David Goldschmidt on Wed, 10 Apr 2002 20:18:02 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> Bourgeoisophobia

"There is a secret about corporate America.  It's made up of people who live
in houses, have families, go to church, and who know that being in business
means not only producing goods and services but also help neighbors --
especially those in greatest need.  Many corporate leaders have discovered
the thrill of helping their neighbors by swinging hammers to build simple,
decent places to live".

--Millard Fuller, Founder and President
   Habitat for Humanity

I liked most of Brock's article until he tried tying his logic to supporting
the BUSH administration.

david goldschmidt

----- Original Message -----
From: "R. A. Hettinga" <rah@shipwright.com>
To: "Nettime" <nettime-l@bbs.thing.net>
Sent: Tuesday, April 09, 2002 12:17 AM
Subject: <nettime> Bourgeoisophobia

> [This should be good for a laugh around here... ;-) --RAH]
> Among the Bourgeoisophobes
> Why the Europeans and Arabs, each in their own way, hate America and
> by David Brooks
> 04/15/2002, Volume 007, Issue 30
> AROUND 1830, a group of French artists and intellectuals looked around and
> noticed that people who were their spiritual inferiors were running the
> world. Suddenly a large crowd of merchants, managers, and traders were
> making lots of money, living in the big houses, and holding the key posts.
> They had none of the high style of the aristocracy, or even the earthy
> integrity of the peasants. Instead, they were gross. They were vulgar
> materialists, shallow conformists, and self-absorbed philistines, who half
> the time failed even to acknowledge their moral and spiritual inferiority
> to the artists and intellectuals. What's more, it was their very
> that accounted for their success. Through some screw-up in the great
> of the universe, their narrow-minded greed had brought them vast wealth,
> unstoppable power, and growing social prestige.
> Naturally, the artists and intellectuals were outraged. Hatred of the
> bourgeoisie became the official emotion of the French intelligentsia.
> Stendhal said traders and merchants made him want to "weep and vomit at
> same time." Flaubert thought they were "plodding and avaricious." Hatred
> the bourgeoisie, he wrote, "is the beginning of all virtue." He signed his
> letters "Bourgeoisophobus" to show how much he despised "stupid grocers
> their ilk."
> Of all the great creeds of the 19th century, pretty much the only one
> thriving is this one, bourgeoisophobia. Marxism is dead. Freudianism is
> dead. Social Darwinism is dead, along with all those theories about racial
> purity that grew up around it. But the emotions and reactions that
> Flaubert, Stendhal, and all the others articulated in the 1830s are still
> with us, bigger than ever. In fact, bourgeoisophobia, which has flowered
> variously and spread to places as diverse as Baghdad, Ramallah, and
> Beijing, is the major reactionary creed of our age.
> This is because today, in much of the world's eyes, two peoples--the
> Americans and the Jews--have emerged as the great exemplars of undeserved
> success. Americans and Israelis, in this view, are the money-mad molochs
> the earth, the vulgarizers of morals, corrupters of culture, and
> proselytizers of idolatrous values. These two nations, it is said,
> conquest capitalism, overrunning poorer nations and exploiting weaker
> neighbors in their endless desire for more and more. These two peoples,
> Americans and the Jews, in the view of the bourgeoisophobes, thrive
> precisely because they are spiritually stunted. It is their obliviousness
> to the holy things in life, their feverish energy, their injustice, their
> shallow pursuit of power and gain, that allow them to build fortunes,
> construct weapons, and play the role of hyperpower.
> And so just as the French intellectuals of the 1830s rose up to despise
> traders and bankers, certain people today rise up to shock, humiliate, and
> dream of destroying America and Israel. Today's bourgeoisophobes burn with
> the same sense of unjust inferiority. They experience the same humiliation
> because there is nothing they can do to thwart the growing might of their
> enemies. They rage and rage. Only today's bourgeoisophobes are not just
> artists and intellectuals. They are as likely to be terrorists and suicide
> bombers. They teach in madrassas, where they are careful not to instruct
> their students in the sort of practical knowledge that dominates bourgeois
> schools. They are Muslim clerics who incite hatred and violence. They are
> erudite Europeans who burn with humiliation because they know, deep down,
> that both America and Israel possess a vitality and heroism that their
> nations once had but no longer do.
