… is from page 394 of the manuscript of Deirdre McCloskey ‘s forthcoming volume, The Treasured Bourgeoisie: How Markets and Improvement Became Virtuous, 1600-1848, and Then Suspect (footnote excluded):
The attitude towards markets and improvement is central. Imagine an ancient Rome in which everyone was fascinated by gadgets, in which work by hand or abacus was viewed as honorable (honestus), in which the occupiers of aristocratic status and other non-working positions were commonly portrayed as stupid and lazy, in which engineers and inventors were heroes, in which millionaires had heroic biographies written about them – and you would be imagining a Rome that would have had an industrial revolution. Ditto, with a somewhat different list of counterfactuals, for Song China, say, or the Abbasid Caliphate. But instead the great Hellenistic engineer, Archimedes, declared that “the work of an engineer and every art that ministers to needs of life is ignoble and vulgar.”
Although we today in the U.S. and other countries of the modern world have a healthier respect for bourgeois values and pursuits than was common among people in the pre-modern world, we can do better – and there’s no better place to start than by talking more openly of politicians as being generally a venal, duplicitous, megalomaniacal, predatory, and status- and power-mad bunch. I would love to see the day when parents react to a child’s announcement that he or she is going into politics with the same horror and shame that would overcome them if their child were to announce that he or she is going into armed robbery.