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The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  257 ratings  ·  39 reviews
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 m ...more
Hardcover, 634 pages
Published July 15th 2006 by University of Chicago Press (first published 2006)
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Rebecca Radnor
So I've got to be honest, I got about 53% through the kindle version of this book (I'm guessing there are a lot of footnotes so I'm probably more like 75%) and then got distracted by things like, oh... a life, my job, etc. Its been sitting on my shelf (well, in my kindle) 1/2 read for about 2 years and every time I turn towards it with the intent of finishing it I just can't see the point. I kind of feel like I already have a good sense of where she's going with this and am not in the mood for a ...more
Skylar Burris
McCloskey writes an apology for capitalism. Not an argument that capitalists are without vice (the world is fallen, and no one is without vice), but that capitalism is not, as it has too often been defined, greed incarnate, an inherent vice. Capitalism, on the whole, is supportive of virtue. Virtue is, in the long-term, “smart business.” Ethically speaking, “dealing” (capitalism) is better than “stealing” (communism, socialism, imperialism, bribe-soaked bureaucracy). As Churchill said of democra ...more
Sean Rosenthal
Interesting Quotes:

"I am puzzled when my friends on the right preach freedom for the owner of an assault weapon loaded with dum-dum shells hung on a rack in his Hummer, but then preach, too, intrusions by the government into that same man's sexual practices or his taste in recreational drugs or the care of his brain-damaged wife. But I am also puzzled when my friends on the left preach still more power for a government that has in its time shot Kentucky strikers and electrocuted Italian anarchis
Mar 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It has taken me a very long time to finish reading this book, because this book is very long, and parts of it is rather long winded. McCloskey is a polymath: professor of Economics, History, English, Communications and Philosophy in University of Illinois. It shows in her writing: she was able to talk about philosophies, economics, and historical developments of the views of Commerce and the Bourgeois. This is a book about the bourgeoisie. That is, not he proletariats or the aristocrats. There a ...more
I've been most things in my life: a positivist social engineer, a Joan Baez socialist, a man. Now I'm a free-market feminist, a quantitative postmodernist, a woman. I'm not ashamed of these changes of mind.

In one sentence: The obscured origins of the modern world and its heart, as built by the hated bourgeoisie.

To be read when: depressed about the modern world; locked into an ideology which doesn't people's lives better, esp. your own life; if you are like most middle-class people, vague
Otto Lehto
Jul 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Philosophy does not have to be stuffy or pretentious or unidirectional. At its best, it can resemble a serene and tipsy post-dinner soirée in the company of witty, erudite, and funny companions. Add some candle light, red wine, and anecdotes to energize the animal spirits and lift the mood. After a few hours, you will find that time has passed and it is already dawn. Oh, how the time flies!

This is the spirit I get from this book, the first entry in McCloskey's "Bourgeois" trilogy. And "sentimen
Gordon Howard
Apr 25, 2010 rated it it was ok
This book is very interesting, and has a very good point to make - bourgeois life, which a majority of us in the U.S. live, is not the sterile, money-grubbing life portrayed by "intellectuals," (McCloskey refers to them as the "clerisy").

Unfortunately, the majority of the book wanders through a detailed and sometimes seemingly pointless ramble of the "seven virtues." Mc Closkey's point, it seems could have been made in about 1/3 the pages. And her delightful writing style cannot compensate for t
Emily Turner
Jan 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
Tough writing style, but very interesting ideas. It pushed me to think about my own values and the broader values promoted by economic systems. Glad I read it.
Read it as part of an Honors discussion group and I don't know if I would have finished it on my own without that external motivation due to the her roundabout writing style. I would recommend it for an academic, analytical study when you have someone to discuss it with but not for a poolside read.
Oct 30, 2013 rated it it was ok
Exciting premise, but the execution involves rambling for about twice as long as necessary.
Bernard M.
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
A sophisticated defense of capitalism is always welcome. It is not grating like the Ayn Rand type. But there are two serious problems. One of them is that although she cites the results of lots of studies, she does not go over them in any great detail or explain them so they just don't make the impact they should. Also, it's hard to say how carefully she has actually looked at them. I've been spoiled by "Our Better Angel's" carefully explained research results. Also, she complains that some prop ...more
Nov 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: eng
Amazing and convincing. I'm looking forward to read the two sequels. This first book covers some economics history, and, as the title suggests, gives explanations on why capitalism and bourgeois society are not incompatible with our ethics.

Deirdre quotes numerous philosophers in this book, she tells us how the seven virtues thrive in capitalism (and how capitalism needs them), and she completes the arguments with her knowledge on the world's economy.

Deirdre McCloskey does not give the "what-if
Oct 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
The great Deirdre McCloskey argues that the four "pagan" virtues of justice, courage, temperance, and prudence combined with the three "christian" virtues of love, hope, and faith make up the Bourgeois Virtues, which not only sustain, but are promoted, by capitalism.

