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The Industrial Revolution and the modern world did not arise in the first instance from a quickening of the capitalist spirit or the Scientific Revolution or an original accumulation of capital or an exploitation of the periphery or imperialistic exploitation or a rise in the savings rate or a better enforcement of property rights or a higher birth-rate of the profit-making gifted or a manufacturing capitalism taking over from commercial capitalism, or from any other of the mainly materialist machinery beloved of economists and calculators left and right. The machines weren’t necessary. There were substitutes for each of them, as the economic historian Alexander Gerschenkron argued long ago. 520
Surprisingly, what seem at first the most malleable of things — words, metaphors, narratives — were the most necessary. In the First Industrial Revolution there were no substitutes for bourgeois talk. Followership after the first revolution has been another matter. With techniques borrowed from bourgeois societies a Stalin could suppress bourgeois talk and yet make a lot of steel. In 1700, however, the absence of the new dignity for merchants and inventors in Britain would have led to the crushing of enterprise, as it had always been crushed before. Governments would have stopped invention to protect the vested interests, as they always had done. Gifted people would have opted for careers as soldiers or priests or courtiers, as always. The hobby of scientific inquiry that swept Britain in the early eighteenth century would have remained in the parlor, and never transitioned to the mill.
The talk mattered, whether or not the talk had exactly its intended effect. In the late eighteenth-century a male and female public that eagerly read Hannah More and William Cowper created middle class values from hymns and novels and books of instruction, “an expanding literate public seeking not only diversion but instruction.” 521 Similarly, the AbbÃ© Sieyes’ essay of 1789, What is the Third Estate? had a lasting impact on French politics. In A Rhetoric of Bourgeois Revolution the historian William Sewell argues that “the literary devices that characterized Sieyes’s rhetoric of social revolution quickly became standard elements in a revolutionary rhetorical lexicon. His language, it seems fair to say, had . . . enduring and powerful effects on French political culture.” 522 As Tocqueville famously put it in 1856, “Our men of letters did not merely impart their revolutionary ideas to the French nation; they also shaped the national temperament and outlook on life. In the long process of molding men’s minds to their ideal pattern their task was all the easier since the French had had no training in the field of politics, and thus they had a clear field.” 523 Even in the British colonies from Vermont to Georgia and the new nation made out of them — places with a good deal of local training in the field of politics — the rhetoric of the American Declaration of Independence, or the Gettysburg Address, or the Four Freedoms speech, or the I Have a Dream speech, had lasting enduring and powerful effects in molding people’s minds. 524 The word’s the thing.
Modernity did not arise from the deep psycho-social changes that Max Weber posited in 1904-05. Weber’s evidence was of course the talk of people. Yet he believed he was getting deeper, into the core of their psycho-social being. It was not a Protestant ethic or a change in acquisitive desires or a rise of national feeling or an “industrious revolution” or a new experimental attitude or any other change in people’s deep behavior as individuals that initiated the new life of capitalism. These were not trivial, and were surely the flourishing branches of a new bourgeois civilization. They were branches, however, not the root. People have always been proud and hard working and acquisitive and curious, when circumstances warranted it. From the beginning , for example, greed has been a sin, and prudent self-interest a virtue. There’s nothing Early Modern about them. As for the pride of nationalism, Italian cities in the thirteenth century, or for that matter Italian parishes anywhere until yesterday, evinced a nationalism — the Italians still call the local version campanilismo, from campanile, the church bell tower from which the neighborhood takes its daily rhythms — that would do proud a patriotic Frenchman of 1914. And as for the Scientific Revolution, it paid off late. Without a new dignity for the bourgeois engineers and entrepreneurs its modest payoff in the eighteenth century would have been disdained, and the later payoffs postponed forever.
Yet Weber was correct that cultures and societies and economies require an animating spirit, a Geist, an earnest rhetoric of the transcendent, and that such rhetoric matters to economic performance. 525 (Weber’s word Geist, by the way, is less incense-smelling in German than its English translation of “spirit.” Geisteswissenschaften, for example, literally in English a very spooky sounding “spirit sciences,” is the normal German word for what American academics call the “humanities,” the British “arts.”) The Geist of innovation, though, is not deep. It is superficial, located in the way people talk. Such a rhetoric can be changed. For example the conservatives in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s attacked the maternal metaphor of the New Deal and the Great Society, replacing it with a paternal metaphor of discipline. 526 In China the talk (and admittedly also the police action) of the Communist Party down to 1978 stopped all good economic innovation in favor of back-yard blast furnaces and gigantic collective farms. Afterwards the regime gradually allowed innovation, and now China buzzes with talk of this or that opportunity to turn a yuan. Sometimes, as around the North Sea 1517 to 1719, the rhetoric can change even after it has been frozen for millennia in aristocratic and then also in Christian frames of anti-bourgeois talk. Rhetoric-as-cause lacks Romantic profundity. But for all that it is more encouraging, less racist, less nationalistic, less deterministic.
Consider twentieth century history in Britain and the United States. Look at how quickly under McKinley, then Teddy Roosevelt, and then Woodrow Wilson a previously isolationist United States came to carry a big stick in the world, to the disgust of libertarian critics like H. L. Mencken. Look at how quickly the rhetoric of working-class politics changed in Britain between the elections of 1918 and 1922, crushing the great Liberal Party. Look at how quickly the rhetoric of free speech changed in the United States after 1919, through the dissenting opinions of Holmes and Brandeis. 527 Look at how legal prohibitions in Britain directed at advertisements for jobs or housing saying “Europeans only,” which had been commonplace in the 1960s, changed the conversation. (As late as 1991 such rhetoric was still allowed in Germany: a pub in Frankfurt had a notice on the door, Kein Zutritt fÃ¼r Hunde und TÃ¼rken: “No entry for dogs and Turks.” 528 ) Look at how quickly American apartheid changed under the pressure of the Freedom Riders and the Voting Rights Act. Racist talk and racist behavior didn’t vanish in either country, Lord knows. But the racist talk could no longer claim the dignity of law and custom, and the behavior itself was on the run. Witness Barack Obama. Look, again, at how quickly employment for married women became routine. Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, and other carriers of feminism mattered. 529 Look at how quickly under New Labour the nationalizing Clause IV of the British Labour Party fell out of favor. Tony Blair and his rhetoric of realism mattered. One can reasonably assert some material causes for parts of these, surely. But rhetoric mattered, too, and was subject to startlingly rapid change.
The historian David Landes asserted in 1999 that “if we learn anything from the history of economic development, it is that culture makes all the difference. (Here Max Weber was right on.)” 530 That seems to be mistaken, if “culture” here means, as Landes does intend it to mean, historically deep national characteristics. We learn instead that superficial rhetoric makes all the difference, re-figured in each generation. That’s a much more cheerful conclusion, to repeat, than that the fault is in our ancient race or class or nationality, not in our present speech, that we are underlings. As the economists William Baumol, Robert Litan, and Carl Schramm put it in 2007, “There are too many examples of countries turning their economies around in a relatively short period of time, a generation or less [Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Ireland, Spain]. . . . These successes cannot be squared with the culture-is-everything view.” 531 The same could be said of countries turning their politics around in a short period of time, with little change in deep culture: defeated Germany, Franco-less Spain, Russia-freed Ukraine, enriched Taiwan. Culture is not much to the point, it would seem — unless, indeed, “culture” is understood as “the rhetoric people presently find persuasive.” In which case, yes, right on.
The argument is that, contrary to a notion of essences derived from a Romantic theory of personality — and contrary to the other side of the Romantic coin, a notion of pre-known preferences derived from a utilitarian theory of decision-without-rhetorical-reflection — what we do is to some large degree determined by how we talk to others and to ourselves. As Bernard Manin put it, “The free individual is not one who already knows absolutely what he wants, but one who has incomplete preferences and is trying by means of interior deliberation and dialogue with others to determine precisely what he does want.” 532 Manin points out that avant les lettres, in 1755, Rousseau mixed the Romantic and the utilitarian hostilities to such a democratic rhetoric into a nasty and influential concoction, which precisely denied deliberation and rhetoric. 533 Just vote, or discern without voting the General Will.
Rhetoric is of course a part of culture. But it is the superficial part. “Superficial” is not here another word for “stupid” or “unimportant.” Depth-analyses that turn on a Human Nature inherited from imagined African savannahs or an English Character inherited from imagined Anglo-Saxon liberties don’t really explain why men rape or why England has more cargo. The rhetoric of men’s sexual dominance over women (“But she wants it”) or the rhetoric of a business civilization (“That government is best that governs least”) do explain such things, and both rhetoric cans and did change, quickly. Not “easily.” Quickly.
Attributing to deeper culture or personality a behavior that in fact arises from present rhetoric or circumstances is called by social psychologists the “fundamental attribution error.” 534 Seemingly profound and permanent differences in cultural dispositions to which we attribute so much can disappear in a generation or two. The grandchildren of Hmong immigrants to the United States differ in many of their values-in-action only a little from the grandchildren of British immigrants. If you are not persuaded, add a “great” to “grandchildren,” or another “great.” What persists and yet develops and in the end influences, by exposition at a mother’s knee or through stories told in literature high and low, or the rumors of the newspapers and the chatter on the web — a climate of opinion and party politics new in England in the 1690s, for example — are spoken ethical valuations, that is to say, rhetoric. 535 We value others, ourselves, the transcendent in our talk.
Consider for example the high rhetorical valuation of prudence and hope and courage in American civilization. It keeps faith with a spoken identity of unrootedness, what the Dutch economist Arjo Klamer has called the American “caravan” society as against the “citadel” society of Europe. 536 It speaks us in the American frontier myth or the Hollywood road movie, the American folk religion that “you can be anything you want to be.” It wipes out in a couple of generations a Northern European ethic of temperance and egalitarian justice (consult Garrison Keillor) or an East Asian ethic of prudence and family faithfulness (consult Amy Tan). 537
Many people said in the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s and the 1980s that India would never develop economically, that Hindu culture was hopelessly otherworldly and would always be hostile to innovation. True, some wise heads, such as the professor of English literature Nirad Chaudhuri, demurred. In 1959 Chaudhuri pointed out that Christian England was actually less profit-oriented in its prayer for daily bread than was the daily Hindu prayer to Durga, the Mother Goddess: “give me longevity, fame, good fortune, O Goddess, give me sons, wealth, and all things desirable.” 538 But most social scientists saw only vicious circles of poverty. Over the forty years after Independence such a rhetoric of a Gandhi-cum-London-School-of-Economics socialism held the “Hindu rate of growth” to 3.2 percent per year, implying a miserable 1 percent a year per capita as the population grew. Nehru wrote with satisfaction in 1962 that “the West also brings an antidote to the evils of cut-throat civilization — the principle of socialism. . . . This is not so unlike the old Brahmin idea of service.” 539
But at last the anti-market rhetoric from the European 1930s and “the old Brahmin idea of service” faded. A capitalist, innovating rhetoric took root in India, partially upending the “License Raj.” 540 And so the place commenced, especially after the economist Manmohan Singh began in 1991 to direct economic policy, to increase the production of goods and services at rates shockingly higher than in the days of five-year plans and corrupt regulation and socialist governments led by students of Harold Laski. By 2008 Indian national income was growing at fully 7 percent a year per head (7.6 in 2005 and 2006). Birth rates were falling, as they do when people get better off.
At 7.0 percent per year compounded the very worst of Indian poverty will disappear in a generation of twenty years, because income per head will have increased then by a factor of 3.9. The leading student of such matters, Angus Maddison, comes to about the same conclusion in his projections for the year 2030. 541 Income will be well over the 2003 level of income per head at purchasing power parity of Mexico — not heaven on earth, but a lot better than New Delhi now, or a lot better than all of India at $2,160 on the same basis in 2003. 542 Much of the culture didn’t change in the seventeen years after 1991, and probably won’t change much in the twenty years after 2008. People still give offerings to Lakshmi and the son of Gauri, as they did in 1947 and 1991. They still play cricket. In 2028, one supposes, the Indians will still engage in these endearing cultural practices. And in 2048, after merely two generations at such bourgeois rates of growth, average income will have risen by a factor of fully 16 over what it was in 2008, and the level will be well over what is was in the United States in 2003. Yet even by 2048 in much of their talk and action the Indians will probably not have the slightest temptation to become like Chicagoans or Parisians, no more than southern Italians once very poor have adopted (as they became by international standards rich) an American style of driving or a British taste in food. Yet in their rhetoric about the economy the Italians did, and the Indians will, enter the modern world, and the modern word, of a bourgeois civilization. And they will be the better for it, materially and spiritually.
What changed in Europe, and then the world, was the rhetoric of trade and production and innovation — that is, the way influential people such as Defoe, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Hume, Turgot, Franklin, Smith, Paine, Wilkes, Condorcet, Pitt, Sieyes, Napoleon, Godwin, Humboldt, Wollstonecraft, Bastiat, Martineau, Mill, Manzoni, Macaulay, Peel, and Emerson, and then almost everyone, with the exception of an initially tiny group of anti-bourgeois clerisy gathering strength after 1848 such as Carlyle, List, Carey, Flaubert, Ruskin, Marx, and Thoreau, talked about earning a living. The bourgeois talk was challenged mainly by appeal to traditional values, aristocratic or religious, developing into nationalism, socialism, and environmentalism. But increasingly, as in Jane Austen, a rhetoric by no means enthusiastic for trade did accept — or at any rate acknowledged with genial amusement — the values of the polite and commercial people. 543 The talk mattered because it affected how economic activity was valued and how governments behaved towards it.