> Today the battle lines are forming. The dispute over Palestine, which was
> once a local conflict about land, has been transformed into a great
> cultural showdown. The vast array of bourgeoisophobes--Yasser Arafat's
> guerrilla socialists, Hamas's Islamic fundamentalists, Jose Bove's
> anti-globalist leftists, America's anti-colonial multiculturalists, and
> BBC's Oxbridge mediacrats--focus their diverse rages and resentments on
> this one conflict.
> The bourgeoisophobes have no politburo. There is no bourgeoisophobe
> command. They have no plausible strategy for victory. They have only their
> nihilistic rage, their envy mixed with snobbery, their snide remarks,
> newspaper distortions, their conspiracy theories, their suicide bombs and
> terror attacks--and above all, a burning sense that the rising, vibrant,
> and powerful peoples of America and Israel must be humiliated and brought
> low.
> BOURGEOISOPHOBIA is really a hatred of success. It is a hatred held by
> people who feel they are spiritually superior but who find themselves
> economically, politically, and socially outranked. They conclude that the
> world is diseased, that it rewards the wrong values, the wrong people, and
> the wrong abilities. They become cynical if they are soft inside, violent
> if they are hard. In the bourgeoisophobe's mind, the people and nations
> that do succeed are not just slightly vulgar, not just over-compensated,
> not just undeservedly lucky. They are monsters, non-human beasts who, in
> extreme cases, can be blamelessly killed. This Manichaean divide between
> the successful, who are hideous, and the bourgeoisophobes, who are
> spiritually pristine, was established early in the emergence of the creed.
> The early 19th-century German poet Holderlin couldn't just ignore the
> merchant bourgeoisie; he had to declare the middle classes "deeply
> incapable of every divine emotion." In other words, scarcely human.
> Holderlin's countryman Werner Sombart later wrote a quintessential
> bourgeoisophobe text called "Traders and Heroes," in which he argued that
> there are two basic human types: "The trader approaches life with the
> question, what can you give me? . . . The hero approaches life with the
> question what can I give you?" The trader, then, is the selfish capitalist
> who lives a meager, artificial life amidst "pocket-watches, newspapers,
> umbrellas, books, sewage disposal, politics." The hero is the total man,
> who is selfless, vital, spiritual, and free. An honest person might
> another's success to a superior work ethic, self-discipline, or luck--just
> being in the right place at the right time and possessing the right
> A normal person might look at a rich and powerful country and try to
> the source of its vitality, to measure its human and natural resources,
> freedom, its institutions and social norms. But for the bourgeoisophobe,
> other people's success is never legitimate or deserved. To him, success
> comes to those who worship the golden calf, the idol, the Satanic
> corrupter, gold.
> When bourgeoisophobes describe their enemies, they almost always portray
> them as money-mad, as crazed commercialists. And this vulgar materialism,
> in their view, has not only corrupted the soul of the bourgeoisie, but
> through them threatens to debase civilization itself and the whole world.
> It threatens, in the words of the supreme bourgeoisophobe, Karl Marx, to
> take all that is holy and make it profane.
> Some of the more pessimistic bourgeoisophobes come to believe that the
> worst is already at hand. "Our poor country lies in Roman decadence," the
> French conservative poet Arthur de Gobineau lamented in 1840. "We are
> without fiber or moral energy. I no longer believe in anything. . . .
> HAS KILLED EVERYTHING." (A great place to read bourgeoisophobe writing is
> Arthur Herman's "The Idea of Decline in Western History." Bourgeoisophobia
> is not Herman's theme, but his book does such a magnificent job of
> surveying two centuries of pessimistic thought that most of the key
> bourgeoisophobes are quoted.)
> And once the bourgeoisophobes had experienced the basic spasm of reaction,
> they soon settled on the Americans and Jews as two of the chief objects of
> their ire. Because, as Henry Steele Commager once noted, no country in the
> world ever succeeded like America, and everybody knew it. And no people in
> the European experience ever achieved such sustained success as the Jews.
> So the Jews were quickly established in the bourgeoisophobe imagination as
> the ultimate commercial people. They were the bankers, the traders, the
> soulless and sharp dealmakers who crawled through the cellars of honest
> noble cultures and infected them with their habits and practices. The
> 19th-century Teutonic philosopher Houston Chamberlain said of the Jews
> "their existence is a crime against the holy laws of life." The Jewish
> religion, he said, is "rigid," "scanty," and "sterile."
