where bourgeois values went

Sun, 15 May 1994 03:41:19 EDT

/* The following started off as note (1) to a post commenting on an article */
/* entitled "Bourgeois Virtues" by Donald McCloskey in The American Scholar,*/
/* Spring 1994, touted to us by does-it-really-matter-who by this time. */
When McCloskey cited Cesar Grana asking back in 1964 why the intlellectuals
superciliously sneer at the bourgeoisie, the answer should have been self-
evident: That's what they're paid for. Which merely begs the question: Why
should the bourgeoisie have to pay for intellectuals and artists to sneer at

Karl Marx answered this question in 1857, while scribbling the Grundrisse,
in a digression. The Grundrisse is 1000 pages of end-to-end digressions off
digressions; I still want to grow up to be Karl Marx so I can get away with
that. Marx was trying to explain Romanticism, which dominated the arts to the
extent that the Ebenezer Scrooges - Marx undoubtedly read Dickens since he
read everything - dominated the economy. Nobody wanted to read about Scrooges,
including the Scrooges themselves: It's one thing to stand in the middle of
urban desolation and toxic waste to tell the visiting German, "Yet a great
deal of money is made here, sir!" Another thing to read about yourself doing
it when your mind is on sex, the most important thing money can buy, which
is rendered socially acceptable as spiritual love and the requirement to
be economically secure to support a family. Marx used the expression "fully-
rounded human being" for the male capable of being a lover, caregiver, and
other emotional thiings which the Scrooge types overtly disdained as effeminacy
and sheer distraction. Observe that we still use the expression "romantic
love," testimony to the monopoly the Romantics had on describing it.

Marx observed that in the literature the "fully-rounded human being" is
a man - nobody cared about women until very recently except for a few daring
women willing to take risks, what with all those emotionally scarred men
needing so much care - of the part: Old Fezziwig, for example. The Middle
Ages, thanks to Romantics like Scott and Chateaubriand, had become a great
deal more popular than they were at the time, suitably Romanticized.

Not even today can a novelist sell a fictionalized depiction of Donald
Trump limited exclusively to what he did on the job. What Donald Trump wrote
about himself was not fiction but lies. As for Ayn Rand, here formula was
merely bashing the scrooges at the hands of a Superman risen to the top
without really trying, like Michael Milken without the creepy personality,
and the polar opposite of the good famiy man Michael Milken was.

Since, if you held a contest offering Big Bucks to a bunch of Scrooges
for literature or art which got Good Reviews, and there'd be no winners or
even entrants, it was a systemic imperative in capitalism to perpetually
recruit and sustain a cultural counter-bourgeoisie, which does the literature,
art, and criticism of all kinds. Prior to the academizing of these occupations
in very recent times, they were high-risk, low-income careers, as some of the
creative and pperforming arts still are. To sustain morale or even attract
recruits to begin with, it is inevitable that the cultural counter-bourgeois-
ie's subculture should develop such feeble solidarity as it possessed around
the shared disgust for "bourgeois philistinism."

Such was "bohemianism," a fixture of bourgeois society from Romanticism
to the Beat Generation. Then, in the 1960s, the bohemian subbculture underwent
a population explosion; new terms, like "counterculture," came into use to
describe it; and, shorn of its political-oppositional dimension, it was
permitted to alter the formerly dominant culture, perhaps irrevocably (meaning,
for a while yet). Which could never have occurred without the permission of
the Scrooges in the corporate boardrooms who pay for the Republican Party
(while the covey of Quayles ring the doorbells and rouse rabble). The
explanation is simple: Hedonism turned out Good For Business. People intent
on immediate gratification aren't scrimpers and savers but credit-card

Marx also described thiis, again in the Grundrisse, long before it effected
a cultural revolution (over a century later): The individual capitalist
preaches abstinence to his (this was Victorian England) own workers, but
confronts everyone else's workers as the consumer market. When the capitalist
peddled the goods, making do with the primitive advertising of the time,
he, always he in those days, quite naturally encouraged potential customers
to become abandoned hedonists.

This insight was ahead of its time. Not till 1976, when Daniel Bell
published The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, did a respectable if
not terribly bright sociologist figure it out, if not as clearly, under
the delusion that the idea was startlingly original.

But why, if the possibility of flipping from self-discipline/self-denial
to hedonism was immanent in capitalism-based, that is, bourgeois society
all the time, or at least, since industrialization, did it occur in the
1960s? This is to ask, under what circumstances does a society give rise
to new kinds of people within itself, such that they are required to
revolutionize the culture as they have received it, provided that this
resolution is not strongly obstructed: Cultural revolution may occur without
social revolution; social revolution cannot occur without cultural revolution.

Daniel A. Foss