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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 228 of the final volume (2016) – Bourgeois Equality – of Deirdre N. McCloskey’s marvelous trilogy on the essence and role of bourgeois values in modern life (footnote deleted):

The growth of trade, I would argue, promotes virtue, not vice.  Most of the clerisy – themselves, as Bismarck described them with disdain, having “no property, no trade, no industry” – think the opposite, that it erodes virtue.  And yet we all take happily what trade gives, which is polite, accommodating, risk-taking, trustworthy people having some property, trade, and industry – not bad people….  The way a salesperson in an American store greets a customer makes the point: “How can I help you?”  The phrase startles some foreigners.  It is an instance in miniature of the bourgeois virtues.

On this 240th birthday of the United States of America, it is proper for us Americans to ask why we should be proud to be American.  I have never believed, and do not believe now, that mere membership in one’s ethnic group, or mere citizenship in one’s nation, is a sufficient reason to be proud of that membership or citizenship.  Justified pride must come from something more.

I am proud of America insofar as it is a bourgeois, commercial, and free society.  I take pride in almost nothing that Uncle Sam has done over the centuries.  Uncle Sam has consistently unleashed force – domestically against Americans (if usually only in the form of credible threats) and abroad against non-Americans (too often in the form of actual violence) – in ways that I believe to be harmful to Americans and non-Americans, and unethical.  Uncle Sam is nothing but a government, an institution that I regard to be a sub-species of organized crime.  It is a source for me, not of pride, but of loathing and fear.  I have no respect for it or any of its operatives.  I obey its idiotic and officious commands only because I’m too cowardly to resist, and because I am no believer in violence as a solution to any but a small handful of the most immediate and brute problems.

But what I am proud of is the bourgeois culture that still looms large (if hardly universally) in America.  I’m proud of the peaceful manner in which most Americans conduct their private affairs.  I’m proud of the widespread respect for private property that continues to govern people’s personal, private relations.  I’m proud of the entrepreneurial spirit that continues to exist among many of my fellow denizens of these United States.  I’m proud of – and deeply grateful for – the innovativeness and entrepreneurial creativity of many of my fellow Americans.  I’m proud that America continues to be a destination for people seeking better, freer lives.  I’m proud that many Americans continue to believe that the most ethical course in life is for each individual to be self-responsible, self-supporting, hard-working, honest, and upright.

I’m proud, in short, of America’s bourgeoisness.  It’s this bourgeoisness that has made America great.  This greatness comes not from bellowing politicians, not from well-weaponed armies, not from arrogant judges, not from meddling bureaucrats, not from pompous Washington and New York and San Francisco pundits; it comes not from anything but the hundreds of millions of ordinary Americans who daily work hard, honor their contracts and other people’s property, cherish their families, friends, and neighbors, and think it perfectly natural to ask strangers in commercial settings “How can I help you?”


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