> The American bourgeoisophobe family, the Adamses, contained more than its
> share of anti-Semites. Brooks Adams lamented that "England is as much
> governed by the Jews of Berlin, Paris and New York as the native growth."
> Adams compared the Jews to a vast syndicate and declared simply, "They
> control the world." Henry Adams protested against the interlocked power of
> "Wall Street, State Street and Jerusalem." Later, the English historian
> Arnold Toynbee argued that the Jews, with their "consummate virtuosity in
> commerce and finance," had infected Western civilization with a crass
> materialism. Through their arrogance and viciousness, they were
> for capitalism, godless communism, and the Holocaust, and so had
> contributed to Europe's decline.
> It's actually amazing how early America, too, was stereotyped as a
> money-grubbing commercial land and Americans a money-grubbing people.
> Francois La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, who traveled in the United States in
> the 1790s, declared, "The desire for riches is their ruling passion." In
> 1805, a British visitor observed, "All men there make [money] their
> pursuit." "Gain! Gain! Gain! Gain! Gain!" is how the English philosopher
> Morris Birbeck summarized the American spirit a few years later. In 1823
> William Faux wrote that "two selfish gods, pleasure and gain, enslave the
> Americans." Fourteen years after that, the disillusioned Russian writer
> Mikhail Pogodin lamented, "America, on which our contemporaries have
> their hopes for a time, has meanwhile clearly revealed the vices of her
> illegitimate birth. She is not a state, but rather a trading company."
> Each wave of foreign observers reinforced the prejudice. Charles Dickens
> described a country of uncouth vulgarians frantically chasing, as he first
> put it, "the almighty dollar." Oswald Spengler worried that Germany would
> devolve into "soulless America," with its worship of "technical skill,
> money and an eye for facts." Matthew Arnold worried that global forces
> would Americanize England. "They will rule [Britain] by their energy but
> they will deteriorate it by their low ideas and want of culture." By 1904,
> people around the world were worrying about American cultural hegemony. In
> that year the German writer Paul Dehns wrote an influential essay called
> "The Americanization of the World." "What is Americanization?" Dehns
> "Americanization in its widest sense, including the societal and
> means the uninterrupted, exclusive, and relentless striving after gain,
> riches and influence."
> In the 20th century the Americans' aggressive commercialism was symbolized
> by the unstoppable spread of jeans, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Disney, and
> Microsoft. America, in the bourgeoisophobes' eyes, is the land of Bart
> Simpson, boy bands, boob jobs, and "Baywatch." The land of money and guns.
> Of insincere smiles and love handles. So by the time Osama bin Laden came
> along, hatred of America was well rehearsed, a finished product just
> waiting for him to pick it up. In 1998 bin Laden declared war on "the
> crusader-Jewish alliance, led by the United States and Israel." He added,
> "Since I was a boy I have been at war with and harboring hatred towards
> Americans." He was only echoing Toynbee, who 30 years earlier said, "The
> United States and Israel must be today the two most dangerous of the 125
> sovereign states among which the land surface of this planet is at present
> partitioned."
> FOR THE bourgeoisophobe, then, the question becomes, how does one confront
> this menace? And on this, the bourgeoisophobes split into two schools.
> which might be called the brutalist school, seeks to reclaim the raw,
> masculine vitality that still lies buried at the virile heart of human
> nature. The other, which might be called the ethereal school, holds that a
> creative minority can rise above prosaic bourgeois life into a realm of
> contemplation, feeling, art, sensibility, and spiritual grace.
> The brutalist school started in Germany, more or less with Nietzsche. In
> "Thus Spake Zarathustra," Nietzsche has a character declare that he is
> turning his back on the whole world of degenerate "flea-beetles," the ones
> who spend their lives "higgling and haggling for power with the rabble."
> Salvation instead is found in the will to power. The Ubermensch possesses
> force of will. He can thus be "a mighty . . . hammer" who will smash,
> "break and remove degenerate and decaying races to make way for a new
> of life."
> The brutalists urged sons--"the explosive ones"--to revolt against their
> fathers. They romanticized insanity as a rebellion against convention.
