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Thursday, October 05, 2017


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"...bourgeois virtues and values are universal in the sense that all people of whatever race can profit by their acquisition and implementation. But it doesn't follow that all groups are equally good at their acquisition and implementation...""

Right. This seems undeniable. If Australian aborigines could become just as 'bourgeois' as 19th century middle-class Brits, then surely they would be better off in certain respects as a result. And this isn't trivial. There are other behaviors and dispositions that wouldn't improve anyone's life in any important way, and some that would make life much worse in lots of ways.

But if we allow that some groups are going to find it much harder, on average, to approximate the 'bourgeois' way of life or value system, we can ask:

(Q1) Might the difficulties might be so great for so many of them that it's not worth it, for them, despite the potential benefits? For instance, maybe becoming bourgeois would involve radically changing a traditional way of life that, on the whole, works well for them and makes most of them pretty happy.

If so, then the value of the bourgeois life (despite its benefits) might not be equally high across all groups. It might be so low, relative to some, that it's not morally required or even good for them to change their ways in order to become bourgeois. This is consistent with bourgeois virtues having (some) universal value, but not consistent with the idea that we should demand universal acceptance and conformity to the bourgeois ideal.

(Q2) Might it be that, on the whole, members of some groups are just not capable of appreciating the benefits, or appreciating them enough that we could expect them to change their behavior?

Suppose that, as a result of evolution, almost no Australian Aborigines are psychologically able to have the kind of mind that enabled many 19th century Brits to become so WASPy (for lack of a better word). Suppose that most black Africans are badly suited, by evolution, to a society combining high trust, greatly deferred gratification and high individualism (for example). For them, perhaps, the social order or value system on which the society is based just doesn't make sense. Is that totally unrealistic? I'd say it's at least an open question. In this kind of scenario, we might doubt that bourgeois virtues are values _for_ such people. Plausibly, V is a value for me only if I can appreciate V, appropriate V as part of my world-view and emotional life. I don't think people can be rightly expected to uphold standards that they can't really appreciate. And it's not crazy to allow that tens of thousands of years of separate evolution might produce significant differences in the values that races of humans tend to be able to appreciate.

This also suggests a way of making sense of the idea that certain values belong to one race or culture, not another. If the values in question are ones that a given race can appreciate and internalize only because of their evolution or acculturation, and these values or virtues couldn't have been manifested by groups with a different history, it would be reasonable to say that these values are (for example) white European values rather than Chinese values or Aboriginal values. (Again, all of that has to be understood as a rough generalization; it's obvious that some non-whites are perfectly able to appreciate and enact any virtues we might consider distinctively white or European, etc.)

By analogy, it's reasonable to say that classical music is 'white' or 'European' or that blues and funk are 'black' forms. People of other races can still learn these forms and even make valuable contributions within them, of course; and there's nothing wrong with that. But this doesn't change the (seeming) fact that the forms themselves are a kind of collective property (or, to put it differently, that, considered as groups rather than individuals, only some groups belong to these forms of art). Also, in keeping with your point about universality of value, there's no reason why black music can't have value for whites, or vice versa; the value might be universal, but just being able to appreciate something or even participate in it doesn't make you or your group into the author or source or life-world of the form... Does that make sense?

The Pythagorean Theorem itself is not Samosian, of course, just like it's not itself green or tall. But it could be that the whole cultural-intellectual world within which that kind of (universal, absolute, impersonal) truth can be discovered and appreciated belongs to some human groups and not others. The group doesn't own the truth expressed in the theorem, but it might own the expression, the discovery, the development of a world within which that could happen. Especially if it turns out that some other groups not only didn't create such worlds, but lack the natural or cultural capacity for doing so...

Interesting discussion.

I’d like to request a definition: What is meant by ‘bourgeois virtue’? Does it just mean the same thing as ‘virtue’? What is the modifier ‘bourgeois’ doing?

If it just means ‘virtue’, I would concur with our esteemed host that the virtues are universal and that “all people of whatever race can profit by their acquisition”, while at the same time recognizing that not “all groups are equally good at their acquisition”.

If Aristotle is correct that happiness is the ultimate end of man and that virtue is necessary for happiness, then virtue is something that all men should be encouraged to acquire, regardless of how difficult it might be.

Although the virtues are universal, we can nevertheless recognize that the same virtue can manifest itself in radically different ways. For example, a woman in Western society who walks around topless in public is flouting the virtue of modesty, while her counterpart in African Bushman society who walks around topless might be in perfect conformity with the virtue of modesty.

Thanks for the comments, Ian.

It would be interesting to write a separate entry on 'bourgeois virtues.' I'll say just few things now.

Recall the context: the denunciation of Amy Wax for preaching such virtues to blacks. The B-virtues are a proper subset of the virtues in general.Thus I wouldn't count the theological virtues, faith, hope, and charity as bourgeois. As for the cardinal virtues, temperance, prudence, courage, and justice, perhaps only the first two are clearly bourgeois.

I'll just give a partial list of virtues I would consider bourgeois: frugality, temperance, prudence, dependability, regularity (the bourgeois man follows a schedule, early to bed, early to rise, works steadily at his chosen occupation, etc.), law-abiding, respectful of legitimate authority, polite, hard-working, health-conscious, self-controlled, and so on. His 'time preference' is such that he knows how to defer gratification in the present for future gains, etc.

Pretty boring, eh?

But just think how much better blacks would do as a group if they pulled up their pants, kept them up, lost the basketball, stopped listening to soul-destroying hip-hop horseshit music, and in general adopted bourgeois values!

I mean if you take Snoop Dog as your role model, then you are headed for Nowheresville, to employ some pseudo-hipster jargon of the '50s.