Max Weber in fact had also such a change in mind. His instinct to take religious doctrine seriously in explaining the change deserves respect, though not exactly in the form of his triumphalism about reformed Protestantism. Only fragments remains of his original notion that Calvinists were especially enterprising. In 1995 Jacques Delacroix summarized a few of the more striking counterexamples: “Amsterdam’s wealth was centered on Catholic families; the economically advanced German Rhineland is more Catholic than Protestant; all-Catholic Belgium was the second country to industrialize.” 544 One could mention, too, the earlier evidence of capitalist vigor in Catholic Venice, Florence, Barcelona, Lisbon — unless one were pre-committed to the mistaken notion that no “capitalism” could possibly exist before 1600. And Sweden, Prussia, and Scotland showed no signs of economic dynamism in the first couple of centuries of the priesthood of all believers. 545
The change in talk about economic life — which by the way was born at the theoretical level in Catholic Spain before Protestant England, and in Italy among theologians before Spain, though both died in childhood — provided warrants for certain changes in behavior. 546 The talk was essential. The trade to the East and the New World was not essential, although it got the most press. Early and late the trade overseas was small relative to the trade among the Europeans themselves, and especially relative to trade inside each European country. Trade in, say, France is mainly a matter of deals with other French people close by, not the deals with Native Americans at QuÃ©bec for furs or with south Asians at PondichÃ©ry for spices that constituted a tiny portion of the nation’s consumption. The character of the European bourgeoisie itself did not change. The merchants and manufacturers attended to business as they always had, early and late. They “had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.” They were literate and used balance sheets and thought habitually in terms of profit and loss many centuries before such rhetorical habits became honorable among the elite and then among the generality. Nationalism did change in some places — though a lively literature nowadays dates English nationalism from many centuries before the Industrial Revolution, and even French and Scottish and Irish nationalism can be dated quite early, in reaction to the God-damning English bowmen or the God-fearing Cromwellian musketeers. And on the other hand the bourgeois and enterprising Dutch have not to this day developed a nationalism comparable to England’s. Compare the levels of football hooliganism among the supporters of the two countries’ national teams.
But in economic effects all these were side shows. What did change in northwestern Europe was the spoken attitude towards the bourgeois life and the capitalist economy, in the rhetoric of the bourgeoisie themselves and in that of their traditional enemies. The enemies revived after the Reformation in the Spanish and French lands to crush enterprise — the crushing correlated with fresh religious intolerance which England, Denmark, and Prussia managed to side-step — and then revived again Europe-wide after 1848. 547 Such rhetoric for and against innovation was no side show. It was the main event, and it did change greatly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In England the pro-innovation rhetoric triumphed, and then in the world, arousing in the nineteenth century a counter-rhetoric leading to the catastrophes of the twentieth century.
Without a new rhetoric accepting of markets and innovation and the bourgeoisie, the societies of northwestern Europe would have continued to bump along in a zero-sum mode, as had every society with fleeting exceptions since the caves. Few would have ventured to turn a profit by inventing a seed drill for the wheat field or an atmospheric engine for the coal mine. Why bother, if the Sultan would throw you off a cliff for your trouble, or if the Emperor’s noblemen would swoop down to seize your profits, or if every scribbler and courtier and cleric held the floor in Madrid or Versailles or Urbino by sneering at your very existence? While a Europe roused from its provincial slumbers was fashioning a myth and eventually a science of the Orient, writes J. M Coetzee in an essay about the modern novel in Arabic, “Islam, on the other hand, knew (and cared to know) little about the West” — this long after the great age of Islamic science and scholarship. 548 When in 1792-93 George III sent 600 cases of telescopes, plate glass, globes, and so forth to the Emperor of China, the Emperor was unimpressed. His servant replied, “there is nothing we lack. . . . We have never set much store on strange or ingenious objects.” 549 The bourgeois civilization of Europe, on the contrary, became obsessed after 1700 with strange and ingenious objects.
But before the great change around 1700 Europe had little by way of pro-innovation ideology, and a great deal against anything so bourgeois. Castiglione’s Il Libro del Cortegiano, The Book of the Courtier, was written in 1508-1516 about an imagined conversation at the court of Guidobaldo and Francesco Maria, Dukes of Urbino, the cream of Renaissance princes. In 1528 at Venice a first edition of 1031 copies in Italian was published, and in subsequent decades it was translated into every major European language, in twenty different cities, to become one of the most popular books of the age.
It praises the very best ladies and gentlemen, among whom it certainly does not count the bourgeoisie. Ladies who use too many cosmetics are “like wily merchants who display their cloths in a dark place.” A true gentleman is motivated by glory to hazardous deeds of war, “and whoever is moved by gain or other motives. . . deserves not to be called a gentleman [gentilomo], but a most base merchant” [vilissimo mercante]. One gentleman in the imagined conversation is portrayed as deflecting praise. His praiser, he protests modestly, in offering superficially plausible praise for such a flawed person as the gentleman in question, is like “some merchants . . . who put a false coin among many good ones.” 550
But in truth the bourgeoisie figures hardly at all in the book, although the splendor of the Italian Renaissance rested on its activity. Without the coming after 1700 of a bourgeois civilization — very different from the civilization recommended by Castiglione’s gentlefolk living courtly lives off taxes and rents from a commercial society they disdained — the profit from commercial invention would have continued even in northern Italy to be seen as ignoble, and innovation inglorious. Buying low and selling high would have been continued to be seen as base. Institutionalized theft and honorably restrained innovation in warfare would have continued to be seen as noble and aristocratic. Alms and tithes would have continued to be seen as holy.
Not that the actual aristocrats hesitated to engage in trade when opportunities arose in a market for grain or even for plebeian cloth, or indeed when more violent opportunities for profit arose. When defeated in battle, Norbert Elias observes in making the point, “usually only the poor and lowly, for whom no considerable ransom could be expected, were mutilated.” 551 Defeated fellow knights were sent home after the ransom had been collected, with ears, noses, and fingernails intact. Like most activities in the Middle Ages, warfare was monetized, trading a Richard the Lionhearted imprisoned in a castle outside Vienna for gold, as every watcher of the various movies of “Robin Hood” will know.
Likewise the actual priests kept an eye open for profit, as poetry and folk tale bitterly attest. The Cistercian monks were for centuries the cleverest merchant farmers in Europe, inventing financial instruments and labor-saving machines, and had no trouble with accumulating great wealth for the glory of God and the abbot’s table. The most insistent complaint against what the historical sociologist Rodney Stark calls the Church of Power was its single-minded pursuit of wealthy display, “to be well dressed and well shod, in order to ride on horseback and to drink and eat well,” as one of the “perfects” of the heretical Albigensians, late Gnostics, put it in the early thirteenth century. 552 **add Chaucer example, or the play. It was not desire for gain that changed. The Middle Ages are not to be viewed as a contentedly uncommercial Merrie Englande, even if starring Errol Flynn. This we know from a century of historical scholarship.
A wise economist, who might not entirely agree with my celebration of bourgeois virtues, said in 1991 that from a study of “surface phenomena: discourse, arguments, rhetoric, historically and analytically considered” emerges a finding that “discourse is shaped, not so much by fundamental personality traits [pace Weber and Landes], but simply by the imperatives of argument, almost regardless of the desires, character, or convictions of the participants.” 553 Modern innovation is not about the rise of greed or of self-interest properly understood or of some other fundamental personality trait or deep cultural characteristic. What did change were the articulated ideas about the economy — talk about the sources of wealth, ideas and about positive sum as against zero-sum economic games, about progress and invention, and above all about what sort of calling is admirable. A professor of English put the point well in 1987: “Capitalist ideology entails, most fundamentally, the attribution of value to capitalist activity: minimally, as valuable to ends greater than itself as significant of [that is, signifying] virtue; perhaps as valuable in its own right; finally, even as value-creating.” He believes the change 1600-1740 (the period to which he attributes the origin of the English novel) witnessed the rise of such a valorized innovation. His last phrase, “value-creating” means the encouragement of values, virtues — not merely (though not excluding) exchange value. 554
The big change happened in what Karl Popper called World Three, above material traits (World One) and psychological traits (World Two), up at the level of recorded, spoken, bruited-about ideas concerning the material and psychological and cultural traits. And so fresh versions of worlds One and Two were born. The danger is that they can be killed off, too, by utopian or reactionary rhetoric of the left or the right, and quickly, especially when backed by guns. The true believers wielding the guns are persuadable to some very nasty enthusiasms, such as the Shining Path in Peru, lead by a professor of philsophy, or the Khmir Rouge in Cambodia, intent on reviving the medieval glories of the Khmir Empire. The liberal ideas about the economy were killed off in 1914 and 1917 and 1933 locally. They can be again, globally. Let’s not.
Another wise economist, who also might not have found my views altogether congenial, said in 1936 that “the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. . . . I am sure the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.” 556 So here.
To say it in a little more detail:
In Dante’s time a market was viewed as an occasion for sin. Holiness in 1300 was earned by prayers and charitable works, whereas buying low and selling high was deemed a great danger to the soul. As the holier-than-thou Albigensians in southern France put it a century before Dante, the truly holy people were the “poor of the faith,” that is, rich people like St. Francis of Assisi who chose “lady poverty, a fairer bride than any of you have seen.” 492 Still in Shakespeare’s time a claim of “virtue” for working in a market was flatly ridiculous. “Let me have no lying,” says the rogue Autolycus in The Winter’s Tale, “It becomes none but a merchant.” 493 Ulysses says in Troilus and Cressida, “Let us like merchants show our foulest wares /And think perchance, they’ll sell.” 494
A secular gentleman, who was allowed to wear a sword, earned his virtue by nobility not by bargaining. He was a soldier,/ Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,/Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,/ Seeking the bubble reputation/ Even in the cannon’s mouth. The very title of “gentleman” in Elizabeth I’s time meant someone who attended the Cadiz Raid or Hampton Court, engaging in nothing so demeaning as actual work. Among the Dutch, too, as late as 1743 a report on the conditions in the tiny colony around Cape Town noted of the denizens that “having imported slaves, every common or ordinary European becomes a gentleman [meneer from mijn heer, my lord, would be the word: De Heer in Dutch is The Lord God] and prefers to be served rather than to serve.” 495 The distinction haunted Afrikaner society down to the twentieth century, and kept it for a long time non-bourgeois, and poor. 496
The mid-Victorian moralist Samuel Smiles, much scorned by people who have never read him (he praises the bourgeoisie; and after all he has a funny name), held up in the final chapter of Self Help (1859) “The True Gentleman” as his ideal. But the way Smiles mixes aristocratic and Christian/democratic and bourgeois notions of gentlemanliness is not the main line of the word until very late. Admittedly, sense 2a in the Oxford English Dictionary is “a man in whom gentle birth is accompanied by appropriate qualities and behavior; hence, in general, a man of chivalrous instincts and fine feelings,” with an instance as early as 1386, in Chaucer. The lexicographers of Oxford note further that “in this sense the term is frequently defined by reference to the later derived senses of ‘gentle’,” that is, “mild mannered,” an early and unusual use being 1552. Yet much more usually until modern times the word “gentle” continued to mean “well-born.” In their book Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary and Language Companion (2002) David and Ben Chrystal put “gentle” among their selection of the 100 most frequently encountered words that would mislead a modern reader of the Bard. They define “gentle” simply as “well-born.” 497 (The alternative spelling and pronunciation, “genteel,” means much the same as “gentle” in seventeenth-century English, “appropriate to persons of quality,” as in Pepys writing in 1665 that “we had the genteelist dinner.” But in its various shades of meaning recorded in the OED “genteel” becomes in the eighteenth century a bit of a joke, and is used “now chiefly with sarcastic implication.” Thus Jane Austen in 1815 says of an unfortunate family that “they were of low origin, in trade, and only moderately genteel.” 498 Note Austen’s gentle, and genteel, amusement at the distinction.)
Smiles’ modern assertion on the last page of his book that “Gentleness is indeed the best test of gentlemanliness” may serve well enough now in our egalitarian times, originating in the crazy notions of Levelers in the 1640s or Wat Tyler’s mad talk in 1381 that rank and birth should not matter: “When Adam delved, and Eve span/ Who then was the gentleman?” But it has nothing to do with the self-confident society of sneering rank and birth that Shakespeare praised. Until the rhetoric started changing in earnest around 1700 English people thought it was quite absurd to claim, as Smiles did, that gentlemanliness “may exhibit itself under the hodden grey of the peasant as well as under the lace coat of the noble.” 499 Smiles’ “hodden grey” [that is, undyed homespun cloth mixed of white and black wool] is an unmarked quotation from Burns’ leveling poem of 1795, “A Man’s a Man for a’ That”: “What though on hamely [homely] fare we dine,/ Wear hoddin grey, an’ a that; /Gie [give] fools their silks, and knaves their wine; /A Man’s a Man for a’ that.” But Burns’ is modern, democratic, revolutionary talk, the talk of the Scottish kirk meeting, where any devout man could speak up, or the Scottish marketplace, where a poor man’s penny was as good as that of yon birkie ca’d a lord. The very word “noble” was transformed by Calvinists in the seventeenth century into a spiritual condition, “true nobility.” 500 The change in the rhetoric, the honoring of people who claimed no privilege of robe or sword and merely worked at the business of ordinary life, serving rather than being served, yet finding honor in such a task, the shift to a bourgeois civilization — which came (as causes do) before the material and political changes it gave rise to — was historically unique. “The pith o’ sense an’ pride o’ worth/ Are higher rank that a’ that./ Then let us pray that come it may,/ (As come it will for a’ that,)/ That sense and worth, o’er a’ the earth, /Shall bear the gree [be thoroughly superior], an’ a’ that.” It was a change in ethics, a change in earnest talk about the good life, spreading at length to poets and plowmen.
By the very end, by 1848, notoriously, in Holland and England and America and their imitators in northwestern Europe, a busy businessperson was routinely said to be good, and good for us, except by an angry and as yet tiny clerisy of anti-capitalists, gathering especially in France. The new form of innovation, dating from its precursors in the northern Italian city states around 1300 to the first modern bourgeois society on a large scale in Holland around 1600 to a pro-bourgeois ethical and political rhetoric in Britain around 1776 to a world-making rhetoric around 1848, grew for the first time in history at the level of big states and empires to be acceptable, even honorable, even virtuous.
The former aristocratic or Christian or Muslim or Confucian elites had contempt for business, and taxed it or regulated it at every opportunity, keeping it within proper bounds. That was the chief constraint on the march to the modern — withholding honor from innovation, and dignity from ordinary life. But indeed a small society dominated by business could itself rather easily set constraints, by arranging for a local monopoly. If the dominate classes of merchants worked at it long enough, as the Venetians did, they could reproduce a society of strict rank and birth. The killing of innovation by the bourgeoisie itself was made possible by economic localism, Europe being riven until the nineteenth century by toll gates within countries and at frontiers — this in sharp contrast to contemporary China, which constituted one enormous free trade area. By contrast, beginning in 1738 the Prussian tax collectors, having torn down the old defensive city walls (no longer effective against modern guns) , erected a twenty-foot tall customs wall (Akzisemauer), which itself was torn down only in 1866 — a fitting symbol of the rise and fall of European’s self-defeating mercantilism. 501 The third act of Puccini’sLa BohÃ¨me (1896, from a novel of 1849 referring to the 1830s) takes place at a toll gate into Paris. It would not have seemed odd even in post-War Europe, at any rate before the full blooming of the Common Market. In 1968 we waited in our car for hours with hundreds of lorries to cross from Austria to Italy.
