The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce
Deirdre N. McCloskey, Author . Univ. of Chicago $32.50 (616p)
Eschewing the notion that capitalism is evil and the middle class is soft and cowardly, University of Illinois professor McCloskey argues that bourgeois economic practices and people promote the widest possible range of virtues. An economically free and prosperous middle class is not only peaceable, law-abiding and prudent, McCloskey argues, it can also be artistic and spiritual, and support traditional cultures, protect the environment, win wars, make discoveries and care for the unfortunate better than aristocratic or proletarian social organizations. Though her overarching aim is to develop a modern theory and taxonomy of virtues, promoting libertarian economic views and summarizing 250 years of normative economic writings, McCloskey only sketches her argument here; the details will be left to three subsequent volumes. Most of this book is a technical survey of virtues that emphasizes Catholic theology, though it includes material from other traditions. The prose style is arch and obscure, often relying on brief quotations from philosophers, economists and historians and then rebutting them. Without the future volumes, these challenging 600 pages represent a highly idiosyncratic survey with no obvious focus.
Reviewed on: 04/03/2006