“The true goal of the bourgeois life [is] diversion”
A Review of Alain De Botton’s
THE PLEASURES AND SORROWS OF WORK
There is a story about an aged playboy who, when a conversation with a friend is interrupted by a telephone call, asks incredulously: “You mean, when that thing rings, you answer it?” Few people have ever been able to afford to be so insouciant: for nearly everyone, work is a burden from which there is no escape. Still, the playboy’s reaction is not as flippant as it might seem. If most people’s everyday experience is the test, it is the idea that work is the chief route to personal fulfilment that seems frivolous.
It is only in modern times that work has been seen as the definitively human activity. The ancient Greeks believed fulfilment was to be found in leisure, and for that reason would never be achieved by the mass of humanity. The nearly universal rejection of this view today is a consequence of the triumph of the bourgeois notion – notably endorsed by Marx – that happiness is found in work. As Alain de Botton writes, “The bourgeois thinkers turned Aristotle’s formula on its head: satisfactions which the Greek philosopher had identified with leisure were now transposed to the sphere of work, while tasks lacking in any financial reward were drained of all significance and left to the haphazard attentions of decadent dilettantes.” Bourgeois life promises to all the fulfilment that has historically been the privilege of a few. What it offers, however, is not idleness, a life of pleasure of the sort cultivated by leisured minorities in the past. Instead, it is the prospect – or illusion – that labour can be made intrinsically satisfying, a type of self-expression that everyone can enjoy.
Read the full review:
THE PLEASURES AND SORROWS OF WORK
Alain De Botton
(Coming to the US, June 2009)
Hardcover: Pantheon, 2009.
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The NEW REPUBLIC review of
ANIMAL SPIRITS: HOW HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY DRIVES THE ECONOMY
by George Akerlof
The economics profession has been greatly embarrassed by the economic crisis. The crisis began last September, with the crash of the banking industry (broadly defined, as it should be in this deregulatory era, to include investment banks and other financial intermediaries besides commercial banks), and of the stock market and other financial markets. It has since grown into the first depression since the 1930s, if one may judge from its global sweep, the pervasive anxiety that it has engendered among government officials as well as the business community and the public at large, and the trillions of dollars that nations have desperately committed to fighting it. The economists had assured us that there would never be another depression in the United States, because economics had discovered how to prevent depressions: if economic activity dropped, the Federal Reserve had only to push down interest rates, for this would induce banks to lend and consumers and businessmen to borrow, and the borrowed money would be used to finance consumption and production, restoring output to its level before the crash. Academic and government economists specializing in the business cycle were as surprised by the September collapse and the ensuing downward spiral of the economy as anyone, and were unprepared with plans for arresting it. Six months later they cannot agree on what should be done to recover from it. Not knowing what will work, the government is trying everything.
The idea that monetary policy — raising interest rates (and therefore reducing the amount of money in circulation, because interest is the price of putting money into circulation rather than hoarding it) to check inflation, and lowering interest rates to check economic downturns — holds the key to moderating the business cycle, and therefore to preventing depressions as well as inflations, has been falsified. The Federal Reserve has pushed interest rates way down, but the amount of lending has been tepid and economic activity has continued to fall — hence the bailouts of banks and other financial institutions and the $787 billion stimulus package recently enacted by Congress. The stimulus, a program of deficit spending, seeks to replace the loss of private demand, and the resulting decline in economic activity, brought about by the economic crisis. It seeks to do this by public works, such as the construction and repair of highways and other transportation infrastructure, designed to increase employment, and by tax cuts and welfare payments, which are intended to increase incomes directly and by doing so to stimulate spending.
Read the full review:
HOW HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY DRIVES THE ECONOMY
Hardcover: Princeton UP, 2009.
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THE NY TIMES review of
BILLY GRAHAM AND THE REPUBLICAN SOUTHhttp://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/19/books/review/Douthat-t.html?_r=1
When Billy Graham went to Flushing Meadows in 2005 for what was billed as the last revival in his 60-year career, he was joined on the platform by his fellow Southerner Bill Clinton. Clinton told the crowd how his Sunday school class had attended a Graham revival in Little Rock, Ark., in 1959. Despite the objections of local leaders, the former president recalled, Graham refused to segregate his services, inviting blacks and whites to worship together at a time when harmony between the races seemed impossible. “I was just a little boy,” Clinton said, “and I never forgot it, and I’ve loved him ever since.”
This is one of the stories that can be told about Billy Graham and the civil rights era — a narrative that portrays the preacher’s role in his native South’s reluctant abandonment of segregation as essentially heroic. Graham’s rise to prominence as an evangelist coincided with the turbulent years between Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and the landmark civil rights legislation of 1964, and throughout that decade he wrote and sermonized in favor of racial harmony, staged desegregated rallies in balkanized cities, and counseled obedience to court rulings and legislation that many of his fellow Southerners were determined to resist. As a voice for both Christian conservatism and racial progress, he served as a bridge between the Old South and the New, and as a model for a region struggling to shed its worst baggage without losing its identity.
That’s one story. But there’s another story as well, one that paints Graham as a coward and an apologist for racial backlash. He supported desegregation but took few risks on its behalf; he cultivated a studied moderation in a time that cried out for moral clarity; he was more interested in flattering the white South’s self-regard than in calling his region to true repentance. As a steadfast supporter of Richard Nixon’s career, from the 1950s down through Watergate, he simultaneously enabled and embodied Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” which shut civil rights liberalism out of power and turned the region Republican for a generation.
Read the full reivew:
BILLY GRAHAM AND THE REPUBLICAN SOUTH
Steven P. Miller.
Hardcover: University of Penn Press, 2009.
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