She states in the beginning that her goal is convince the unconvinced, primarily leftist, intelligencia/"clergy" the capitalism is the best system not only because of the wealth it creates, but the virtues it fosters. She's preachin
Mario Russo
Aug 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
Alright... mixed feelings. I agree with other reviewers about the lack of objectivity of the book. The author is well versed in history, economics and culture, and while I pretty much enjoy cultural connections to apparently disconnected subjects (You wouldn't expect Van Gogh, Shakespeare and much more inside of a book about ethics for an age of commerce, right?), but perhaps the author might have gone too far at the cost of objectivity. I've listened the audiobook, so perhaps if it was a read I ...more
Gabrielle Taylor
Feb 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is a tough read - lots of history, economics and philosophy rolled up - since so many different points can be made by the intersection of these subjects on any given specific topic, it can be tough to follow. Worth hanging on until the end but not for the weary and it is very dry in some parts, but again worth it especially in a time when so many are questioning our economic systems and their failings. On to the next book in her series, Bourgeois Equality.
Stephen Lee
I've read about 200 pages of this, and it is an enjoyable read, but the trilogy is about 2000 pages in total, and I can't see myself having the time to read that much. It didn't seem to put forward strong arguments, I felt it was more anecdotal material. ...more
Jul 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writing is engaging and informative, but also repetitive and disorganized. Dr. McCloskey could have condensed the book, while still getting her point across. Despite that, reading the first volume was an enjoyable experience.
Jul 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Hard to agree with. Very enjoyable and thought provoking. Will update more later. This is anti-Anathem.
Taylor Barkley
Dec 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Funny at times and extremely impressive in its literary scope. Also practical for daily living and parenting even—which surprised me. A Scholarly Work.
Ryan Arthur
Nov 25, 2020 rated it did not like it
It remains the only book I've ever thrown in the trash. ...more
Dan Walker
Aug 10, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: economics
This is an easy book to read that is difficult to finish. The author is extremely erudite and writes in a conversational style. But as is typical of a conversation, the thread of the narrative weaves in and out and around and requires concentration to follow.

But the topic is extremely important and deserves to be followed to its conclusion. The facts of the matter are, despite a near-constant stream of anti-middle class rhetoric from the popular press, Hollywood, and our political leaders, the w
Jul 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
This wide ranging journey into the past, present, and future of virtue ethics and its relation to capitalism medium quality with high variance. There are lots of inside references, so if you are not well read, you may not get as much out of this book as one could. The books main body on the virtues of courage, prudence, temperance, justice, faith, hope, and love is meandering and sometimes leaves the reader wondering exactly where the author is going. Many chapters seem unrelated to the subject ...more
William Smith
May 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is the first of a planned six books on how ideas and not institutions, capital accumulation, exploitation of workers, imperialism, etc., explain the 15x growth of societal wealth in Western Europe after the 16th century, and why it did not happen in other societies or at other times.

In this volume, she argues that economists who focus only on the virtue of prudence (or in economic-speak, the maximization of utility) overlook the role that other virtues (courage, temperance, justice, love, h
Jul 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful book, overflowing with erudition and a dazzling display of reference across a variety of intellectual disciplines. This somewhat quilted approach does render it less than linear, but once that idea is abandoned, the reader can revel in McCloskey's trip through the virtues, both in their bourgeois capacity and not (it is not a shill for capitalism, to be clear).

This is potentially one of those upending books, not simply because it points out that trade (business, mercantilism) relies
Jamie (Books and Ladders)
This started off okay but then McCloskey started to use quotes and examples from history without context to further her argument and I was not okay with that. If someone didn't have the same knowledge of political philosophers, they never would have known, and truly believed that this was the correct way to use the quotes, examples, etc. I also did not agree with the idea that there were "feminine" values and "masculine" values and the way they were described. But I think there could have been s ...more
Jan 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
McCloskey has read a lot of books, and she makes darn sure to mention each one. Her survey appears to be a mile wide and an inch deep, however, judging from her sophomoric misreadings of theology and English history in just the first hundred pages. If a relatively unlettered reader like me can spot such errors, I can only imagine what a serious scholar will think of this attempt at a sweeping survey of history, philosophy, culture, and economics. Which is a shame, because the premise -- that mar ...more
Taylor Rockhill
Apr 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Dierdre makes a very solid point about the necessity for us to revaluate the necessity of the middle class and capitalism for true progress. Capitalism is a marketplace of ideas, and in a very, very thorough way, that is sure to ensure that all members of the 'clerisy' (the term she uses for the educated bourgeois) value what she has to say, instead of merely dismissing her as an opponent. Hopefully Dierdre's non-partisan examination of the economy can help us all better understand our system in ...more
Jan 25, 2013 rated it liked it
I liked this book. Much of it was really a history of virtue / ethical philosophies, which was interesting, though not exactly what I was expecting. However, given my my ignorance on that subject, it was definitely good that it was there.
Jul 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Mosaic plea to follow the path between MacIntyre’s communitarianism and Ayn Rand’s individualism, seen as a positive duty to be a good (ethical) bourgeois. So unless we place our duties before our rights, we must expect to find our rights themselves undermined.
Jan 02, 2008 rated it it was ok
So far, a solid work, with an interesting argument. The problem is that the book seems to lack organization. It feels almost stream-of-consciousness, which detracts significantly from its quality.
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Deirdre Nansen McCloskey has been distinguished professor of economics and history and professor of English and communications at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is the author of numerous books, including Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World.

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