Thus Deventer, a Hansa town in the Netherlands, was in 1500 strictly bounded by tariffs and protections for existing trades. Constraints on trade were the illiberal equilibrium of Europe before the Industrial Revolution. You could not innovate in producing cloth without permission from the guild. In Germany during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries even the urban poets of each little town were organized into guilds, that of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von NÃ¼rnberg, for example, with their tunes and meters laid out in rule books in a most unRomantic way.
In the style of central planning and regulation now — as against the wild, self-organizing free market now — people expected their economy to be predictable. Stanislav du Plessis speaks of his Afrikaner great grandparents, and of their parents, and theirs, and theirs: “for these couples, as for humankind generally for almost all of history, parents lived the same lives as their children.” The children “grew rich, if at all, and rarely, by accumulating more land and more cattle, more labor. . . . It is the same model we read about in the Old Testament (Genesis 13:1-30; Genesis 30: 25-43).” 502 The model was zero sum. In 1600 England, even though a big society, at any rate by Deventer or NÃ¼rnberg standards, still affixed chains on enterprise, under a theory that a trade was zero sum. Many believed that “to add more persons to be Merchant Adventurers is to put more sheep into one and the same pasture which is to serve them all.” 503 Let us have predictable lives. It is what is behind modern revivals of mercantilism, as in Lew ***check spelling Dobbs on U. S. television or the French vintners demanding still more protection or the anti-globalization rioters at the meetings of the Group of Seven.
But a free-trade area as large as Britain in the eighteenth century, after the change in rhetoric around 1700, could develop sufficient material and intellectual interests in free trade to unbind Prometheus. 504 A balance of interests against passions, in other words, is not merely a modern liberal fancy. Interests grew up in the British eighteenth century that had a stake in free markets. When the new rhetoric gave license for new businesses, the businesses could enrich enough people to create their own vested interests for carrying on, creating a toleration for creative destruction, and for unpredictable lives. Ideas and conditions intertwined into a uniquely modern rope. The first task of Napoleon’s conquering armies was to abolish restrictions by guilds, and the abolition was lasting. The result was the unprecedentedly rich societies of Europe and the world. The interests of a bourgeois civilization overbalanced the accumulated interests of traditional clergy, peasants, aristocrats, and local bourgeois monopolists, sufficiently.
From 1300 to 1600 in northern Italy and the southern and then the northern Low Countries, and the Hansa towns, and then more broadly and decisively down to 1776 in Britain, and still more broadly and still more decisively down to 1848 all over northwestern Europe and its offshoots, something changed in elite talk. In England the change in the rhetoric about the economy happened during a concentrated and startling period 1600 to 1776, and especially during an even more concentrated and even more startling period from 1689 to 1719. The heralds in England gave up trying to enforce the rule that only a gentleman could wear a sword. 505 Innovation, a “system of property rights coordinated by prices,” as the economist P. J. Hill puts it, and the bourgeois work in support of it came to be spoken of as virtuous. In some ways — though not all — innovation and other bourgeois work came to be virtuous in fact.
It was a close call, because rhetoric matters. The material and legal constraints of the economy and society of Europe did not change vastly from 1689 to 1789, at any rate not on the scale of the material change from 1789 to 1914, or still more the change from 1914 to 1989. People traveled in carriages and sailing ships in 1789 as they had in 1689; they ate grain raised mainly locally and spices raised entirely in the Indies as they had in 1689; they lived for the most part in small towns or the country as before; they worked for masters with whom they were personally acquainted; they were routinely beaten by their masters or their husbands if they misbehaved; they died at high rates from water-borne diseases; they could not vote; the laws under which they lived were ferociously slanted towards the rich. Not a great deal of a narrowly economic or political or legal sort changed in the eighteenth century. Therefore narrowly economic or political or legal changes cannot be the cause of that Industrial Revolution stirring in the late eighteenth century. The economist’s instinctive materialism, in short, looks inadequate to the task of explaining the modern world.
What did change astoundingly, and at the right time to explain subsequent enrichment, were ideas and their rhetoric. The ideas and the rhetoric depended on the close call going a particular way. Imagine the denouement of eighteenth-century politics without Freemasonry — Franklin, Washington, Lafayette were masons, continuing a movement begun in Britain (and spread by Desaguliers), becoming in Holland the home of the early “radical Enlightenment,” and spreading throughout Europe. Fully 300 lodges were scattered across even princely Germany, elevating discussion and encouraging fraternal equality (and even some sororal pseudo-equality) right down to the Austrian Mozart’s Magic Flute (1791). 506
Or imagine the Enlightenment without Diderot and his EncylopÃ©die (from 1751 on), by 1772 in 17 folio volumes of text and 11 volumes of 2,885 illustrations, with 140 contributors (for example, Rousseau on music), with 71,818 entries, and as early as 1754 having 4,255 subscribers, and in its cheap octavo editions in the late 1770s “reproduced and distributed on a mass scale throughout Europe,” 25,000 copies between 1751 and 1782, and many more translations and cheap editions later. 507 A half a century earlier, as Joel Mokyr has noted, the Chinese encyclopedia Gujin Tushu Jicheng, fully 100 million characters (the EncyclopÃ©die had only one fifth as many words), was printed, but was devoted to declaring an anti-enlightened orthodoxy in Confucianism (contrary to an ancient and vigorous spirit of dispute in Confucian thought) and was printed in a mere sixty copies — enough for enlightenment in traditional wisdom of only the very top of the Chinese mandarinate. 508 This in a country in which literally hundreds of thousands of copies of books published a thousand years ago have survived to the present (the fact stuns European students of texts as important as, say, the New Testament, which have survived from so long ago in handfuls, when they have at all). Printing was not the constraint. Liberty was. China in the eighteenth century wanted to play its intellectual cards very close to the Emperor’s chest. By contrast every moderately enlightened town in Europe had access to Diderot’s EncylopÃ©die, breaking theological custom and showing how machines were made (though beware again of Orientalism: the Chinese and Japanese at the time were also prolific in practical handbooks).
For that matter imagine how the close call might have gone the other way without certain individual callers — Locke, Newton, Bayle, Vico, Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, Smith. The speakers were not determined by the material base. The base was changing only sluggishly by later standards, or indeed by some earlier standards. Show this from growth figures, scale of foreign trade, urbanization up to 1700 What mattered most were the very words of such people. So at least has been assumed in the numerous attempts, often successful, to control behavior through controlling voice, not always backed by violence, such as Cato the Censor in Rome or theatre censorship in England or the U.S. Post Office Inspectorate or trips to the Gulag for people like Solzhenitsyn who could not keep their mouths shut.
Yet many people still believe stoutly, without much evidence, that ideas were not important. One needs to persuade them sweetly of their error. Without Adam Smith, for example, the rhetoric of innovation would have developed in different ways, if at all. He himself wrote eloquently in 1776 against the notion that only material interests matter: after all, the entire point of The Wealth of Nations was to assault what he called the “commercial system,” that is, mercantilism, another system of ideas. Slowly his own eloquence came to matter. He would not have wasted his breath had he thought ideas were mere reflexes of the interests, as the numerous vulgar Marxists of the left and the right claim to believe. Thus the great American economist, George Stigler asserted in The Economist as Preacher (1982): “We live in a world that is full of mistaken policies, but they are not mistaken for their followers. . . . Individuals always know their true self-interest [except perhaps Stigler's students, who needed to be instructed?]. . . . Each sector of the public will therefore demand services from intellectuals favorable to the interests of that sector.” 509 That part of his argument is identical to Antonio Gramsci’s on the role of the intellectual: “every social group. . . creates together with itself, organically, one or more strata of intellectuals.” 510 But Gramsci the Italian Marxist (1891-1937) was much less of a historical materialist than was Stigler the Chicago-School economist (1911-1991). With Lenin, Gramsci believed in a role for rhetoric and the Party, and was opposed to an “economism” such as Stigler advocated in his old age, the cynical half truth that the Interests will always out.
Smith knew the Interests well, and spent the last third of his book of 1776 railing against them. But he knew as well the other half of the truth, too, the force of raillery, and knew that intellectuals can have a historical role independent of the interests of a sector or social group. “To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers, may at first sight appear,” he thundered, “a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers, but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers.” 11 A government influenced by shopkeepers was the Deventer and the Merchant Adventurer’s case. Repeatedly the shopkeepers and corporations since then have attempted to re-impose mercantilism, using their influence on the state to protect American sugar growers (and thus killing innovation in the use of sugar for auto fuel) or to extend the copyright on Mickey Mouse (and thus killing innovation in the use of images). Worse, sometimes much worse, has arisen from the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us against. We must, as Smith said and did, marshal our rhetoric against “the clamorous importunity of partial interest.” 512 Indeed. Down with corporate welfare! Overthrow the military-industrial complex! Prevent monopolies from using “regulation” as a tool to block entry! Don’t be fooled! Aux presses, citoyens.
But in modern times the bigger danger than corruption by the bourgeoisie itself, real though that danger is, has been the re-imposition of neo-aristocratic or neo-Christian notions of the proper place of business, expressed as nationalism or socialism. Such notions have in the twentieth century caused great slaughters of people and great violations of liberty: Kaiser Wilhelm, Mussolini, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Franco, Tojo, Mao, Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, King Saud, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-il. A dreary record. Corporate welfare by contrast has merely enriched a few well placed people with seven houses.
Fascism and communism arose through rhetoric armed as much as did liberty, since rhetoric matters in the attacks on economic or political liberty as much as in their defense. The aristocracy or the country club, for example, favors a nationalist rhetoric nurturing military power, and a version of neo-aristocracy, in the name of King and Country. For a moderate showing of such tendencies in the United States see any Republican Party national convention. The progressive Christians or the clerisy favors a socialist rhetoric nurturing the leading members of the Party and selected trade unions, in the name of the wretched of the earth. For a moderate showing of such tendencies in the United States see any Democratic Party convention. The defeat in the twentieth century of the extremes of each was a close call, and the rhetoric of the country club and the clerisy has mattered. In the 1930s the country club sidled up to fascism, the clerisy to communism. The European Civil War 1914-1989 showed how high-minded theories of nationalism or socialism or, God help us, national socialism could kill off liberty and prosperity, and tens of millions of people to the bargain. If you doubt that ideas matter, consider the importance of individuals in that pitiful history, when conditions were ripe. The “ideational” literature in recent political science calls the vital few “carriers,” “capable of persuading others to reconsider the ways they think and act.” 513 No Lenin, with his pen, no October/November 1917. No Hitler, with his voice, no January 1933.
The rhetorical and ethical change around 1700 caused modern economic growth, which at length freed us from ageless poverty. Modern economic growth did not corrupt our souls, contrary to the anti-bourgeois rhetoric of the clerisy since 1848, and contrary to an older line of aristocratic and religious criticism of bourgeois life. The rhetorical and ethical change at the national level was necessary for the first Industrial Revolution. It was even perhaps jointly sufficient — with property rights standing as a supersaturated solution into which the crystal of the dignity of ordinary life was dropped. 514 British people in the eighteenth century came to accept the creative destruction of old ways of doing things, becoming in a famous phrase of Blackstone’s “a polite and commercial people.” 515 The economy paid them back with interest. The Marxists call the acceptance of innovation “false consciousness,” and it may be. But unless the masses in a democracy accept innovation, falsely or not, they can be led by populists to rise up and kill the goose, as in Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela.
European people in the nineteenth century came to think of themselves as endowed by their businesslike Creator with inalienable rights, especially to liberty and property. More innovative rhetoric. The rhetoric paid them back at length, paradoxically, with freed slaves and freed women. People in the late twentieth century from the Philippines to Ukraine came to expect to have a say in their governments, as in their markets. The polity, too, paid them back with democratic liberalism, a free press, the Iowa caucuses, the South African constitution, and all our joy.
We need now to guard the resulting precipitate against cynicism and utopianism. One might well worry about the “cultural contradictions of capitalism” articulated with horror or glee by Daniel Bell and Polanyi and Schumpeter and Weber and Lenin and Marx. Innovation can indeed produce its own gravediggers. 516 “Is it possible,” asked the liberal historian Macaulay in 1829, “that in the bosom of civilization itself may be engendered the malady which shall destroy it? Is it possible that, in two or three hundred years, a few lean and half-naked fishermen may divide with owls and foxes the ruins of the greatest European cities — may wash their nets amidst the relics of her gigantic docks?” 517 As Macaulay noted, under democracy such an outcome is implied by the strictly short-run, prudence-only, interest-rules, people-know-which-side-of-their-bread-is-buttered-without-instruction theory of the act-utilitarians among us.
But we do not have to admit the utilitarian, prudence-only theory. It hasn’t worked very well as a descriptive theory outside certain narrowly economic contexts — it has failed, for example, in realist studies of foreign policy. It encourages an unethical version of ethics. On the contrary, ideologies matter. People are in fact open to instruction that bourgeois life can be virtuous and that bankers should be wise. And anyway, to repeat, no writer urging better economic or political policy can propose without self-contradiction the cynical, amoral theory. If economism is true, put down your pen. If you’re so smart, why are you urging others to ignore their selfish interests? Let the short-run self-interest of the poor and the powerful come to wreck innovation, in the style of twentieth-century Argentina. Let us welcome a life of lean and half-naked fishermen, and the ruin of cities. Perhaps it is mistaken to assert that rhetoric in favor of innovation, a new neural pathway in the brain, was sufficient to initiate prosperity and liberty, and that it is still necessary to retain them. We shall see. But at least such assertion are not a performative self-contradictions, such as persuaders trying to persuade you that persuasion is a nullity.
