December 2, 2010
The Bourgeoisie, Egalitarianism, and the Death of CultureBy Larrey Anderson
Three crucial points underlie our crisis of culture in the Western world:
1) There is no culture, at least as we know it in the West, without the bourgeoisie.
2) The notion of egalitarianism, which in the last few hundred years has come to dominate our thinking, is wreaking havoc on Western culture.
3) By embracing the concept of egalitarianism, the bourgeoisie is precipitating the dissolution of our culture and the self-destruction of the middle class.[i]
1) Culture and the Middle Class
The middle class has supplied most of the innovators in Western culture, science, and economics. The philosopher David Stove, who does the math, puts the percentage of important philosophers, historians, artists, scientists, inventors, etc. who have emerged from the bourgeoisies at 97%.
The reasons for the amazingly high number of cultural and economic contributions from members of the middle class are simple. The upper classes already have political and economic power. Stove describes the intellectual motivation of the aristocratic classes thus:
At the other extreme sit the poor. Stove bluntly describes their situation:
In between the elite and the indigent are the members of the middle class. The motivations of the bourgeoisie vary. For the purposes of this discussion, I will divide the members of the middle class into three constituents:
(A) Those who seek a comfortable life. This is the bulk of the middle class -- people who work at salaried positions.
(B) Those who take greater risks and attempt to become entrepreneurs. The motivation for this section of the middle class is money and/or prestige. The risks for this group are high because there are no "safety nets" for the enterprising bourgeoisie.
(C) Those who seek recognition or fame, or are driven to significantly add to either the sciences or culture. Their goal is to make a name for themselves -- and sometimes a living -- through a legitimate and lasting contribution in some culturally related field. (E.g., philosophy, mathematics, or one of the arts.)
Notice that the numbers in each group dramatically decrease as we move from (A) to (B) to (C) and that within each group there are degrees of success (both financially and in terms of public recognition). Within group (B), for instance, there are more failed and/or struggling entrepreneurs than there are flourishing ones. And the number of highly successful businesspeople is a very small percentage of (B).
What most of us fail to recognize is that the number of people in (C) is, in terms of a percentage of the members of the middle class, almost nil. These are the Einsteins, Mozarts, Shakespeares, and Freges. All were middle-class. All are very rare.
There are, for example, thousands of physicists in the world. Most of them fall within group (A). They are salaried professors or work as specialized employees in some large business. Less than a handful of physicists can claim to have made legitimate and lasting discoveries in their chosen field, and only these would fall into category (C). The same is true in most of the sciences and of culture of any consequence.
This is the great, and little understood, paradox of the bourgeoisie. Culture is a creation of the middle class -- but only of the best (and rarest) of the bourgeoisie.
2) Egalitarianism and the Middle Class
Contrary to what most of us have been taught, egalitarianism is a curiously modern notion. Equality before the law is a concept that stretches far back in time. Leviticus 19:15 calls for equal judgment between the rich and the poor. It does not declare the rich and the poor equal in any status -- except before God's law. In fact, the scripture relies on the given of economic inequality to make the case for legal equality. [ii]
But egalitarianism, the concept of absolute equality among human beings, did not exist until about the sixteenth century.[iii] This truth, as Stove reminds us, is hard for most of us to grasp:
Where, then, did this notion of the absolute equality of all human beings come from?[iv] The answer is this: overenthusiasm combined with a misunderstanding of human beings.
The leaders of the Enlightenment knew that they had uncovered a new and vitally important idea in the scientific method. Many thought that their mathesis universalis (universal science) would rapidly change not only the world, but also human nature. Some, including Francis Bacon, René Descartes, and Denis Diderot, literally guaranteed such advancements. Diderot, for example, claimed that the new French Encyclopédie would have the power to "change men's usual ways of thinking." By "men," Diderot obviously meant "all human beings."
History has shown us that it takes more than an encyclopedia to alter human nature. It takes revolutions and guillotines. The first major effort to impose perfect equality, and change human nature, was attempted not with the Communists' Russian Revolution -- it happened in the French Revolution. (Some fifty years after Diderot and D'Holbach published the Encyclopédie.) Perhaps the most extraordinary, but least discussed, discovery by the leaders of the French Revolution was that for total equality to be achieved, the destruction of the middle class was more important than the abolition of religion or the elimination of the aristocracy.
