects thus revealed were a new dignity for the bourgeoisie in its dealings and a new liberty for the bourgeoisie to innovate in economic affairs.

All of a sudden it became a Good Thing to innovate and risk creative destruction, and the ruling class got stripped of its age-old power to strangle new ideas in their cradles. The result was unimagined prosperity for everyone, from the richest to the poorest.

In the battle of ideas we depend on thinkers like Deirdre McCloskey—a libertarian progressive—and her encyclopedic knowledge of economics, history, culture, and the post-1958 school of virtue ethics. We need people with the courage to fling down a reckless challenge, as she does at the beginning of The Bourgeois Virtues:

My implied readers are... the “clerisy,” opinion makers and opinion takers... the readers of the New York Times or Le Monde... [who think] that “bourgeois virtues” is an oxymoron on the level of “military intelligence” or “academic administration.”

She wants to shock our liberal friends so they never think of “bourgeois,” or “virtue,” or “dignity” in the old way ever again.

We conservatives have a parallel agenda. We want an America where no liberal would dare to misunderestimate conservative ideas or conservative thinkers ever again. That America is not yet. But with manna from Deirdre McCloskey and a few more like her we will get to the Promised Land.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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What Liberals Think About Conservatives

[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican

US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism

Taking Responsibility

[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050

Society and State

For [the left] there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance.
David Cameron, Conference Speech 2008

Socialism equals Animism

Imagining that all order is the result of design, socialists conclude that order must be improvable by better design of some superior mind.
F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit


[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values

Responsible Self

[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.

Religion, Property, and Family

But the only religions that have survived are those which support property and the family. Thus the outlook for communism, which is both anti-property and anti-family, (and also anti-religion), is not promising.
F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit

Racial Discrimination

[T]he way “to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,” Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District


A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ’merely relative’, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.
Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy

Physics, Religion, and Psychology

Paul Dirac: “When I was talking with Lemaître about [the expanding universe] and feeling stimulated by the grandeur of the picture that he has given us, I told him that I thought cosmology was the branch of science that lies closest to religion. However [Georges] Lemaître [Catholic priest, physicist, and inventor of the Big Bang Theory] did not agree with me. After thinking it over he suggested psychology as lying closest to religion.”
John Farrell, “The Creation Myth”


Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...
David Martin, On Secularization

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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