The modern world required a Bourgeois Revaluation. Indeed, it still does. Russia will not fully enter the modern world until it abandons its hostility to any tall poppy, any successful businessperson. China and India are trying to. But from the clerisy left and right comes the irritated reply: “You mean you want me to accord dignity to the wretched promoters and profiteers? Are you nuts? I’m barely willing to give them the mere liberty to forward their schemes. They get their reward here below, in cash. They hardly need to be admired! I’m sticking with holy equality [thus the left] or glorious distinction [thus the right]. My admired people are saints and soldiers, not innovators and managers. Lenin not Rockefeller. Dorothy Day not Herbert Hoover. Leni Riefenstahl not Walt Disney. Patton not Eisenhower. Tom Joad not George Babbitt.” I wish they would stop to think.
The Bourgeois Revaluation was an ethical event, of course. Northwestern Europe came to honor the outcome of markets, in both senses of “honor.” It accorded dignity to them. And it gave them the liberty to happen, as in “honoring” a contract. But laissez faire was ethical in another sense, too. 518 It was a decision to treat markets as ethically privileged, to stop according privilege to hierarchy (“Stand aside, knave”) and to start according privilege to exchange (“The price is the price”). Hierarchy of course did not disappear. Men, elders, guildsmen, millionaires, officials, whites, and citizens of the town still lorded it over women, minors, apprentices, paupers, subjects, blacks, and foreigners. The Chicago School’s and the Marxists’ cynical version of the Golden Rule still held sway: those who have the gold, rule. But hierarchy less commonly after the Bourgeois Revaluation trumped the outcome of markets, and especially so in the crucial matter of innovation. Even a person with bags of gold could not so often delay an innovation, unless indeed he could corrupt the existing institutions of hierarchy, such as the state, and bring in a regulation. In Florence in 1430 an innovation in making cloth that disturbed the profits and therefore offended the standing of give correct name of guild from Florence book, and use a real name of the time was forbidden. An outrage. In Manchester in 1830 similar innovation that disturbed the profits of English name, preferable Clough’s father was admired, or at the least not whined about, whatever its effects on his standing. Clever, that. In other words, laissez faire, laissez passer comes with the Bourgeois Deal: if you let me innovate and make profits, in the long run I’ll make us all rich. (And he did.)
In a way that illuminates the point at issue here, economists routinely fumble the definition of one of their favorite bits of twentieth-century jargon, an “externality.” “External effects” are supposed to be grounds for state intervention to repair the misdeeds of markets. The economist will write that “in the presence of externalities, an institutional arrangement could be efficient for the individuals transacting (i.e. in their best interests), while being inefficient for society as a whole because it affects the welfare of third parties. ” But wait. Every action in a society has effects on the welfare of third parties. If I bid for something on E-Bay I affect all the other people by raising its price. Not much, but a little: an effect. Something is wrong. By such a definition the state should intervene when you, buying a loaf of bread, take it out of the mouth of some poor and worthy person, or when you innovated in making cloth, taking profits out of the pocket of NNN as above in Florence. The jargon of “externalities” was on the contrary invented to speak of the contrast between effects within markets and those outside of it, such as the alleged inability of beekeepers or lighthouse keepers to get market compensation for their beneficial activities. The correct definition must therefore contain a phrase like “because it effects the welfare of third parties in ways other than supply and demand.” The claim to achieve (to use more of the beloved jargon) “efficiency” is only about events happening within unregulated markets. The economist says, “if property is secure and exchange permitted, then people will achieve by supply and demand the ‘contract curve’ in an ‘Edgeworth box,’ subject to the limits of ‘transaction costs.’” Whew.
The blizzard of such jargon has made it hard for economists to see their ethical feet. The point is that deciding what is in and what is out of the market is an ethical decision. No man is an island, entire of itself. Only Crusoe on his island, before Friday, does not cause spillovers on other humans. We humans then decide to let some spillovers pass, and others not. We decide to let innovations in making cloth go forward unimpeded, or not. We decide to let markets in babies to take place, or not. As disturbing as it is to the claim that economics is free of values, like chemistry (but consider Nobel and his dynamite; consider the trigger for the first atomic bomb; consider Dow Chemical and Agent Orange; keep considering), the Bourgeois Revaluation declared markets ethical. Its servants in forming a historical block (the economists) declared much later that good spillovers are to be called supply and demand, while bad spillovers are to be called externalities.
Such ruminations will irritate both left and right. The left wants it to be obvious that we should intervene to stop the outcome of markets and innovation when they appear to hurt some poor and worthy person. But I am claiming that an ethical decision to let some — most — innovations go forward has been necessary to the gigantic enrichment of the world’s poor. It might have turned out another way. It might have been, as Marx expected, that innovation would be immiserizing. But in the event it wasn’t. On the contrary, innovation has been vastly more effective in making us better off than regulations and unions and taxes and redistributions and planning. If you want poor people to prosper — and left and right the ethical people do — you need to buy into the Bourgeois Deal.
Marxist conflict theory, such as that of Brenner or Wallerstein, supposes that the correct way to start is class conflict. Elias Khalil observes that
Feminist theory . . . envisions the boundary between the genders, but not the boundary between classes, to be the ultimate entry point of analysis. For feminist theory. . . the family cannot have an identifiable objective function as long as the male and female have unequal power. One can envision similar theories of boundaries that draw the lines according to religion, race, or nationality. 519
Indeed one can. The economists’ position as social philosopher, adopted first in the eighteenth century, claims that one can and should think of the welfare of the world as a whole, not according to class, gender, religion, race, or nationality. Political economy, later to be called economics, came into its own when the objective function became People instead or this or that interest. The distinctive mark of the politics of economics since Turgot and Smith is its claim—which may be disputed on realistic or conspiratorial or false-consciousness grounds—to take into account all of humanity. The conflict theorists do dispute the claim to represent all humans: “Don’t be naÃ¯ve: the real world starts from the divisions by race, class, gender, nationality.” And in a zero-sum world of hierarchy they are surely correct. Yet the Bourgeois Era led to such gigantic enrichment that zero-sum no longer makes sense.
The hard-minded right, on the other hand, wants it to be obvious that markets and innovation are just desirable, no weepy-eyed ethics about it. Perhaps they should have noticed that “desirable” is an evaluative term, and “justice” a virtue, and ethics necessary for any human life. But in any case. . . .
We live, that is, by words as much as by bread. Such a claim is “weak” in the sense of not requiring much demonstration. It asserts merely what few would deny when reminded, though many forget — in the present case that an anti-bourgeois rhetoric, especially if combined with the logic of vested interests, has on many occasions damaged societies. Rhetoric against a bourgeois liberty, especially when backed by violence, prevented innovation in Silver Age Rome or Tokugawa Japan. It stopped growth in twentieth-century Argentina or Mao’s China. It suppressed speech in present-day Burma or Saudi Arabia. Such words-with-guns in 1750 would have stopped cold the modern world being born in Holland and England. In the twentieth century the bad rhetoric of nationalism and socialism did in fact stop its later development, locally, as in Italy or Russia. Nationalism and socialism can to this day reverse it, with the help of other rhetorics such as populism or environmentalism or religious fundamentalism, by way of politics.
Yes, the politics in the eighteenth century depended on material power, such as on the material freeing of many ordinary people from the idiocy of rural life. Yes, the imperial adventures of the Europeans depended on the military revolution — drilled firing of muskets and naval guns. One can grant material causes that much. But the politics also depended heavily on rhetoric, the very words and ideas, such as the widespread translation of Prince NNN’s of the Netherlands manual for drilling infantrymen in massed gunfire, and the widespread use of Italian plans for cannon-resistant fortifications. ***check in NNN And in sweeter ways, too. As Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba put it in their classic study of political attitudes, the good “civic culture” to which they attribute the success of Western liberalism is “based on communication and persuasion.” 464 It is a bourgeois rhetoric. “Civic,” after all, is from Latin cives, citizen of a city state, and “bourgeois” means at root merely such a citizen, standing in the forum or agora to argue his case among the vegetables and jars of wine offered there for sale.
The stronger claim, harder to demonstrate, tells a story of origins, a sufficiency as against a merely long-run necessity assigned to bourgeois rhetoric in making and keeping the modern world. The rhetorical change c. 1700, admittedly, was in its origins not entirely autonomous. The story is not a Hegelian one of the Weltgeist and the Cunning of Reason. Consider again the guns, again, for which some people reach when they hear the word “culture.” Consider trade, internal and external. Consider sheer rising numbers of bourgeois.
But neither should one turn Hegel on his head in the style of Feuerbach or Marx. The rhetorical change was not a mere superstructure atop such material bases. Values are not only a reflection of material interests. Values change on their own, too. If they don’t, after all, the numerous materialists could save their breath. According to their own passionately held idea, their idea won’t express anything that material interest and the infrastructure have not already made inevitable. Sit it out.
But in fact the mere idea of a free press, if permitted politically and if accompanied by cheap printing borrowed from China, will lead eventually to independent newspapers, political pamphlets, Puritan courtesy books, epistolary novels, and guides to young men climbing the social ladder. The mere idea of a high-pressure steam engine with separate condenser, if permitted and if accompanied by skilled machinists trained in making precision scientific instruments, will lead eventually to the mere idea of a steamship and a steam locomotive, and then to the steam generation of factory power and electricity. The mere idea of the Galilean-Newtonian calculation of forces, if permitted and accompanied by mathematically educated people, will lead eventually to the mere idea of methodical calculations of flows of water for the improvement of Bristol’s port. 465 Above all, as Albert Hirschman suggested in 1977, the mere idea that “commercial, banking, and similar money-making pursuits [were] honorable . . . after having stood condemned or despised as greed. . . for centuries past” will lead — and did lead, though at first, Hirschman observes, “nowhere [in Europe was it] associated with the advocacy of a new bourgeois ethos” — exactly to . . . a new bourgeois ethos. 466
Si non, non. China invented paper and printing and clocks centuries before the dull Europeans caught up. For two-thousand years the Chinese system of examinations encouraged humanistic learning, as European universities did only later, and haltingly. The extremely rigorous examinations under the Xing (or “Ch’ing,” 1644-1911) yielded about 18,000 degree holders a year, a figure comparable to the universities in a Europe of very roughly the same population as China in, say, 1644 — at any rate comparable until the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, when the Humboldtische reforms in Europe after 1806 [***check: foundation of University of Berlin] and the explosion of population in China would have caused a great divergence in graduates proportionate to population. The 18,000 did not rise but the number of graduates in Europe did, and especially in chemistry and other physical sciences. 467 But for all the learning of China — censored in somewhat the same style as the Index of Forbidden Books emanating from the Vatican, but in China with more effect because there were no equivalents of the Protestant presses — the government in the eighteenth century executed a lexicographer, arrested twenty-one of his family, and condemned his two sons and three grandsons to slavery for printing the full name of the Emperor. 468 Islam carried the torch of classical learning to the West, knew much more than did Europe about Chinese technology, using paper for example hundreds of years before the Franks did (the Arabs kept the technique secret and exported paper to Europe until the thirteenth century). But the first printing press in Turkish was not operating until 1727, and in Arabic not until 1822, two-and-a-half or three-and-a-half centuries after Europe (the cursive Arabic script, used also for Turkish until Ataturk, was an obstacle to the character-by-character printing possible with Chinese or European writing), and were anyway closely censored — though printing under the Ottomans in Hebrew in places like Salonika was by then already centuries old. Islamic religious authorities objected to writing the Koran as against memorizing it. 469
One must take factual care. Down to the eighteenth century, after all, some Europeans were burning witches and heretics, and still in the sixteenth century all of them were, against a long tradition in much of Islam of toleration — though a tradition that the Ottomans overturned in response to political disorders. 470 The French state was very vigorous in the seventeenth century in censoring books (it went on doing it under Church auspices into the nineteenth century), and therefore Pierre Bayle (1647-1706) lived and published in Rotterdam. Right down to 1848 the cruel caricatures of the pear-shaped visage of King Louis-Philippe had to be printed in Holland and smuggled into France. London published the Scottish Enlightenment, Amsterdam the French. In England the censorship of the theater — easy to do until electronic reproduction, because it was after all public and in one place — waxed and waned from Elizabethan times, depending on epidemics and the fortunes of Puritanism. The morality plays of late medieval times, such as the York Cycle, were suppressed under Elizabeth, as papist in tone. 471 Censorship of the English theatre, entire under Cromwell, was brought back in 1737 by Walpole indignant at a Fielding play, and held sway in the land of our first liberties, astonishingly, until 1968. Or consider, in the land of our second liberties, the Motion Picture Code, constraining Hollywood from DDDD ***on to portraying married couples as sleeping in twin beds, and if sleeping, gingerly. The clichÃ©s of Orientalism — which claim that the East was a region of utter (if rather sexily Romantic) slavery whereas the West was gloriously free from the time of the Greeks or at the latest from the time of the Germanic tribes of the Black Forest (with the inconsequential exception, in both Greece or the Black Forest, of the 90 percent of the population who were women and foreigners and unfree men) — are imperfect guides to the true facts of East and West. When we Westerners incline to swelling pride about our westernity it is time to beware.
Yet the quasi-free habits of Holland and England and Scotland around 1700 granted the permission to entertain mere ideas. They were new. Political ideas that would have given their speaker an appointment with a Rhineland witch-burner or an Elizabethan drawer-and-quarterer circulated reasonably freely in the North-Sea lands in the early eighteenth century, at any rate by the standards of the nervous autocracies in contemporary France or China or Russia (though France like Sweden opened up in the turbulent 1780s, as did China and Russia finally in the turbulent 1890s). “There is a mighty light,” wrote the Earl of Shaftesbury (who had been tutored as a boy by John Locke) to a Dutch friend in 1706, “which spreads itself over the world especially in those two free nations of England and Holland, on whom the affairs of Europe now turn.” 472 What made the light unceasing, and made Europe wake up, was the unique change in language, a new way of talking about profit and business and invention, about calculation and the bourgeoisie, the affirmation of ordinary as against noble or holy lives. The bourgeoisie gradually disentangled itself from the literary and theological ideologies that had defined honor for thousands of years. When permitted, that is, the mere idea of honor to be had in the middle station — in trade, in profit, and in devising machines and commercial proposals — led eventually to the modern world.