Sylvain Maréchal in his Manifeste des Égaux (Manifesto of Equals, 1801), stated, "Let the arts perish if needs be. But let us have real equality!" Antoine Lavoisier, the "father of modern chemistry," was executed during the French Revolution in 1794. The revolutionary judge who sentenced Lavoisier to death proclaimed, "The Republic has no need of chemists."
As we have seen, artists and chemists rarely emerge from the aristocracy, the priestly class, or the poor. In order to have "real equality," it is the bourgeoisie who must be extinguished. The middle class is the engine that produces the artists and the chemists who distinguish themselves (making themselves unequal to the masses of humanity) through their contributions to culture.
3) The Death of Culture
In Die Deutsche Ideologie,[v] Karl Marx made one of the most revealing statements about the relationship among culture, egalitarianism, and the middle class:
The nub of the allure of egalitarianism is lassitude. This is a pledge of laziness. It is the slow execution of the middle class and a vow to murder culture. Notice what is missing from the promise of egalitarianism: the nobility of growth, struggle, specialization, and pursuing one's dream.
The middle class has a choice to make. We can continue stumbling blindly down the road to our own destruction. Or we can wake up to the fact that if we choose egalitarianism, we sign our own death warrant.
All people are not equal. A child is not special (not yours, not mine) unless the child is gifted, educated, and driven to pursue his or her dreams.
Let's close this piece by getting down to the nitty-gritty. Does your child play in a soccer league that doesn't keep score -- in order not to hurt the feelings of the kids who have no talent? If so, shame on you. Your child will end up in a society in which he can do, as Marx promised, whatever he wants, just as he has "a mind."
Except your child will not have a mind of his own. Public schools -- in the name of egalitarianism, but in what amounts to a cost-cutting procedure -- are mainlining special needs students and reducing programs for gifted students. The chances are getting lower and lower that the brightest students will be able to excel at being outstanding scientists, inventors, writers, etc. No matter. There is little need to contribute to a culture that no longer exists.
Understand that it is not my intention in writing this essay to épater le bourgeoisie. The middle class doesn't need another shock. We bourgeoisie need to wake the hell up. Now.
Larrey Anderson is a writer, philosopher, and submissions editor for American Thinker. He is the author of The Order of the Beloved, and the memoir Underground. His next book, The Idea of the Family, will examine the role of procreation in human self-awareness.
[i] This bewildering predicament occurred to me while rereading "Did Babeuf Deserve the Guillotine?" This is the first essay in David Stove's On Enlightenment, Transaction Publishers, 2003. All references to, and quotes by, Stove are from this article. Also see Thomas Lifson's excellent article, "Progressive Feudalism"; André Glucksmann's Les Maîtres Penseurs (The Master Thinkers), 1977, Grasset & Fasquelle; and Stanley Rosen's Nihilism: A Philosophical Essay, Yale University Press, 1969.
[iii] Plato's Republic is today mistakenly taken to be a communistic or egalitarian work. But the system presented by Socrates in the book is a strict tripartite caste based on intellectual merit -- not equality. The fact is that almost no ancient thinkers toyed with the idea of equality. The scant few who might have are of little historical or intellectual significance. If I remember correctly, Cicero and Plutarch both briefly mention Gaius Blossius as an incipient egalitarian. Blossius was, apparently, an advisor to Tiberius who pushed land reform for the Roman plebs.
[iv] Stove, in his article, pins too much of the blame for egalitarianism on Christianity. Many of the most prominent thinkers of the Enlightenment were atheists, agnostics, or deists. Most of those had a profound disdain for Christianity. Furthermore, there is little historical evidence to support Stove's contention. In America, for example, efforts to achieve absolute equality by various Christian sects all ended in failure. The Shakers and the Perfectionists come to mind. The Mormon Church was bankrupted and nearly collapsed when it instituted the "United Order" -- an early effort by that church at enforced collectivism.