> looked back nostalgically to the crude, savage, and proud men of Homeric
> legend, Germanic history, and Norse myth. They looked for another such
> to emerge today, a virile warrior who would demolish the stale
> encrustations of an overcivilized world and revive the raw energy of the
> species. "We do not need ideologues anymore," Oswald Spengler argued, "we
> need hardness, we need fearless skepticism, we need a class of socialist
> master men." This, of course, was the path that led to Mussolini, Hitler,
> Saddam Hussein, and bin Laden.
> Meanwhile, the ethereal bourgeoisophobes were emerging in Paris and later
> London and the United States. They argued that people in decaying cultures
> should not try to reclaim their former economic and military power. It was
> wiser to accept the decline of their worldly power and embrace the
> contemplative virtues. Toynbee acknowledged that Europe's virile,
> self-assertive days were over. Europeans would have to choose between
> spending their money on comfortable welfare states and spending it on
> militaristic "war-making states." They could not afford both. He predicted
> (in 1926) that they would choose welfare states--and be forced to accept
> being "dwarfed by the overseas world which [Europe] herself had called
> existence."
> The Europeans should therefore turn inward. As Arthur Herman notes, the
> human ideal Toynbee described looks a lot like Toynbee himself:
> sensitive, religious in a contemplative and otherworldly sense, a man who
> shuns the world of violence and barbarism to pursue the 'etherealization'
> of himself and society." Toynbee denounced patriotism, commercial
> and the martial spirit. Artists and intellectuals, the "creative
> should lead until "the majority is drilled into following the minority's
> lead mechanically."
> Though Toynbee despised the United States, his books sold well here. His
> lecture tours were lucrative, and his picture was on the cover of Time
> magazine. When Hitler came along, Toynbee was an enthusiastic appeaser. He
> met Hitler in 1936 and came away deeply impressed (the two men hated some
> of the same things). He told his countrymen that Hitler sincerely desired
> peace. For, just as the brutalist school of bourgeoisophobia led to Hitler
> and Saddam, the ethereal school led to Neville Chamberlain and some of the
> European reaction to George Bush's Axis of Evil.
> SINCE SEPTEMBER 11, there has been a great deal of analysis of the roots
> Muslim rage. But to anybody familiar with the history of bourgeoisophobia,
> it is striking how comfortably Muslim rage meshes with traditional rage
> against meritocratic capitalism. The Islamist fanatic and the
> bourgeoisophobe hate the same things. They use the same words, they utter
> the same protests. In an essay in the New York Review of Books called
> "Occidentalism," Avishai Margalit and Ian Buruma listed the traits that
> enrage al Qaeda and other Third World anti-Americans and anti-Westerners.
> First, they hate the city. Cities stand for commerce, mixed populations,
> artistic freedom, and sexual license. Second, they hate the mass media:
> advertising, television, pop music, and videos. Third, they hate science
> and technology--the progress of technical reason, mechanical efficiency,
> and material know-how. Fourth, they hate prudence, the desire to live
> safely rather than court death and heroically flirt with violence. Fifth,
> they hate liberty, the freedom extended even to mediocre people. Sixth,
> they despise the emancipation of women. As Margalit and Buruma note,
> "Female emancipation leads to bourgeois decadence." Women are supposed to
> stay home and breed heroic men. When women go out into the world, they
> deprive men of their manhood and weaken their virility.
> If you put these six traits together, you have pretty much the pillars of
> meritocratic capitalist society, practiced most assertively in countries
> like America and Israel. Contemporary Muslim rage is further inflamed by
> two additional passions. One is a sense of sexual shame. A rite of passage
> for any bourgeoisophobe of this type is the youthful trip to America or to
> the West, where the writer is nearly seduced by the vulgar hedonism of
> capitalist life, but heroically spurns it. Sayyid Qutb, who is one of the
> intellectual heroes of the Islamic extremists, toured America between 1948
> and 1950. He found a world of jazz, football, movies, cars, and people
> obsessed with lawn maintenance. It was a land, he wrote, "hollow and full
> of contradictions, defects and evils." At one point Qutb found himself at
> church social. The disc jockey put on "Baby, It's Cold Outside." As Qutb
> wrote, "The dancing intensified. . . . The hall swarmed with legs. . . .