The alarming Bernard Mandeville argued the case in The Fable of the Bees, first published as verse in 1705, but later made into a defense of commercial life by the addition of lengthy remarks and dialogues, especially in its notorious edition of 1723. Admiring the enterprising man, he sneers at a cloistered virtue, such as the “indolent man” exhibits — “indolent” defined as one who does not venture into the marketplace, though very willing to “work in a garret. . . with patience and assiduity.” 116 (His two characters, note, are drawn in his mental experiment from what was called then in England the bourgeoisie, “the middling people. . . of low circumstances tolerably well educated. 473 ” A retiring man of letters would “run with joy to a rich nobleman that he is sure will receive him with kindness and humanity,” but will not try his mettle against real opposition. 474 Thus a member of the modern clerisy will apply to a foundation he is confident will admire his politics, NNN on the far left and Olin on the far right, but such a one “will never serve his friend or his country at the expense of his quiet” by venturing into the despised world of business, and so lives quietly at public or foundation expense. 475 Mandeville emphasized that the person with the opposite, enterprising temper, the striving, or at least stirring, man, the man of action, faces “a multitude of strong temptations to deviate from the rules of strict virtue, which hardly ever come in the other’s way.” 476 “A very little avarice will egg him on to pursue his aim with eagerness and assiduity: small scruples are no opposition to him — where sincerity will not serve, he uses artifice.” 477 But Mandeville’s point, one starting to be heard more often in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, is that such assiduity enriches and ennobles the nation. “Wealth and power, glory and worldly greatness. . . [are] not to be attained to without avarice, profuseness, pride, envy, ambition, and other vices.” 478 You admit you want wealth and power. So stop criticizing its sources: “Thus vice nursed ingenuity,/ Which joined with time and industry/ Had carried life’s conveniences,/ Its real pleasure, comforts, ease,/ To such a height, the very poor/ Lived better than the rich before.” 479 Mandeville was trying to give honor to a commercial civilization by putting forward his paradox that what aristocratic and Christian civilizations called “vice” was what now made them rich. “Thus every part was full of vice,/ Yet the whole mass a paradise.” 480
Joel Mokyr has called the commercial turn, more admiringly, the “industrial Enlightenment,” a third project of the French philosophes and the Scottish improvers. 481 I would rather say that it is the Bourgeois Revaluation, but Mokyr and I do not much disagree on its importance, and certainly do not think it needs be construed as “full of vice.” The historian Roy Porter speaks of the old question “How can I be saved?” (to which one could add, “How can I be ennobled?”) yielding to the new question, “How can I be happy here below?” 482 The questions changed, and so did the rhetoric of the replies. “The displacement of Calvinism,” writes Porter about the intolerant and world-denying “reformed” Christianity that still in 1706 had within living memory held supreme power among the Dutch, Swiss, Scots, English, and New Englanders, “by a confidence in cosmic benevolism blessed the pursuit of happiness, and to this end Britons set about exploiting a commercial society. . . . Human nature was not flawed by the Fall; desire was desirable.” 483 Remember the broad-church preachers in England in the 1690s.
In Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749) the absurd characters the philosopher Square and the clergyman Thwackum embody the debate between Nature and Revelation: “Square held human nature to be the perfection of all virtue, and that vice was a deviation from our nature, in the same manner as deformity of body is. Thwackum, on the contrary, maintained that the human mind, since the fall, was nothing but a sink of iniquity, till purified and redeemed by grace.” 484 The same debate was rehearsed in more heavily censored France, as in Diderot’s private Supplement to the Bougainville Voyage (1772; published only in safely revolutionary 1796). The imagined Tahitian wise man, Oirou, who has offered his wife and his daughters to the pleasures of a French priest, replies to the priest’s refusal: “I don’t know what this thing is that you call ‘religion,’ but I can only have a low opinion of it because it forbids you to partake of an innocent pleasure to which Nature, the sovereign mistress of us all, invites everybody.” 485 Compare King Charles’ philosophy of pleasure.
Some decades earlier than Diderot during the bourgeois shift of ethical rhetoric, Benjamin Franklin, that wandering child of Puritans, had exclaimed, “’tis surprising to me that men who call themselves Christians . . . should say that a God of infinite perfections would make anything our duty that has not a natural tendency to our happiness; and if to our happiness, then it is agreeable to our Nature, since a Desire of Happiness is a natural principle which all mankind are endured [endowed] with.” 486 Samuel Johnson used to say in the 1770s, “There are few ways in which a man can be more innocently employed than in getting money.” 487 By 1776, a few days before Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence (which Franklin helped revise), George Mason wrote in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, of May 15, “that all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, … namely the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” God’s law was replaced by natural rights (the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, to spiff up George Mason’s phrase — the idea itself was a century old by then). 488 Negotiated rights — deal-making and at length voting — replaced the God-given laws of social position, at first in stirring declarations and at long last in fact.
To employ an old-fashioned but still useful vocabulary, devised in 1861 by Henry Maine, the northwest of Europe, and Britain in particular, changed from a society of status to a society of contract, at any rate in its theory about itself. 489 As Johnson had written of the Western Islands of Scotland, “Money confounds subordination, by overpowering the distinctions of rank and birth.” 490 Christopher Bayly has made a similar point about the confounding power of the cash nexus in the Islamic world at the time Johnson wrote. 491 In northwestern Europe inheritance gave way to self-creation — again, at least in theory. Honest invention and hopeful revolution came to be spoken of as honorable, as they had seldom been spoken of before. And the seven principal virtues of pagan and Christian Europe were recycled as bourgeois. The wave of gadgets, material and political, in short, came out of a bourgeois ethical and rhetorical tsunami around 1700 in the North Sea.
That’s the claim.
It had never happened before. In 1798 Robert Malthus (1766-1834), an Anglican clergyman irritated by the extravagant and anti-clerical claims of the French revolutionaries and their British friends that a new day had dawned, explained for the first time why the enrichment of the poor had not yet happened. He said in his great book An Essay on the Principle of Population that it was not a divine malevolence but human sin and economic scarcity after Eden that kept people poor. The pressures of population (assuming only modest technological improvement), Malthus argued, had kept our ancestors living on about a $3 a day (the figure is Angus Maddison’s estimate of world income before 1800 in 1990 prices, brought up to 2010). 453 If income got a little higher, as when potatoes were introduced from Peru into Europe and China, the people had more children, and anyway more of their children survived to adulthood. The supply of labor therefore grew, and in a generation or so the real wage went down again to subsistence. If it got lower than subsistence, then more children died, and in a while the real wage rolled back up to a dollar or two a day. The $3 was in engineering lingo a “homeostatic equilibrium,” and worked the way your thermostat does.
A sad business. But our cheerful little joke in economic history when we lecture to undergraduates is that the story of welfare among humans is a “hockey stick” (many economic historians are Canadians). That is, the amount of food and education and so forth per person ran along at subsistence on a straight handle with little change at $1 or $3 during the fifteen hundred or so centuries since Homo sapiens first walked in Africa. Or during the five-hundred centuries or so since the invention of language. Or during the hundred centuries since the invention of agriculture. Or during the ten centuries since commerce revived in the West. Pick whatever length of handle you want. Anyway, for a long, long time not much happened to the economic well-being of the average Jack or Jill. Think of that $3 a day, with ups and downs — all right, in the richest parts of China and Europe perhaps $2.00 a day. Well-being would go up for a while (people were not by any means always “starving,” as Goldstone points out). But after a while it would go down. 454
In other words, until a couple of centuries ago, the economic historians have recently discovered, Europe and Asia were about equally poor, pegged to $3 a day pretty much regardless of where they lived. 455 And so was everybody else in the world. The imperialist vision of China and India as always and anciently terribly overrun with paupers is a modern misunderstanding (with consequences in the eugenic excesses of the family-limitation movement after the 1950s). For most of history, that a place was densely populated was a sign it was doing reasonably well, though not all that well for Jack or Jill — the Ganges Plain, for example, or on a smaller scale the Low Countries in Europe. But no one stuck much above the rest of the poppies for very long. Marshall Sahlins and other anthropologists have observed that hunter gatherers often had an easier life, working fewer hours a week for their food, than people tied down to the abundance of agriculture — the abundance of which went, according to the inexorable Principle of Population, to priests and knights rather than to our ancestors the peasants. 456 Why for the long length of the hockey stick did ordinary people do no better? Because of the long-run homeostatic equilibrium.
Until 1750 or even 1850 Malthus looks right. Then history reached the business end of the hockey stick. Suddenly real income per person started growing at an astounding rate. The growth started slowly first in a few countries in northwestern Europe, during the eighteenth century. During the nineteenth other countries joined at a higher rate the blade part of the stick, and during the twentieth century many others worldwide at still higher rates of growth. In other words, modern economic growth emerged only in the last couple of centuries out of 1500 centuries, or out of 500, or 100, or 10. Humankind broke out of the homeostatic equilibrium. Ironically, the Malthusian constraint dissolved just about the time that Malthus so persuasively articulated it. (Environmentalist still take the Malthus of 1798 as their guide.)
In many countries income per person has risen by now to 20 times its former level. More. The English colonists in North America in 1700 managed on a mere $1.40 a day in 1990 prices. Visit the historical reconstruction of the Plimouth Plantation *** to get a sense of what such a figure means: drafty, unplastered house walls without glass windows, enclosing one room with a sleeping loft for six people (in northern Europe there were animals in the back for additional heat); one skirt for Sunday and one for the rest of the week; in America ample food, usually, though trusting to the harvest; smallpox and dysentery routine; life expectancy low. Yet by 1998 the average resident of the United States consumed $75 a day, that is, over fifty times more housing, food, education, furniture than in 1700. 457 Fifty times.
Nowhere in the world 1800 to the present did real income per head actually fall, except in places with the misfortune of tyrants on the model of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, or entirely uncontrolled robbers or pirates as in Somalia. When as in Argentina during the 1930s [***check] or East Germany during the late 1940s or Venezuela during the 2000s a naÃ¯vely populist or socialist policy took hold, such as subsidies to inefficient industries or regulatory attacks on markets and property, income grew slower than it could have. But worldwide from 1800 to the present the material welfare of humanity per average human rose by a factor of about 9.
And it has accelerated, rising faster and faster and faster, albeit with a sickening slowdown during the anti-bourgeois disorders of Europe and its imitators, 1914-1950. 458 By contrast the years 1950-1972 after the disorders, writes Angus Maddison, “were a golden age of unparalleled prosperity.” 459 World domestic product per head rose at nearly 3 percent a year, implying a doubling of material welfare of ordinary people every 24 years — that is, in a single long generation. The later, less vigorous growth of 1973-1998, Maddison points out, was nonetheless higher than any earlier period except the postwar boom.
Right now, with China and India taking up 37 percent of world population, and income per head in the two free-market and innovative places growing at 7 to 12 percent per head per year, the average income per head in the world (all the economists agree) is rising faster than ever before in history. 460 It seems likely to continue doing so — in their long socialist experiments during the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s China and India were so badly managed that there is a good deal of ground to make up. Certainly no genetics implies that Chinese or Indians should do worse than Europeans permanently. No limit is in sight. Rising income at such heady rates is understandably popular with ordinary Chinese and Indian people. As their incomes go up they, like the Westerners, will come to value the environment more. Oil is no long-term limit to growth, as the repeated failures of limits-to-growth predictions have shown. If we take 9 percent as the China-India annual per capita growth rate, the rest of the world could have literally zero growth per capita and still the world’s growth per year of real income per head would be (.37) x (9), or 3.3 percent per head per year, faster than the great postwar boom of 1950-1972. If the rest of the world were to grow instead merely at the subdued rates of 1973-2003 (namely, 1.56 percent per head per year), the resulting world figure, factoring in the Chinese and Indian miracles, would be (.37) (9.0) + (.63) (1.56), or 4.3 percent per year. 461 A sustained growth rate of 4.3 percent per year per capita results in a doubling of the welfare of the average person within a short generation of 17 years, or a quadrupling in about 34 years.
The resulting spiritual change has been just as impressive. Consider the move to democracy in Taiwan and South Korea, other places enriched by setting up free trade zones in which innovation was permitted and honored. Let us earnestly pray for China, which has done the same. Or consider the emergence in the West by 2000 of a Nature-worshipping environmentalism that would have been thought absurd in the straited times of 1700. It was made possible by enrichment. Rich places like Sweden, though contemptuous of such absurdities as the worship of the actual God, have found their transcendent in the worship of Nature, and spend their Sundays gathering mushrooms in Nature’s forest. Or consider the present flourishing of world music and world cuisine. And imagine the future explosion in world art and science when India and China become fully rich — not to speak of old Africa, whose genetic diversity promises when it too enters upon the hockey stick of growth a crop of geniuses unprecedented in world history. Today a Mozart in western China follows the plow; an Einstein in East Africa herds cattle. Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest. “Full many a gem of purest ray serene/ The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:/ Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,/ And waste its sweetness on the desert air.” We await during the century to come a world spiritual change enabled by gigantically higher incomes. In fifty years at 4.3 percent per year (it will probably be higher, as more and more countries see the Chinese and Indian light, lit first in Holland and Britain) world income per head will rise by a factor of about eight and a half — 750 percent. That is about what it has risen in the past 200 years. In fifty years, in other words, if tyrants and robbers and populists and socialists do not win, the businesslike blade of the hockey stick will eliminate the worst of human ignorance and poverty, the malaria-crippled, soldier-raped, zero-schooling life of the poorest among us. By the middle of the twenty-first century it will result in a big bang of world culture, with Africa in the twenty-second century leading all.
A rhetorical and ethical change caused the up-curve of the hockey stick in the seventeenth century and will transform the world in the twenty-first century. Without the change and the resulting material improvement, the politics would not have changed. If ordinary people had not started after 1848 benefitting from industrialization the politics would have turned even nastier than it in fact did. The various novel darknesses since 1848, such as communism or fascism, racism and nationalism, theorized imperialism and theorized eugenics, would have stopped the gain. They almost did, especially from 1914 to 1950. The darknesses came out of nineteenth-century theorizing about nationalism and socialism and race, with a hangover in large parts of the world down to 1991. And likewise for that matter the gain from 1848 to the present could have been stopped by any of the old darknesses — of royal tyranny or aristocratic presumption or peasantly envy or religious intolerance, or simply the reign of robbers into whose clutches we could have fallen. It always had.
