Assholes: A Theory

Aaron James. Doubleday, $23.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-385-53565-6
Like Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit, this is a serious and sometimes whimsical treatment of a common epithet. UC-Irvine philosopher James (Fairness in Practice: A Social Contract for the Global Economy) defines an “asshole” as someone who “allows himself to enjoy special advantages in social relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people.” He provides a typology and names names, including the “smug asshole” (Bernard-Henri Lévy) and the “self-aggrandizing asshole” (John Edwards). A chapter entitled “Gender, Nature, Blame” includes an overly long disquisition on whether the asshole is responsible for being who he is and whether he has free will (the short answers are: largely no and yes). James is disappointing on “asshole management”; his basic advice is to selectively fight the asshole to maintain your public status, but don’t think you can change him. Unfortunately, he becomes derailed in a chapter on “asshole capitalism,” characterized by “expansive entitlement” of the financial elite, in which he provides a host of unsupported hypotheses and speculations on why American and other forms of capitalism may be reaching a point of irreversible “degradation.” His work raises the question of whether the subject of assholes is worthy of book-length treatment—probably not. (Dec.)

Reviewed on: 07/23/2012
Release date: 10/30/2012
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