> Arms circled arms, lips met lips, chests met chests, and the atmosphere
> full of love." This was at a church social. You can imagine how the
> September 11 al Qaeda hijackers must have felt during the visit they made
> to a Florida strip club shortly before going off to their purifying
> martyrdom.
> The second inflaming passion is humiliation--humiliation caused by the
> that in the 1960s and 1970s, many Arab and Muslim nations tried to join
> this bourgeois world. They tried to modernize, and they failed. Some Arab
> countries continue to pursue the low and dirty modernizing path, continue
> to ape the sordid commercialists and even to accept the presence of
> American troops on Arabian soil. And this drives the hard-core Islamic
> bourgeoisophobes to even higher states of rage. As bin Laden himself
> notably put it, protesting the presence of American troops on Saudi land:
> "By God, Muslim women refuse to be defended by these American and Jewish
> prostitutes." The Islamist response to humiliation has been worship of the
> Muslim man of force. Islamist extremists romanticize the brutal warrior,
> just as the German bourgeoisophobes did, only the Islamists wear robes and
> clutch Korans. Like European and Japanese brutalists before them, the
> Islamists celebrate violence and build a cult of suicide and death. "The
> Americans love Pepsi-Cola, we love death," declared al Qaeda's Mualana
> Inyadullah after September11. Jews "love life more than any other people,
> and they prefer not to die," declared Hamas official Ismail Haniya on
> 28 amidst a rash of suicide bombings.
> Among the Bourgeoisophobes, Part 2
> by David Brooks
> 04/06/2002 12:03:00 AM
> THE BRUTALIST bourgeoisophobia of the Islamic extremists is pretty
> straightforward. The attitudes of European etherealists are quite a bit
> more complicated. Europeans, of course, are bourgeois themselves, even
> so in some ways than Americans and Israelis. What they distrust about
> America and Israel is that these countries represent a particularly
> aggressive and, to them, unbalanced strain of bourgeois ambition. No
> European would ever acknowledge the category, but America and Israel are
> heroic bourgeois nations. The Israelis are driven by passionate Zionism to
> build their homeland and make it rich and powerful. Americans are driven
> our Puritan sense of calling, the deeply held belief that we Americans
> a special mission to spread our way of life around the globe. It is
> precisely this heroic element of ordinary life that Europeans lack and
> distrust.
> So the Europeans are all ambivalence. The British historian J.H. Plumb
> declared that he loved America (and he was indeed a great defender of the
> United States), but even his admiration for the country "was entangled
> anger, anxiety and at times flashes of hate." In his infuriatingly
> condescending and ultimately appreciative portrait "America," the French
> modernist Jean Baudrillard wrote, "America is powerful and original;
> America is violent and abominable. We should not seek to deny either of
> these aspects, nor reconcile them."
> But Europeans do seek to deny them--because they simply can't remember
> it's like to be imperially confident, to feel the forces of history
> at one's back, to have heroic and even eschatological aspirations. Their
> passions have been quieted. Their intellectual guides have taught them
> business is ignoble and striving is vulgar. Their history has caused them
> to renounce military valor (good thing, too) and to regard their own
> relative decline as a sign of greater maturity and wisdom. The European
> Union has a larger population than the United States, and a larger
> its political class has tried to construct an institutional architecture
> that will enable it to rival America. But the imperial confidence is gone,
> along with the youthful sense of limitless possibility and the
> unselfconscious embrace of ordinary striving.
> So their internal engine is calibrated differently. They look with disdain
> upon our work ethic (the average American works 350 hours a year--nearly
> nine weeks--longer than the average European). They look with disdain upon
> what they see as our lack of social services, our relatively small welfare
> state, which rewards mobility and effort but less gracefully cushions
> misfortune. They look with distaste upon our commercial culture, which
> favors the consumer but does not ease the rigors of competition for
> producers. And they look with fear upon our popular culture, which like
> some relentless machine seems designed to crush the local cultures that
> stand in its way.