Ideas and rhetoric mattered here, too. The uniquely European ideas of individual liberty, generalized from earlier bourgeois liberties as it might have been in other parts of the world but was not, could protect the material progress. Admittedly the ideas were double-edged, encouraging progressive redistributions that killed innovation (think again of Argentina), yet keeping social democratic countries from the chaos of revolution, too (think Germany). 462 But in any event the ethical and rhetorical change that around 1700 began to break the ancient trammels on innovation was liberating and it was Enlightened and it was liberal and it was successful. As one of its enemies put it:
Locke sank into a swoon;
The Garden died;
God took the spinning-jenny
Out of his side. 463
Joel Mokyr has noted that Jews were not innovative in capitalism, especially in machines. They were he argues until their emancipation too devoted to honoring the past. “Inventions and scientific [and religious and political and marketing and literary and philosophical and sociological] breakthrough have a character of rebellion against cultural authority and the canon.” NNNN has made a similar point about the origins of the French Enlightenment in the debate between the ancients and the moderns. The cheekiness of imagining that one can indeed innovate is the connection between invention and (English) revolution, (Dutch) revolt, (German) reformation: it results in a revaluation of innovation, such as in the Age of Exploration or the Scientific Revolution or the Industrial Revolution. Similar backward-looking conservativism explains the other, non-Jewish cases of successful merchants and financiers who also did not innovate: the Old Believers in Russia were good at commerce but not especially good at the mechanical invention necessary for an industrial revolution. The “large amount of obedience and respect for tradition and the wisdom of the past generations” Mokyr observes in pre-haskala Judaism strikingly characterizes China in general, and would apply to overseas Chinese, too. “There are . . . prominent orthodox Jewish scientists, [but] their number has remained smaller than one would expect given the qualities of human capital involved in a Jewish orthodox education.” Against the capital-obsessed economists, education can be a conservative force. And as David Mitch has shown, early education for the masses was anyway not a big factor in productivity.
It is merely a materialist-economistic prejudice to insist that such a rhetorical change from aristocratic-religious values to bourgeois values must have had economic or biological roots. John Mueller argues that war, like slavery or the subordination of women, has bec The Average Joe Income Package-video Cou ome slowly less respectable in the past few centuries (Mueller 2003). Habits of heart and of the lip change. In the seventeenth century a master could routinely beat his servant. Such changes are not always caused by interest and the logic of class conflict. The Bourgeois Revaluation had also, legal, political, personal, social, class, gender, religious, philosophical, historical, linguistic, journalistic, literary, artistic, accidental roots. Charles Taylor attributes the rhetorical change to the Reformation. The economist Deepak Lal, relying on the legal historian Harold Berman, and paralleling an old opinion of Henry Adams, sees it in the eleventh century, in Gregory VII’s assertion of Church supremacy. 426 Perhaps. The trouble with such earlier and broader origins is that modernity came from Holland and England, not for example from thoroughly Protestant Sweden or East Prussia (except Kant), or from thoroughly Church-supremacist Spain or Naples (except Vico). As scene, yes, certainly; as action, no.
It is better to locate the beginnings of the politically relevant action later in European history, around 1700. Such a dating fits better with the new historical finding that until the eighteenth century places like China, say, did not look all that less rich or even in many respects less free than Europe. 427 In Europe the scene was set by the affirmations of ordinary life, and ordinary death, in the upheavals of the Dutch Revolt and the French Huguenots and the two English Revolutions. The economically relevant action occurred in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries with the novel ruminations along the North Sea — embodied literally in the novel as against the romance — affirming as the transcendent telos of an economy an ordinary instead of an heroic or holy life. 428
Theology mattered. These are Christians we are construing. When Francis Bacon called for modern science “for the glory of the Creator and the relief of man’s estate,” he was not kidding; nor was the Royal Society when in 1663 it dedicated itself to the glory of God the creator. As the historian Michael Lessnoff, who quotes these famous phrases, put it, “Bacon’s great influence began not in his lifetime [he died in 16DD] but during the Puritan ascendancy after 1640. Puritans . . . repeatedly [invoked] his authority and his millennial hopes for science and technology, . . . citing the prophet Daniel.” 429 The post-millennial line that led to the modern liberal theology of people like Ernst Troeltsch, the Niebuhr brothers, and Paul Tillich began in the late seventeenth century. The kingdom of God can be encouraged on earth, it came now to be preached, and indeed after a thousand years of gradual perfection in a bourgeois, temperate, and responsible way, in contrast to medieval notions of a Land of Cockaigne suddenly bursting upon us, our savior Christ will come again. Christ has died, Christ is risen, and — if we work hard , on earth at being proper Israelites, or in a later version good to each other — Christ will come again.
The sharp change in the attitude towards Social Problems during the eighteenth century is a piece with post-millennialism and its gospel of progress. Almost no one in 1647 *** exact date of Putney debates or 17* date in Wills extreme Levellers like NNNN*** or Puritans like NNNN (***: Wills book), or even in DDDD except extreme Quakers like NNNN, thought that slavery was anything other than a misfortune applied by God to temper the slave’s soul. Robinson Crusoe sells into slavery a boy who had saved his life, and there is little doubt that Defoe had no anti-slavery irony in mind. After all, part of Crusoe’s subsequent prosperity comes from the slave trade. 430 Similarly, no one at the time thought that poverty was somehow objectionable on theological grounds. A French official in the seventeenth century declared that “writing should not be taught to those whom Providence caused to be born peasants: such children should be taught only to read.” 431 Infinitely lived Christians have no justified complaint if their lot in this present life is a burden. Earthly life is, mathematically, speaking, an infinitesimal part of Life. Take up your cross.
But by 1800 in progressive circles in England and the United States such attitudes had fallen away, replaced by an aggressively Evangelical movement quite determined to be its brother’s keeper. The non-Evangelicals in, say, the Church of England came to similar view. The social gospel animated during the nineteenth century abolition, the missionary movement, imperialism, prohibition, and Christian versions of socialism. All of them are in one form or another still with us. Christian theology became worldly. Sometimes the worldly turn fit smoothly with bourgeois innovation — *** quote Episcopal bishop of MA. And sometimes it decried the new economy. *** Quote? Yes: Paul Tillich as socialist. But anyway it affirmed an ordinary life, or recommended missionary sainthood in aid of the ordinary life of Africans or Chinese.
The preaching had changed much earlier than the nineteenth century, and so after a while the way people talked about self-interest and pleasure changed. Every Sunday in the late seventeenth century English people listened to sermons by liberal Anglicans and liberal non-conformists to the effect that Christ died precisely so that you can pursue your self-interest. The Anglican preacher Thomas Taylor said, in line with the new natural theology just emerging from Newtonian and other revelations of God’s infinite wisdom, “where an appetite is universally rooted in the nature of any kind of beings we can attribute so general an effect to nothing but the Maker of those beings.” 432 The historian Joyce Appleby has shown that in seventeenth century England the conviction grew among formerly self-denying Protestants that capitalist innovation and consuming delight was “rooted in the nature” of humans, and was therefore excused — nay, encouraged — by the Maker. 433 In 1634 John Milton had the seducing Comus making such a worldly argument in theological form:
Wherefore did Nature pour her bounties forth
With such a full and unwithdrawing hand, . . .
But all to please and sate the curious taste?
. . . . If all the world
Should, in a pet of temperance, feed on pulse,
Drink the clear stream, and nothing wear but frieze,
The All-giver would be unthanked, would be unpraised, . . .
List, lady; be not coy, and be not cozened
With that same vaunted name, Virginity.
Beauty is Nature’s coin; must not be hoarded,
But must be current; and the good thereof
Consists in mutual and partaken bliss. 434
Milton the Puritan detested the commercial claim that Nature was God’s plan for worldly happiness. On the contrary, said he: “Who best bear his mild yoke,/ They serve him best.” But later in the seventeenth century Charles II, who was conventionally pious though very far from Puritan — he who fathered seventeen admitted illegitimate children — inadvertently anticipated the new theological point (known as eudaimonism, “this-world happiness-ism”): God would not damn a man, said he, for taking a little pleasure along the way. 435
In truth the Papists were always more relaxed about such matters. Indeed a natural-law philosophy dating back to Aquinas affirmed that commerce itself was God’s natural instrument, as was desire, too, for Nature’s bounty poured forth. Spanish philosophers of the sixteenth century and French and Italian philosophers of the eighteenth century anticipated most elements of Scottish political economy. 436 The outbreak of eudaimonism among Anglican and even English non-conformist preachers may be viewed as a return to Catholic orthodoxy after a century and a half of experiments with the asceticism of mild or not-so-mild yokes. Eudaimonism is still Catholic orthodoxy. 437 The Second Vatican Council declared in 1965 that “earthly goods and human institutions according to the plan of God the Creator are also disposed for man’s salvation and therefore can contribute much to the building up of the body of Christ.” 438 There was nothing novel about the declaration — modern popes have repeatedly articulated it against the evil of socialism — and it is therefore not surprising that liberal notions of economics arose first in scholastic Spain. “Glory be to God for dappled things” is a persistent theme in Catholic Christianity, against the budge doctors of the stoic fur. In 1329 John XXII condemned the German mystic Meister Eckhart for claiming (according to John XXII’s bull In the Lord’s field, item 8) that “God is honored in those who do not pursue anything, neither honor nor advantage, neither inner revelation nor saintliness, nor reward, nor the Kingdom of Heaven itself, but who distance themselves from all these things, as well as from all that is theirs.” 439 John burned a number of such communists and declared heretical the belief that Christ and the Apostles did not have possessions.
In any case, whether eudaimonism in Protestant circles around 1700 was quite as original as it sounded to its proponents, the consequence for economic rhetoric in England, as the intellectual historian Margaret Jacob has argued, was large. “The most historically significant contribution of the [Anglican] latitudinarians,” she writes, “lies in their ability to synthesize the operations of a market society and the workings of nature in which a way as the render the market society natural.” 440 Anglicans, note: the place for such ideas, at least in the opinion of the English, was England around 1700, with a later branch in the Middle Colonies. Anglicans insist that they, too, are of the holy, catholic, and apostolic church, and have always tried to take a third way between rigorist Calvinists and relaxed Catholics. Little wonder they found it easy to slip back into a world-admiring orthodoxy, especially under the properly Protestant auspices of Newton. Goldstone, following Jacob, argues that “only in England was the new science actively preached from the pulpit (where Anglican ministers found the orderly, law-ordained universe of Newton both a model for the order they wished for their country and a convenient club with which to beat the benighted Catholic Church), sponsored in the Royal Society, and spread through popular demonstrations of mechanical devices for craftsmen and industrialists.” 441 In Spain and Italy the clergy, as against a tiny group of philosophers, held back their praise for a natural life in trade.
Of course the resulting notions of “natural” economic liberty of the French Physiocrats and Adam Smith (anticipated, as noted, in Spain, and invented independently by Smith’s contemporary in Naples, Antonio Genovesi) took a very long time to become the default logic of even the elite. The recent upwelling of protectionism and anti-immigrant passion in Europe and the United States shows that it has still not become so entirely. The economist and Anglican priest Anthony Waterman has argued that until well into the nineteenth century even the policy wonks did not think in Smithian ways, even in “free-trade” Britain. And up to the present, he notes, Christians and socialists and especially Christian socialists, rather than admiring what we economists think lovely, that delightful “spontaneous order,” hold onto an older and organic view of society — embodied for example in a book that Waterman and I hold dear, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. 442 “Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union,” the 1662 version pleads in a Prayer for Unity, “as there is but one Body, and one Spirit. . . one God and Father of us all; so we may henceforth be all of one heart. . . and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee.” 443
The rhetorical change was a necessity, a not-to-be-done-without, of the first Industrial Revolution, and especially of its astounding continuation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The goldsmith John Tuite’s patent of 1742 modifying Newcomen’s steam engine was, according to Margaret Jacob, the first patent to be granted that says boldly in the application that it will put people out of work, saving labor. Before that time all patents needed to claim in a medieval and then a mercantilist rhetoric that employment would be increased. In 1744 the British Newtonian, Freemason, and Chaplain to the Prince of Wales, Jean Desaguliers, of Huguenot origin, was the first person to emphasize in print, Jacob continues, the labor-saving character of steam engines. 444 Ideas and rhetoric had changed in favor of innovation.
Material circumstances mattered, too, of course. The Little Ice Age beginning in the fourteenth century put pressure on regimes from Ming China to the Spanish Netherlands. 445 The rising population worldwide in the sixteenth century set one elite against another. 446 The perfection by the West of a gunpowder technology invented in the East put the final nail in the coffin — or rather the final hole in the armor — of the mounted knight, although it had been anticipated in the development of the long bow and especially the crossbow, and the mounted knight (or for that matter the illiterate Spanish commoner similarly equipped) could still prevail as late as the sixteenth century when faced with Aztecs and Incas lacking steel and horses. The voyages of discovery and the resulting empires were useful contexts, as were inside-Europe trade and the long-established security of property, but only contexts, not big causes. Margaret Jacob argues plausibly for an ideal cause working through a very material one. The steam engine, itself a material consequence of seventeenth-century ideas about the “weight of air,” inspired new ideas in the 1740s about machinery generally. But without the change in ideas about the economy and the bourgeoisie around 1700, the economic society of Europe, regardless of atmospheric engines and enclosure bills and trade in sugar, would have settled into stasis, as it did in fact settle during the same period in the parallel and vigorously commercial worlds of Japan and China and the Ottoman Empire.
The bourgeois turn was a probing, as the loyalty to rank broke down, as the holy, catholic, and apostolic church fragmented, and indeed as the loyalty to sex altered in character, of what people believed they ought to believe about ordinary life. It changed the way influential people offered warrantable beliefs to each other about exports of cotton textiles or the dignity of inventors or the basis of legitimate power, or for that matter about sophisters, economists, and calculators. In the metaphor of the linguist George Lakoff, it altered the frames that people used to speak of the economy, by laying down new neural pathways in their brains. 447 The alteration was completed by 1776 in the brains of elite intellectuals such as Smith, Hume, Turgot, Franklin, or Kant. The Sentimental Revolution of the 1780s and after was an aspect of its spread. The Separation of Spheres between bourgeois men and women was another. 448 The historian Dror Wahrman has argued that the reaction against the French Revolution was crucial to the formation of the idea of the middle class in Britain. 449 It was not aristocrats but middle-class people, especially educated ones such as William Wilberforce, descended from a long line of merchants at Hull, who led the radical and evangelical agitations, especially in Britain — though actual cabinet posts in Britain, understand, were for a long time reserved mainly for dukes and their cousins, with a sprinkling of Celtic commoners to keep up the standard of eloquence. By 1848 the idealism of ordinary life (though incomplete and always under challenge from older rhetorics of king, country, and God) was the rhetoric of the times in which we still live, the Bourgeois Era.
