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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> Bourgeoisophobia
roya.jakoby on Wed, 10 Apr 2002 16:20:01 +0200 (CEST)


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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> Bourgeoisophobia


ah..oh.. oy.. hah, hah.. and some people just hate themselves.. and some people gain all their profit out of other people's arguments and self hatred.. hah! and sometimes i wonder how the right uses left wing rhetoric to help themselves... and vice versa - feels like hanging out in some sort of rhetorical shopping mall.

last night i was dreaming of guys in business suits who are sitting in tanks and shoot people in their hundreds - somewhere in western europe (ot was it palestine or where was it again?). and afterwards they all sang "The Internationally" together - what a fucking scenario. and the worst bit is of course that this nightmare of mine (in NYC, in my cosy, NYPD secured, terror free bed) resembles somehow the nightmarish reality of things - that middle way thing, new labour thing or whatever you want to call it thing. while i myself go on living with self hatred and being scared of my own ever so dubious 'character faults' aka all those things that make me potentially 'unfit for survival' in this mean and lean middle way world.. well, it's that culture of selfishness and fear we live in, isn't it. and angst eats soul and brain, doesn't it.

laters, roya.
 

"R. A. Hettinga" wrote:

[This should be good for a laugh around here... ;-) --RAH]

http://theweeklystandard.com/Utilities/printer_preview.asp?idArticle=1102&R=4FB822EC7

Among the Bourgeoisophobes
Why the Europeans and Arabs, each in their own way, hate America and Israel.
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 mediocrity
that accounted for their success. Through some screw-up in the great scheme
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 the
same time." Flaubert thought they were "plodding and avaricious." Hatred of
the bourgeoisie, he wrote, "is the beginning of all virtue." He signed his
letters "Bourgeoisophobus" to show how much he despised "stupid grocers and
their ilk."

Of all the great creeds of the 19th century, pretty much the only one still
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 of
the earth, the vulgarizers of morals, corrupters of culture, and
proselytizers of idolatrous values. These two nations, it is said, practice
conquest capitalism, overrunning poorer nations and exploiting weaker
neighbors in their endless desire for more and more. These two peoples, the
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 the
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 the
BBC's Oxbridge mediacrats--focus their diverse rages and resentments on
this one conflict.

The bourgeoisophobes have no politburo. There is no bourgeoisophobe central
command. They have no plausible strategy for victory. They have only their
nihilistic rage, their envy mixed with snobbery, their snide remarks, their
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 ascribe
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 skills.
A normal person might look at a rich and powerful country and try to locate
the source of its vitality, to measure its human and natural resources, its
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. . . . MONEY
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 and
noble cultures and infected them with their habits and practices. The
19th-century Teutonic philosopher Houston Chamberlain said of the Jews that
"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 responsible
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 pinned
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 asked.
"Americanization in its widest sense, including the societal and political,
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 the
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. One,
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 order
of life."

The brutalists urged sons--"the explosive ones"--to revolt against their
fathers. They romanticized insanity as a rebellion against convention. They
looked back nostalgically to the crude, savage, and proud men of Homeric
legend, Germanic history, and Norse myth. They looked for another such hero
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 into
existence."

The Europeans should therefore turn inward. As Arthur Herman notes, the
human ideal Toynbee described looks a lot like Toynbee himself: "diffident,
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 striving,
and the martial spirit. Artists and intellectuals, the "creative minority,"
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 of
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 a
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 was
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 fact
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 March
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 more
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 by
our Puritan sense of calling, the deeply held belief that we Americans have
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 once
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 with
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 what
it's like to be imperially confident, to feel the forces of history blowing
at one's back, to have heroic and even eschatological aspirations. Their
passions have been quieted. Their intellectual guides have taught them that
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 GDP--and
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 assault
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 Hollywood
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 morning,
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 direct
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 with
Afghanistan. The dim boobies have no idea what sort of instability they are
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 democracy
but only stirs up chaos. "I never knew a man who had better motives for all
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. It
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 Saddam,
to give up on Arafat, to foment democracy in the Arab world--will only make
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 of
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 little
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 of
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 him,
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. This
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. Just
as the French anti-globalist activist Jose Bove, heretofore most famous for
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 willing
to defend the principles that are at stake here, even in the face of global
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, has
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 in
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 wrong
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 naive
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 of
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 Islamic
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 are
absolutely right to defend ourselves.

David Brooks is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.

© Copyright 2001, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.

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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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