> To European bourgeoisophobes, America is the radioactive core of what
> Ignacio Ramonet, editor and publisher of Le Monde Diplomatique, recently
> called "The Other Axis of Evil" in a front-page essay. It controls the IMF
> and the World Bank, the institutions that reward the rich and punish the
> poor, Ramonet claimed. American institutions such as the Heritage
> Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Cato Institute
> promulgate the ideology that justifies exploitation, he continued. The
> American military provides the muscle to force-feed economic liberalism to
> the world.
> They look at us uncomprehendingly when our leaders declare a global
> on terror and evil. They see us as a mindless Rambo, a Mike Tyson with
> rippling muscles and no brain. Where the Islamists see us as a decadent
> slut, the European etherealists see us as a gun-slinging cowboy. The
> Islamists think we are too spoiled and comfortable, the Europeans think we
> are too violent and impulsive. Each side's view of us is a mix of
> images (Marilyn Monroe for the Islamists, John Wayne for the Europeans),
> mass-media distortions, envy-driven stereotypes, and self-justifying
> delusions. But each side's vision springs from a deeper
> bourgeoisophobia--the prejudice that people who succeed in worldly affairs
> must be morally and intellectually backward. This article of faith governs
> the way even many sophisticated Europeans and Muslims react to us.
> AFTER SEPTEMBER 11, there was a widespread fear in Europe and in certain
> American circles that the United States would lash out violently and
> pointlessly. In fact, the United States has never behaved this way. It was
> slow to respond to Pearl Harbor; it was too timid in its responses to the
> USS Cole and other attacks. But to many Europeans, who must believe in our
> mindless immaturity in order to look themselves in the mirror each
> it was obvious that the United States would shoot first and think
> afterwards.
> These Europeans have assigned themselves the self-flattering role of being
> Athens to our Rome. That's what all the talk about coalition-building is
> about; the mindless American car dealer with the big guns should allow
> himself to be guided by the thoughtful European statesman, who is better
> able to think through the unintended consequences of any action, and to
> understand the darker complexities. Much European commentary about America
> since September 11 has had a zoological tone. The American beast did not
> know that he was vulnerable to attack (we Europeans have long understood
> this). The American was traumatized by this discovery. The American was
> overcompensating with an arms build-up that was pointless since, with his
> gigantisme militaire, he already had more weapons than he could ever need.
> Furthermore, the American doesn't see the deeper causes of terrorism, the
> poverty, the hopelessness. America should really be spending more money on
> foreign aid (it's interesting that Europeans, who are supposed to be less
> materialistic than we are, inevitably think more money can solve the
> world's problems, while Americans tend to point to religion or ideas).
> "What America never takes a moment to consider is that, despite its
> mightiness, it is a young country with much to learn. It had no real
> experience of the First and Second World Wars," declared a writer in the
> New Statesman, echoing a sentiment that one heard across the Continent as
> well. America, many Europeans feel, has no experience with the Red
> Brigades, the IRA, the Basque terrorists. Americans have no experience
> Afghanistan. The dim boobies have no idea what sort of instability they
> about to cause. They will go marching off as they always do, naively
> confident of themselves, yet inevitably unaware of the harm they shall do.
> Much of the reaction, in short, has been straight out of Graham Greene's
> novel "The Quiet American." The hero of that book, Alden Pyle, is a
> well-intentioned, naive, earnest manchild who dreams of spreading
> but only stirs up chaos. "I never knew a man who had better motives for
> the trouble he caused," one of the characters says about him. Much of the
> European intellectual response to the American war has less to do with
> actual evidence than with figures from literature and the mass media.
> Sometimes you get the impression that the only people who took the images
> of Rambo, the Lone Ranger, and Superman seriously were the European
> bourgeoisophobes who needed cliches to hate.
> When the etherealized bourgeoisophobe goes to practice politics, he
> instinctively dons the pinstripes of the diplomat. Diplomacy fits his
> temperament. It demands subtlety instead of clarity, self-control instead
> of power, patience instead of energy, nuance instead of restlessness.
> Diplomacy is highly formal, highly elitist, highly civilized. Most of all,
> it is complex. Complexity is catnip to the etherealized bourgeoisophobe.
> paralyzes brute action, and justifies subtle and basically immobile
> gestures, calibrations, and modalities. Bourgeoisophobes have a
> simple-minded faith that whatever the problem is, the solution requires
> complexity. Any decisive effort to change the status quo--to topple
> to give up on Arafat, to foment democracy in the Arab world--will only
> things worse.