In a France without the nearby and spectacular examples of bourgeois economic and political successes in Holland and then in England and Scotland, modern economic growth probably would have been so throttled — even in a France blessed with clever advocates of free trade such as Voltaire and Turgot and Condillac. Consider how very anti-bourgeois and anti-libertarian most of France’s elite was until late in the eighteenth century. Among the French a number of reactionary parties have prospered for two centuries after the Unfinished Revolution. Even nowadays the charmed students of the Ã‰cole Polytechnique in France march under a banner that would strike graduates of such bourgeois institutions as MIT or Imperial College as absurdly antique and unbusinesslike: Pour la Patrie, les Sciences et la Gloire. Indeed, that they march at all would give the same impression. In Spain for different reasons (though again reasons that continue to trouble the country) economic growth was in fact throttled until very recently, despite the Dutch and British and then even the French examples. 450 But in the bourgeois countries, which eventually included France and even in the very long run Spain, the circumstances made a new rhetoric, which made new circumstances, which then again made new rhetoric.
The theme is that also of the Cambridge School of historians of English political thought (such as Laslett, Pocock, Skinner, Dunn, Tuck, Goldie), that ideas and circumstances are intertwined. The Cambridge/Johns Hopkins methodological point is that you may not omit the ideas — as historians in many countries were very inclined to do during the historiographic reign of Marx and materialism, 1890-1980. The monotheistic, universalist religions of the Axial Age, 600 BCE to 630 CE, arose it seems from the conversation of ideas between different civilizations, made possible by the material condition of improved trade. 451 But monotheism after all is an idea, spreading for example from Temple Judaism to Christianity to Islam, with remoter contacts in Zoroastrianism and Hinduism and Buddhism. When given a chance by trading contacts, or even by one holy man speaking to another (pre-Socratic philosophers for example mulling Persian ideas), the intellectual prestige of a search for The One turns out to compete rather well in people’s minds with the vulgar particularism of tree worship and witchcraft. That a material base can of course have an influence does not at all require that we reduce mind to matter. Mill wrote later in the same essay mentioned, speaking of the sources of sympathy for the working class in the 1840s, that “ideas, unless outward circumstances conspire with them, have in general no very rapid or immediate efficacy in human affairs; and the most favorable outward circumstances may pass by, or remain inoperative, for want of ideas suitable to the conjuncture. But when the right circumstances and the right ideas meet, the effect is seldom slow in manifesting itself.” 452 The Industrial Revolution and the rhetoric of respect for ordinary life, for example, made possible the rise of mass democracies — Mill speaks especially of the British Reform Bill of 1832, which was an extension if not exactly a democratization of the franchise. But if the specifically rhetorical change had not happened, modern economic growth and therefore modern democracy would have been throttled in its cradle, or at any rate starved well before its maturity — as it had been routinely throttled or starved in earlier times. Our liberties and our central heating would have been denied.
Consider where we’ve gotten.
Once upon a time a great change occurred, unique for a while to Europe, especially after 1600 in the lands around the North Sea, and most especially in Holland and then in Britain. The change had been foreshadowed in the Hansa towns such as LÃ¼beck and Bergen and Dantzig, and in some trading towns of southern Germany, and in the prosperous little cities of Flanders and Brabant, in Barcelona, in the Huguenot strongholds of France, and especially in the northern Italian cities such as Venice, Florence, Genoa, and the rest. It had been tried out a bit in other places and times — such as to a limited extent in late seventeenth-century CE Osaka, or it seems in second-century BCE Carthage, or “Tyre, the city of battlements,/ whose merchants were princes/ and her traders the most honored men on earth” (Isaiah 23: 8). But after the Province of Holland and after the eighteenth century and after Britain — meaning to be precise northern and western England and parts of Lowland Scotland, with Amsterdam and London providing financial and trading services — the change persisted. Then it spread to the world.
The change was the coming of a business-respecting civilization. Much of the elite, and then also much of the non-elite of northwestern Europe and its offshoots, came to accept or even admire, in a word, the “bourgeois” values of exchange and innovation. Or at least it did not attempt to block them, and even sometimes honored them on a scale never before seen. Especially it did so in the new United States. Then likewise the elites and then the common people in more of the world, and now, startlingly, in China and India and Brazil, undertook to respect or at least not to despise and overtax the bourgeoisie. Not everyone did, even in the United States, and there’s the rub, and the promise.
It took many decades, and is not entirely complete. Anti-bourgeois attitudes survive in bourgeois cities like London and New York and Milan, expressed around neo-aristocratic dinner tables and in neo-priestly editorial meetings. The bourgeoisie is far from ethically blameless, of course, and the sneers are often justified. The newly tolerated bourgeoisie has regularly, for example, tried to set up as a new aristocracy protected by the state, just as Adam Smith and Karl Marx said it would. And anyway even in the embourgeoisfying lands on the North Sea the old hierarchy based on birth or clerical rank did not simply disappear on January 1, 1700. In 1773 Oliver Goldsmith attacked the new sentimental comedies on the London stage as too much concerned with mere tradesmen (The London Merchant was an earlier, tragic version), whom he from a faux-aristocratic height found dreary. 392 He thought it much more satisfactory to display (to an audience of tradesmen and their wives) the foibles of aristocrats, or at least of the gentry and their servants, as in The Marriage of Figaro. Tales of pre- or anti-bourgeois life have strangely dominated the high and low art of the Bourgeois Era. Flaubert’s and Hardy’s novels, D’Annunzio’s and Eliot’s poetry, Sergei Eisenstein’s and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s films, not to speak of a rich undergrowth of cowboy movies and country music, celebrate peasant/proletariat or aristocratic values, and uniformly despise the bourgeoisie. Oh, yes: a hard coming we had of it.
Yet the hardness was not mainly material. It was ideological and rhetorical. So at least some many historians and sociologists have argued, and even a few economists — Smith and Joseph Schumpeter and Albert Hirschman, to name three. What made the modern world, as many economic historians are realizing, was not trade or empire or the exploitation of the periphery. These were exactly peripheral. Anyway imperialism had been routine in the Athenian or Sung or Mughal or Spanish empires. Yet the empires, which were commercial empires, too, did not make a modern world. Nor was a class struggle the maker of modernity, though Marx and Engels were wise to emphasize the leading role of the bourgeoisie. Recent historians, unless Marxists of an older sort, have come to see the class struggle as precisely not the history of all hitherto existing societies. But neither did a bourgeois civilization come from any of the engines of analysis of bourgeois and Samuelsonian economists. The engines, whether Marxist or Samuelsonian, are well worth having, because in their own scientific realms they explain a good deal — and then by their failures outside their realms they exhibit how very much of human life depends on rhetoric and ideas. Some modern Marxist economists, for example, would like to say that innovation came from a prudent struggle for power in the workplace, and that steam-driven looms and the like were just what bosses did to break proto-union power and to discipline the workforce. 393 There’s something in it. But not much. And modern Samuelsonian economists would like to say that a business-respecting civilization came from the prudent division of labor or the accumulation of capital or the increasing returns to scale or the expansion of international trade or the downward march of transaction costs or the Malthusian pressures on behavior. There’s something in all of these, too. But not much. The limits of the prudence-only arguments of Marxists or Samuelsonians show how important are virtues other than prudence. Expressed as a summary for economists: “What happened in the Industrial Revolution, 1750 to the present, was neither Karl Marx nor Paul Samuelson in the main, but Adam Smith and Joseph Schumpeter and Albert Hirschman.” For everyone else: “Not matter, but mainly ideas.”
The makers of the modern world of computers and frozen pizza were the new ideas for machines and organizations — especially those of the eighteenth century and after, such as the spinning jenny and the insurance company, and the new ideas in politics and society, such as the American constitution and the British middle class. The new ideas arose to some modest degree from material causes such as educational investment and the division of labor, and even from the beloved of Samuelsonian “growth theorists” in economics nowadays, “economies of scale,” a renaming of the proposition that nothing succeeds like success. Good. But the pioneering innovations of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Europe and its offshoots arose mainly from a change in what the blessed Adam Smith called “moral sentiments. A unique rise of liberty, and especially a rise of talk about liberty, freed human innovation, in Holland starting in 1585, and in England and New England a century later. That is, innovation came largely out of a change in the ethical rhetoric of the economy, especially about the bourgeoisie and its projects.
Understand the words used here. What follows repeats: put it back in introductory chapters You can see for one thing that “bourgeois” does not have to mean what conservatives and progressives mean by it, namely, “having a thoroughly corrupted human spirit.” The bourgeois was viewed by the late-Romantic conservative Thomas Carlyle in 1843 as an atheist with “a deadened soul, seared with the brute Idolatry of Sense, to whom going to Hell is equivalent to not making money.” 394 Or from the other side, in 1996 the influential leftist historian of the United States, Charles Sellers, viewed the new respect for the bourgeoisie in America as a terrible plague which would during 1815-1846 “wrench a commodified humanity to relentless competitive effort and poison the more affective and altruistic relations of social reproduction that outweigh material accumulation for most human beings.” 395 Contray to such voice, bourgeois life is in fact good for us, and we should all have it. The philosopher the late Richard Rorty viewed himself as a “postmodern bourgeois liberal. 396 Give it a try.
That does not mean, however, that one needs to be fond of the vice of greed, or needs to think that greed suffices for an economic ethic. Such a theory, dating from Bernard Mandeville’s (DDDD***) Fable of the Bees, has undermined ethical thinking about the Age of Innovation. It has especially done so during the past three decades in smart-aleck hangouts such as Wall Street or the Department of Economics. Greed is not good. Adam Smith didn’t say it was — if you think he did you need to exchange your Adam Smith tie for a library card. Prudence is a great virtue among seven, but greed is the sin of prudence-only, the virtue of prudence when it is not balanced by the other six, and becomes instead a vice. That is the central point of The Bourgeois Virtues (or for that matter Smith The Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759), and will recur in Bourgeois Words.
Nor has the Bourgeois Era led in fact to a poisoning of the virtues. In a recent collection of mini-essays asking “Does the Free Market Corrode Moral Character?” the political theorist Michael Waltzer replies “Of course it does.” But then he wisely notes that any social system corrodes one or another virtue. That the Bourgeois Era surely has tempted people into thinking that greed is good “isn’t itself an argument against the free market. Think about the ways democratic politics also corrodes moral character. Competition for political power puts people under great pressure . . . to shout lies at public meeting, to make promises they can’t keep.” 397 Or think about the ways socialism puts people under great pressure to commit the sins of envy or state-sponsored greed or environmental imprudence. Or think about the ways the alleged affective and altruistic relations of social reproduction in America before the alleged commercial revolution put people under great pressure to obey their husbands in all things and to hang troublesome Quakers and Anabaptists. That is to say, any social system, if it is not to dissolve into a war of all against all, needs ethics internalized by its participants (Waltzer puts his trust in ethical education arising from legislation. On could have some doubts that a state strong enough to enforce such laws as Walzer [check spelling throughout***] would remain uncorrupted). Contrary to a common opinion, in many ways the arrival of a bourgeois, business-respecting civilization did not corrupt the human spirit, despite temptations. Mostly in fact it elevated the human spirit. The Age of Innovation improved much behavior, and depended on the improvements. 398 Waltzer is right to add that “the arrogance of the economic elite these last few decades has been astonishing.” 399 So it has. But the arrogance comes from the smart-aleck theory that greed is good, not from the moralized economy that Smith and Mill imagined, and in some respects saw around them, and which continues even now to spread.
And the Era of the Bourgeoisie did not thrust aside, as Charles Sellers elsewhere claims in rhapsodizing about the world we have lost, lives “of enduring human values of family, trust, cooperation, love, and equality.” 400 Good lives such as these can be and actually are lived on a gigantic scale in the modern, bourgeois town, freed from chill penury and the little tyrants of the fields. In Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country John Kumalo, from a little village in Natal, and now a big man in Johannesburg, says, “I do not say we are free here,” certainly true for a black man under apartheid in South Africa in 1948. “But at least I am free of the chief. At least I am free of an old and ignorant man.” 401
Christianity and socialism, both, are quite mistaken to contrast a rural Eden to a corrupted City of Man. The popular poet of the Sentimental Revolution, William Cowper, expressed in 1785 a clichÃ© dating back to Hellenistic poetry: “The town has tinged the country; and the stain /Appears a spot upon a vestal’s robe, / The worse for what it soils.” No. This urban, bourgeois world we live in here below is not a utopia, God knows. But neither is it a hell. In Christianity the doctrine that the world is a hell is a Platonic heresy, the Gnostic one of Marcion, against which the Apostles’ Creed was directed. At any rate our specifically bourgeois world should not be judged a hell by the mere force of a sneering and historically uninformed definition of “bourgeois.” The judgment should depend on factual inquiry, not on the clichÃ©s of left and right politics 1848 to the present.
Another word used here, “ethics,” as argued at length in The Bourgeois Virtues, is best seen as not exclusively about how you treat other people (by exercising the virtues of justice, secular love, and the altruistic part of courage). Ethics is also about how you treat yourself (prudence, temperance, and the rest of courage) and how you treat your purposes in life (hope, faith, and transcendent love). Ethics is a theorization of philosophical psychology. The theorizing of ethics changed in Northwestern Europe in the eighteenth century — for the better in its application to the economy and polity, and for the worse in the understanding of the good life by some of the leading theorists. The high theory in Kant and Bentham was abstracting away from ordinary life at the same time the low theory in Hume and Smith and the Anglican theorists of the new economy was developing an admirably practical and bourgeois cast.
