©Deirdre Nansen McCloskey | COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL

Is Capitalism Good for You?
A review of Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce by Deirdre N. McCloskey

By Alan Ryan
Volume 53, Number 20, December 21, 2006 of The New York Review of Books
Filed under academic interests [bourgeois virtues][reviews]

The idea of providing an exuberant defense of bourgeois virtues seems on the face of it absurd. In common parlance, 'bourgeois' is synonymous with 'humdrum' and 'conventional.' The ideal bourgeois citizen is cautious and anxious; given to deferred gratification, to considering the rainy days ahead, and to paying the price in present pleasures foregone. The bourgeois emulates the ant, not the grasshopper, working hard during the good times to survive the bad times that must lie ahead. When critics talk of 'bourgeois virtues,' it is often with a sneer. Prudence is a virtue, but 'bourgeois prudence' is a synonym for timidity and meanness; and 'bourgeois courage' sounds very like a contradiction in terms. Exuberance seems foreign to the bourgeois soul; but a book that opens with the ringing declaration 'I bring good news about our bourgeois lives' promises to be long on exuberance and short on anxiety. And so it proves.

Continues at the Review's electronic edition. Subscription required. 4648 words.