> We Americans have our own bourgeoisophobes, of course. If I pulled from my
> shelves all the books about the moral backwardness of the enterprising
> middle classes, I could stack them to the ceiling. I could start with the
> works of the Transcendentalists, then move through Dreiser, Mencken,
> Sherwood Anderson, and Sinclair Lewis. Then we could skim swiftly through
> all the books that bemoan the moral, cultural, and intellectual vapidity
> suburbanites, students, middle managers, and middle Americans: "Babbitt,"
> "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," "The Souls of Black Folk," "The Lonely
> Crowd," "The Organization Man," "The Catcher in the Rye," "The Cultural
> Contradictions of Capitalism," "The Affluent Society," "Death of a
> Salesman," "Soul on Ice," "The Culture of Narcissism," "Habits of the
> Heart," "The Closing of the American Mind," "Earth in the Balance,"
> "Slouching Towards Gomorrah," "Jihad vs. McWorld," just about every word
> ever written by Kevin Phillips and Michael Moore, and just about every
> novel of the last quarter century, from "Rabbit is Rich" through "The
> Corrections." It's a Mississippi flood of pessimism. As Catherine Jurca
> recently wrote in "White Diaspora: The Suburb and the Twentieth-Century
> American Novel," "As a body of work, the suburban novel asserts that one
> unhappy family is a lot like the next, and there is no such thing as a
> happy family."
> The pessimism falls into several categories. There is straightforward,
> left-wing bourgeoisophobia from writers who think commercial culture has
> ravaged our souls. Then there is the right-wing variant that says it has
> made us spiritually flat, and so turned us into comfort-loving Last Men.
> Then there is the conservative pessimism that purports to be a defense of
> the heroic bourgeois culture America embodies while actually showing
> faith in it. Writers of this school argue that the solid capitalist values
> America once possessed have been corrupted by intellectual currents coming
> out of the universities--as if the meritocratic capitalist virtues were
> such delicate flowers that they could be dissolved by the acid influence
> Paul de Man.
> It all adds up to a lot of dark foreboding, and after September 11, it
> doesn't look that impressive. The events of the past several months have
> cast doubt on a century of mostly bourgeoisophobe cultural pessimism.
> Somehow the firemen in New York and the passengers on Flight 93 behaved
> like heroes even though they no doubt lived in bourgeois homes, liked
> Oprah, shopped at Wal-Mart, watched MTV, enjoyed their Barcaloungers, and
> occasionally glanced through Playboy. Even more than that, it has become
> abundantly clear since September 11 that America has ascended to
> unprecedented economic and military heights, and it really is not easy to
> explain how a country so corrupt to the core can remain for so long so
> apparently successful on the surface. If we're so rotten, how can we be so
> great?
> It could be, as the bourgeoisophobes say, that America thrives because it
> is spiritually stunted. It's hard to know, since most of us lack the
> soul-o-meter by which the cultural pessimists apparently measure the depth
> of other people's souls. But we do know that despite the alleged savagery,
> decadence, and materialism of American life, Americans still continue to
> react to events in ways that suggest there is more to this country than
> "Survivor," Self magazine, and T.G.I. Friday's.
> Confronted with the events of September 11, Americans have not sought to
> retreat as soon as possible to the easy comfort of their great-rooms (on
> the contrary, it's been others around the world who have sought to close
> the parenthesis on these events). President Bush, a man derided as a
> typical philistine cowboy, has framed the challenge in the most ambitious
> possible terms: as a moral confrontation with an Axis of Evil. He has
> chosen the most arduous course. And the American people have supported
> embraced his vision every step of the way--even the people who fiercely
> opposed his election.
> This is not the predictable reaction of a decadent, commercial people.
> is not the reaction you would have predicted if you had based your
> knowledge of America on the extensive literature of cultural decline. Nor
> would you have been able to predict the American reaction to recent events
> in the Middle East, which also differs markedly from the European one.