What is known as “virtue ethics,” rediscovered in England after 1958 by Elizabeth Anscombe and subsequently developed disproportionately by female philosophers (Alasdair MacIntyre counting as an honorary female), had been dropped in the late eighteenth century in favor of single-value and abstract systems like those of Kant and Bentham. 402 The last of the former virtue ethicists was, surprisingly, Adam Smith, in his Theory of Moral Sentiments of 1759 and a sixth edition in 1790. 403 Kant the East Prussian and Bentham the South Englishman, secular sons of Protestantism, appeared instead to want to avoid the Papist-sounding “virtues,” through which one might achieve salvation by sufficiently good works. In 1752 the playwright and novelist Henry Fielding had asserted, in half-jest as usual, that “the cardinal virtues (possibly from the popish epithet [that is, the Roman Catholic characterization] assigned to them) are at present held in. . . little repute.” 404 Kant and Bentham believed rather in a natural grace on which salvation depended, the godly grace of Augustine or Calvin translated into Duty or Utility. With the rest of the philosophes they would have none of the richer Aristotelian-Aquinian talk. By contrast the word “ethics,” you see, is used in the old-fashioned sense, Smithian or Aquinian or Aristotelian. It is an ethics of the seven primary colors (courage, temperance, justice, prudence, faith, hope, and love), viewed as a rhetoric of the flourishing human life.
And, understand, the word “rhetoric” in such phrases as “a rhetoric of the flourishing human life” is not here defined as “lying speech” or “silly bloviation.” That’s the newspaper definition, true. But like “anarchism” and “feminism” and “pragmatism,” the word “rhetoric” has an older, exact, honored, and non-newspaper definition. We don’t have to go on and on falling for the newspaper definition. When the economist and sociologist Adam Smith in 1748 taught “rhetoric and belles lettres” to Scottish boys he was not sneering at the R word. 405 Nor was the theologian and chemist Joseph Priestley sneering at it when in 1777 he published for a similar readership A Course of Lectures on Oratory and Criticism. But for a long time Smith’s and Priestley’s descendents in economics and sociology and chemistry and even in theology have been sneering at the word “rhetoric,” formerly honored. Many social scientists of the twentieth century — entranced by vulgar Marxism and rat running, first-order predicate logic and multiple regression, and by the metaphysics of materialism and behaviorism and logical positivism — gave up on language. People such as Bertrand Russell or NNN*** Corbusier or Paul Samuelson came to believe in the sufficiency of a human intellect and of material forces beyond a merely human persuasion by words.
“Rhetoric” in Aristotle was defined as the available means of non-violent persuasion, peitho. The line is drawn at physical coercion (bia), in order not to merge, say, rape with seduction, or fist-backed violence with marital discord. 406 It underlies all democracies from the councils of the hunter-gatherers to the law courts of fifth-century Syracuse to the civil society of the new South Africa. “Rhetoric” is not simply literary. It includes metaphor and first-order predicate logic, story and statistical data, both. These are the available means of non-violent persuasion. Rhetoric is not mere ornament for ornament’s sake, or pointless fancy talk. It was the basis of education in the West from the fifth century BCE to the nineteenth century CE, and has parallels in East and South Asia, not to mention the skills of oratory exercised in traditional African law or in the councils of the Iroquois or Sioux. It is all we have for sweetly — if not always ethically — persuading ourselves how we should do things, and persuading others, too. With the aid of rhetoric Galileo persuaded Europe that Jupiter had moons; Alcibiades persuaded the Athenians to attack Syracuse; Lincoln persuaded Americans to free the slaves; you persuade yourself to vote for Obama. 407
That is, rhetoric is what we have for altering our beliefs, short of reaching for our guns, or acting on impulse (or, what amounts to the same thing, acting on our always-already-known utility functions). The American rhetorician and philosopher Richard McKeon (1900-1985; a teacher of Richard Rorty among others) distinguished rhetoric as a persuasion expositing an already known position from the higher rhetoric that explored positions, a real conversation. Though it is surely not evil to try to persuade someone by sweet words — after all, it is better than shooting them, or rounding them up for a bantustan — the creativity of the West in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries arose from the other, good-conversation rhetoric. The so-called “Austrian” economists such as Israel Kirzner or Friedrich Hayek (he who provokes sneers from the economic Establishment) call it “discovery.” The discovery will sometimes involve money payments, in which the two parties discover a mutually advantageous deal. Smith argued that “the offering of a shilling, which to us appears to have so plain and simple a meaning, is in reality offering an argument to persuade one to do so and so, as it is for his interest.” 408 But discovery involves other forms of unforced persuasion as well. Schumpeter (Austrian in a more literal sense) called it entrepreneurship, which requires sweet talk and discovery and deals at every juncture. Examine the business section of the book racks at the airport and you will discover that fully a third of the books are about rhetoric, that is, how to persuade employees, bankers, customers, yourself.
As the American literary critic the late Wayne Booth expressed it, rhetoric is “the art of probing what men believe they ought to believe,” “the art of discovering good reasons, finding what really warrants assent, because any reasonable person ought to be persuaded,” the “art of discovering warrantable beliefs and improving those beliefs in shared discourse.” 409 Or as the French political theorist the late Bernard Manin put it, “between the rational object of universal agreement and the arbitrary lies the domain of the reasonable and the justifiable, that is, the domain of propositions that are likely to convince, by means of arguments whose conclusion is not incontestable, the greater part of an audience made up of all the citizens.” 410
We Europeans have been strangely ashamed of rhetoric for some centuries now. Therefore we have devised many euphemisms for it (since one cannot live thoughtfully without it), such as “method” in Descartes’ definition, or “ideology” in Marx’s, or “deconstruction” in Jacques Derrida’s, or “frames” in George Lakoff’s, or the “social imaginary” as Jacques Lacan and Charles Taylor define it — “what makes sense of our practices,” writes Taylor, “a kind of repertory.” 411 David Bohm’s “dialogue” is still another reinvention among literally hundreds of the wheel of ancient rhetoric. Such reinventions were necessary because philosophers such as Bacon and Descartes and Spinoza and Hobbes had revived with their own persuasive rhetoric the Platonic, anti-rhetorical notion that clear and distinct ideas were somehow achievable without human rhetoric (contradicted in the very performance in Plato of the dialogue form that asserted it).
A fully agreeing, stagnant, utopian, slave-owning, tyrannical, ant-colony, hierarchical, zombie-populated, gene-dominated, or centrally planned society wouldn’t need rhetoric, since the issues have already been settled. Merely act, following your DNA, the traditions of the Spartanate, the Baconian method, the volontÃ© gÃ©nÃ©rale, the Party line, the views of Thabo Mbeki about AIDS, or whatever else your lord or your utility function says. The rule is: Don’t reflect; don’t discuss. Just do it.
For many purposes it is not a crazy rule. Indeed an innovative society depends on tacit knowledge scattered over the economy, and the economy depends on allowing such tacit and habitual knowledge to be combined by invisible hands. As Hayek put it, “civilization enables us constantly to profit from knowledge we individually do not possess. . . . These ‘tools’ which man has evolved . . . . consist in a large measure of forms of conduct which we habitually follow without knowing why.” 412 You work your computer without understanding machine language. You drive your auto without knowing precisely how its engine works.
But without fresh persuasion the rules, habits, knowledge, institutions — in a word, the tools — would never change. The computer would be frozen in the state it achieved in 1965. Autos would never shift to hydrogen fuel. Financial markets would never innovate. Mill called the exhaustion of productive persuasion “the stationary state,” which he rather admired, as ending the sick hurry of modern life: “The richest and most prosperous countries would very soon attain the stationary state,” he wrote, “if no further improvements were made in the productive arts.” 413 The productive arts were in his day exploding (which Mill did not notice). The productive explosion depended, ironically, on his other main delight, liberty of discussion — which is rhetoric all the way down. Mill was contradicting himself (somewhat in the manner that radical environmentalists do nowadays) when he admired the stationary state, yet admired, too, a free rhetoric that was bound always to disrupt it.
It is precisely the enormous change in such productive arts 1700 to the present, accelerating late in the nineteenth century, that has made us modern. It is not merely a matter of science and the frontiers of knowledge. It was not until British electricity and then the telegraph in the 1840s, or German organic chemistry and artificial dyes and medicines in the 1890s, and Italian radio and mass communication in the 1900s, that Science started to pay back its debt to Technology. Though it is common to blur the timing, most important changes in technique until well into the nineteenth century had little to do with scientific theory. The classic case is the steam engine. Although the discovery of the atmosphere (discovered by the Chinese, incidentally, centuries before) clearly played a role in the early steam engine, most of its improvements were matters chiefly of tinkering, and high and low skills of machine-making. Well past Carnot science owed more to the steam engine than the steam engine owed to science. Superheating in marine engines late in the nineteenth century might have had theoretical roots, but in truth it is not until the twentieth century that Western science matters much to the continued growth of the economy: television, plastics, electronics. The historian of technology David Edgerton speaks, further, of the “shock of the old,” that is, the unpredictable and creative use of old technologies, such as the use of galvanized iron in the roofs of huts in favelas.414 It’s tinkering, almost literally.
The routine of trade or accumulation or exploitation does not explain such creativity in innovating in workshops, tinkering, and the shock of the old, in the style of Han Per. We need to focus on how habits change, how people imagine new technologies, improve them in response to economic pressures and a new culture of honor, and think up new uses of old ones. In other words, a society of open inquiry depends on rhetoric in its politics and in its science and in its economy, whether or not the very word “rhetoric” is honored. 415 And because such societies are rhetorically open they become intellectually creative and politically free. To the bargain they become astonishingly rich. That’s what began to happen on the path to a business-respecting (but not thereby virtue-ignoring) civilization, first in scattered cities of Europe in the late Middle Ages, but in fully modern form — made finally into a coherent rhetoric that would conquer the world — around the North Sea in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
In North Holland and then in North Britain 1600-1848, and especially around 1700, the rhetoric about markets, innovation, and the bourgeois life changed sharply. In the earlier outbreaks of a proud bourgeoisie in Augsburg and NÃ¼rnberg and the North-German Hansa and Bruges and Brussels and Northern Italy and the rest, not to speak of the great cities of Sung China or of the Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad, the economic rhetoric did not permanently change, and tended to slip back into monopolistic aristocracy. Certainly they did not create a business-respecting civilization. Commercial Verona came to be ruled by gentlemen of Verona, as was a commercial England in Shakespeare’s time ruled by men with swords and sonnet cycles and position at Court rather than by men with ledger books and ink-stained fingers and influence in Parliament. Even Antwerp in the Spanish Netherlands, mistress of sixteenth-century European trade, was governed by an oligarchy of non-traders. But in Amsterdam and Rotterdam and Leiden, and especially in Birmingham and Manchester and Glasgow, and then in Philadelphia and New York and Boston, the economic rhetoric did change, permanently.
For the first time a public opinion — an audience made up of citizens (though not by any means all the adult male indwellers, and certainly very few women, and no non-Europeans) — began to matter in European politics. It was one of the causes of the rhetorical change. The priesthood of all believers, and especially a church governance by congregation rather than by hierarchy, invited lay people to consider themselves and their daily activities as infused with the Holy Spirit. At the same time the turn to Humanism inspirited in the Netherlands the old “chambers of rhetoric” (rederijkerskamers) and in France and England the new grammar schools to affirm that burghers could be Latinists, too. 416 The son of a glover, William Shakespeare, had small Latin and less Greek, but he got what Latin he had in a grammar school of Stratford. The Dutch Revolt against Spain 1568-1648 and the English tumult 1642-1688, the French Huguenot struggle against Louis XIV, stirring up a political environment readied by printing presses difficult to censor, made ordinary men and women bold. 417 As the historian of early Quakerism, Rosemary Moore, put it, “One result of the [English] Civil War was the abolition, for a period of some years, of controls on speech, printing, and ways of worship. Ideas could flourish unchecked.” 418 And so a century later the troublesome children of Britain in Virginia and Massachusetts were emboldened, too, as still a little later were the takers of the Oath of the Tennis Court. From 1517 to 1776 and 1789 the shared discourse was revolutionized. What was thought reasonable and justifiable, and who was worthy of rhetorical attention, shifted, for good, opening the Bourgeois Era. The ideas and the conscious and unconscious rules for handling them — the rhetoric — had changed.
Therefore, and with the resulting economic success of the Dutch in the early seventeenth century and of the British in the early eighteenth century, the virtue of prudence rose greatly in prestige, as compared with the formerly most-honored virtues of religious faith or battlefield courage. As Charles Taylor put it in 1989, what came to “command our awe, respect, or admiration” — what The Bourgeois Virtues called the “virtues of the transcendent” — was no longer solely the high virtues of saint or soldier but now “an affirmation of ordinary life.” 419 To be sure, saintliness and soldiery continued to be admired, causing what Taylor describes as “a tension between the affirmation of ordinary life, to which we moderns are strongly drawn, and some of the most important [and old] moral distinctions.” 420 (The Bourgeois Virtues was written in culpable ignorance of Taylor’s thinking, and therefore much of the book redid in 2006 what Taylor had already done nearly two decades earlier — describe the “tension” between bourgeois virtues and the older honored pair of aristocratic and peasant/Christian virtues.)
By the time in 1776 that Smith wrote An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations the rhetoric of politics among advanced thinkers was beginning to be routinely bourgeois in character rather than holy or heroic, partly because Voltaire and Smith and Franklin and Sieyes kept saying so. Shortly after Napoleon assumed the First Consulship in 1799 the Proclamation des Consuls de la RÃ©publique declared that the new constitution, in the embourgeoisfied formula typical of the age, “is founded on the true principles of representative government, on the sacred rights of property, of liberty, of equality.” 421 A few years later Napoleon merged nationalism with a bourgeois economic program: “We are thirty million men [well. . . 'people,' dear], united by the Enlightenment, property-ownership, and trade.” 422
The bourgeois turn was lamented in 1790 by Edmund Burke: “the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex.” 423 He was lamenting, as the ur-conservative in the Bourgeois Era would, the fall of hierarchies. The rhetorical change that Burke lamented was to a large degree, though not entirely, also rhetorical in its causes. The eighteenth century in northwestern Europe and especially in Britain, wrote the literary critic Jane Jack, was “the great century of talk and talkers,” from Richard Steele’s imagined coffee house to anywhere Samuel Johnson sat down to speak. 424 Precisely in complaining about “sophisters” Burke was complaining about an age of fresh voice and public opinion to which he so signally contributed, as against the ancient routine of abrupt and unargued force, bia, without chance of exit, as Albert Hirschman would put it, supported by a hierarchical loyalty. 425 Go tell the Spartans, thou who passeth by,/ That here, obedient to their laws, we lie. Obey our laws with generous loyalty to rank and sex, said King Leonidas to his doomed men, and be counted therefore glorious and aristocratic. You will not, however, unlike some of the Athenians at the time, be counted proto-bourgeois, or liberal, or prosperous.