For a century and a half, the artists and intellectuals of Europe have scorned the bourgeoisie. And for a millennium and a half, the philosophers and theologians of Europe have scorned the marketplace. The bourgeois life, capitalism, Mencken's booboisie and David Brooks's bobos - all have been, and still are, framed as being responsible for everything from financial to moral poverty, world wars, and spiritual desuetude. Countering these centuries of assumptions and unexamined thinking is Deirdre McCloskey's The Bourgeois Virtues , a magnum opus that offers a radical view: capitalism is good for us. McCloskey's sweeping, charming, and even humorous survey of ethical thought and ecomic realities - from Plato to Barbara Ehrenreich - overturns every assumption we have about being bourgeois. Can you be virtuous and bourgeois? Do markets improve ethics? Has capitalism made us better as well as richer? Yes, yes, and yes, argues McCloskey, who takes on centuries of capitalism's critics with her erudition and sheer scope of kwledge. Applying a new tradition of virtue ethics to our lives in modern ecomics, she affirms American capitalism without igring its faults and celebrates the bourgeois lives we actually live, without supposing that they must be lives without ethical foundations. High Noon, Kant, Bill Murray, the modern vel, van Gogh, and of course ecomics and the ecomy all come into play in a book that can only be described as a monumental project and a life's work. The Bourgeois Virtues is thing less than a dazzling reinterpretation of Western intellectual history, a dead-serious reply to the critics of capitalism - and a surprising page-turner.
Deirdre N. McCloskey is distinguished professor of economics, history, English, and communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Among her many books are Crossing: A Memoir and If You're So Smart: The Narrative of Economic Expertise, both published by the University of Chicago Press.