> as the French anti-globalist activist Jose Bove, heretofore most famous
> smashing up a McDonald's, senses that he has something in common with
> Yasser Arafat (whom he visited in Ramallah on March 31), most Americans
> sense that they have something in common with Israel in this fight. Most
> Americans can see the difference between nihilistic terrorism and a
> democracy trying fitfully to defend itself. And most Americans seem
> to defend the principles that are at stake here, even in the face of
> criticism and obloquy. In this, as in so much else, George Bush reflects
> the meritocratic capitalist culture of which he is a product. While the
> rest of the world was lost in a moral fog, going on about the "cycle of
> violence" as if bombs set themselves off and the language of human agency
> and moral judgment didn't apply, the Bush administration, by and large,
> been clear.
> IN THIS and many other aspects of the war on terrorism, the American
> leaders and the American people have been stubborn and steadfast. Just as
> the American people patiently persevered through a century of fighting
> fascism and communism, there is every sign they will patiently persevere
> the conflict against terrorism, which is really a struggle against people
> who despise our way of life.
> Maybe the bourgeoisophobes were wrong from the first. Maybe they were
> to think that 90 percent of humanity is mad to seek money. Maybe they were
> wrong to think that wealth inevitably corrupts. Maybe they were wrong to
> regard themselves as the spiritual superiors of middle-class bankers,
> lawyers, and traders. Maybe they were wrong to think that America is
> predominantly about gain and the bitch-goddess success. Maybe they were
> wrong to think that power and wealth are a sign of spiritual stuntedness.
> Maybe they were wrong to treasure the ecstatic gestures of rebellion,
> martyrdom, and liberation over the deeper satisfactions of ordinary life.
> And if they weren't wrong, how does one explain the fact that almost all
> their predictions turned out to be false? For two centuries America has
> been on the verge of exhaustion or collapse, but it never has been
> exhausted or collapsed. For two centuries capitalism has been in crisis,
> but it never has succumbed. For two centuries the youth/the artists/the
> workers/the oppressed minorities were going to overthrow the staid
> conformism of the suburbs, but in the end they never did. Instead they
> moved to the suburbs and found happiness there.
> For two centuries there has been this relentless pattern. Some new
> bourgeoisophobe movement or figure emerges--Lenin, Hitler, Sartre, Che
> Guevara, Woodstock, the Sandinistas, Arafat. The new movement is embraced.
> It is romanticized. It is heralded as the wave of the future. But then it
> collapses, and the never-finally-disillusioned bourgeoisophobes go off in
> search of the next anti-bourgeois movement that will inspire the next
> chapter in their ever-disappointed Perils of Pauline journey.
> Perhaps, on the other hand, September 11 will cause more Americans to come
> to the stunning and revolutionary conclusion that we are right to live the
> way we do, to be the way we are. Maybe it is now time to put intellectual
> meat on the bones of our instinctive pride, to acknowledge that the
> American way of life is not only successful, but also character-building.
> It inculcates virtues that account for American success: a certain ability
> to see problems clearly, to react to setbacks energetically, to accomplish
> the essential tasks, to use force without succumbing to savagery. Perhaps
> ordinary American life mobilizes individual initiative, and the highest,
> not just the crassest aspirations. Maybe Baudrillard, that infuriatingly
> appreciative Frenchman, had it right when he wrote about America, "We
> [Europeans] philosophize about a whole host of things, but it is here that
> they take shape. . . . It is the American mode of life, that we judge
> or devoid of culture, that gives us the completed picture of the object of
> our values."
> Because the striking thing is that, for all their contempt, the
> bourgeoisophobes cannot ignore us. They can't just dismiss us with a wave
> and get on with their lives. The entire Arab world, and much of the rest
> the world, is obsessed with Israel. Many people in many lands define
> themselves in opposition to the United States. This is because deep down
> they know that we possess a vitality that is impressive. The Europeans
> regard us as simplistic cowboys, and in a backhanded way they are
> acknowledging the pioneering spirit that motivates America--the heroic
> spirit that they, in the comfort of their welfare states, lack. The
> extremists regard us as lascivious hedonists, and in a backhanded way they
> are acknowledging both our freedom and our happiness.
> Maybe in their hatred we can better discern our strengths. Because if the
> tide of conflict is rising, then we had better be able to articulate, not
> least to ourselves, who we are, why we arouse such passions, and why we
> absolutely right to defend ourselves.
> David Brooks is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.
>  Copyright 2001, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.
> --
> -----------------
> R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah@ibuc.com>
> The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
> 44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
> "... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
> [predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
> experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'
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