Rethinking the Value of Monetary Success

John Armstrong is challenging the academic doxa surrounding wealth in his new book In Search of Civilization: Remaking a Tarnished Idea.   The Weekly Standard has a full review:

Professors do not like the word: The minority of clear thinkers complain that it admits of no definition that takes in all of its meanings, and the moral tongue-clickers (much the majority) think the term sullied by those generations when the West, or so they are assured, sought to impose its “civilization” upon others with the Maxim gun.

“Stuff!” cries John Armstrong. He will raise the principle of civilization up again to glory, and guide us to felicity in so doing. To Armstrong, civilization is necessary for the good life, and the good life consists of the elegant enjoyment of life’s good things, while the good society is produced by wealth and taste. Armstrong’s, then, is a philosophical Gospel of Wealth, and so a rather surprising irruption into common sense by a contemporary professor of philosophy—even one who has dealt in classic Italian automobiles.

A laswegian contrarian in the tradition of Adam Smith, Armstrong scorns this deep-rooted suspicion of money. Civilization, says he, is essential for humans to flourish, and civilization consists of mutually vivifying material and spiritual prosperity. Beautiful things are essential to the good life, and so also the means to get them: There is nothing morally corrosive in comfort. We are not to be ashamed of our fat bank accounts, of our books and sculptures—or of our classic Italian automobiles. Freedom is necessary and capitalism good because they allow us these things; and the left’s aversion to capitalism is driven chiefly by snobbery. Still, consumption without taste is careless of beauty (witness the contemporary art market) or even destructive of beauty (witness modernist architecture). The past, the arts and humanities, should be our guides to the right use of our wealth, to what we should and should not desire. Shame, then, on the professors, who have confined the arts and humanities to the oubliettes of academic departments and who, by teaching their students only their own brand of micro-scholarship, have sundered the bond that properly exists between great art and books and public taste.

Read the full text here.   Being an Aristotelian, I am suspicious of the notion that capitalism is not only necessary, but good– but is that just the core’s influence? Is happiness in the modern world contingent on money?  Can one be intellectually and morally fulfilled and financially successful?  Leave any comments below.

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