Blacks need to listen to the likes of Walter E. Williams and Thomas Sowell.

I call it common sense and tough love.

Brian Leiter calls me a right-wing racist.

Must I point out the obvious: Huge numbers of blacks do live by and profit from their exercise of bourgeois virtues?

"But just think how much better blacks would do as a group if they pulled up their pants, kept them up, lost the basketball, stopped listening to soul-destroying hip-hop horseshit music, and in general adopted bourgeois values!"

Bill, without meaning any disrespect, this sounds to me like:

"Think how much better Muslims would do as a group if they just being so intolerant and misogynist and ethnocentric, stopped reading the Koran and listening to crazy fanatical preachers, and in general adopted Western liberal values".

If politics is the art of the possible, there's no (political) point in laying down requirements for others that they just won't even try to meet. Muslims are the way they are. They don't want to change. There's no evidence that they're going to want to change in the foreseeable future. We can't make them change (except by doing things we don't want to do, and shouldn't do anyway).

Same with blacks. Let me try to be more precise. There is a _huge_ black underclass in America. They are the problem. They are the reason that America can't ever get over its 'race' problem. They are low IQ, highly criminal, unproductive, a net drain on society, etc. Walter Williams is not the problem. But what proportion of blacks are like him, or even seriously open to the idea of listening to him? The underclass is many many millions. They don't _want_ to hear you, and they never will; they are probably not even _able_ to understand your point, or to appreciate the 'bourgeois' values. Even if they could, they tend to have a deep hatred of white people and white America; that too is not going to change any time in the foreseeable future. They know OJ is a murderer, but they don't care. He's black. They know Michael Brown was a scumbag, but they don't care; actually they like that he tried to kill a cop, because the cop was white. What then should we expect of _these_ black people? Why should we bother to demand that they listen to Walter Williams? It's like telling a room full of angry 5-year-olds to study the US Constitution.


I have a somewhat dark view of these matters, but yours is darker still.

You seem to think that blacks and Muslims are incorrigible and unteachable, that they must forever be stuck with attitudes and beliefs that are destructive to them and others.

You seem to have given up entirely on rational persuasion. How do you explain the fact that the Republic of Turkey the citizens of which are predominantly Muslim was a liberal democratic state for most of its existence? How did Ataturk succeed in his reforms if Turks, being Muslims, are hopelessly unenlightenable?

You seem to think that I am addressing the worst elements of the black underclass. I'm not. I'm just trying to figure this all out for my own satisfaction.

And don't forget what this discussion is about: it's about what motivates UPenn lefty profs to viciously attack Wax for preaching bourgeois values.

If your claim is that blacks are so biologically inferior as to make it impossible for most of them to assimilate life-enhancing values, then I think we are at the end of any profitable discussion.

Then you alt-righties really are the ugly racists that your enemies say you are.

Turkey was a 'liberal democratic state' founded on genocide of non-Muslim minorities. I'm not an expert, but I believe Ataturk succeeded, for a time, by being very harsh and repressive. The Soviets also made Muslims behave for a while. But get enough Muslims together and give them lots of freedom, and the results are not generally nice.

Likewise, blacks in the US and elsewhere have sometimes behaved pretty much like whites or, at least, not caused too many problems; but that's usually only because some other group makes it clear there will be harsh penalties for bad behavior. Left to their own devices, the result is more like Detroit or Zimbabwe or Congo or Jamaica.

And this is very striking in the US, where whites have spent countless trillions of dollars over many decades trying _everything_ to help blacks. Head start programs, affirmative action, forced integration, 'civil rights', etc. The result is nothing, or worse than nothing: the black underclass today is more degenerate and miserable than in the 30s. American blacks are the most pampered black people in the history of the world. As far as we can tell, the only time when they were more law-abiding and responsible was under a 'white supremacist' system--formal segregation in the south, or informal segregation and white 'racism' in the north.

What do you make of this evidence? Is it still reasonable to think that the huge black underclass can change somehow--or, more precisely, that they can change while being treated as if they were responsible fellow citizens and equals of whites? I just don't see the evidence for that hope.

"If your claim is that blacks are so biologically inferior as to make it impossible for most of them to assimilate life-enhancing values, then I think we are at the end of any profitable discussion."

This is too simple. I began with the suggestion that what is life-enhancing might be relative to the natural capacities of a given group. Maybe some races are just not well-suited to life in a society like this one. I'm pretty sure the Vikings would have been a bad fit, and caused a lot of problems for others; but it doesn't follow that the Vikings had no 'life-enhancing values'. In fact I think they were much healthier in many ways, superior to the average neutered liberal guy in the west today. The Swedes now are a dying people. They can't even admit that they exist.

"what motivates UPenn lefty profs to viciously attack Wax for preaching bourgeois values."

All their usual hatred, their wish to moralize and be superior to us, etc. But also, maybe, they secretly agree with me that the mass of blacks probably can't act 'bourgeois' unless whites are racially conscious and act like they're in charge--unlike the current society, where whites are only allowed to have an identity in order to grovel before black criminals and looters. And to leftists, an old-fashioned society where whites are conscious and have solidarity--where whites want to exist and flourish as a group--is 'white supremacy'. They suspect that asking blacks to be bourgeois means, in practical terms, asking whites to re-assert themselves as whites. And I think that's probably true, though of course I don't think it would be a bad thing! Is that 'ugly' and 'racist'? I'd say I'm imagining a society where everyone is much better off. Far less crime and degeneracy, far more civility and achievement and progress, etc. But it might take what moron leftists call 'white supremacy'--i.e., whites being proud of their race and culture in the societies that they created.

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