Philobiblon: Who says civil society is dying?

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Who says civil society is dying?

I thought of that thesis, and Francis Fukuyama's The Great Disruption, one of the most ridiculously ill-informed books I have ever read, when C-18L this morning delivered this wonderfully useful website, Selected readings.

I dug out the book, which has a bookmark about half-way through that marks the point where I finally threw it against the wall in frustration. It was when it said for about the 50th time about how good it was that Asian cultures tried to keep women unemployed and pregnant ...

Flicking through now I came across this wonderful paragraph, which really could not be satirised:

"At the core of Victorian morality was the inculcation of impulse control in young people, the shaping of what economists would today call their preferences so that they would not indulge in casual sex, alcohol or gambling that would be bad for them in the long run. Victorians sought to create respectable personal habits in societies where the vast majority of inhabitants can be described only as crude. Today the desire for respectability if usually derided as an expression of insufferable middle-class conformism, but it had an important meaning in the first half of the nineteenth century when civility could not be taken for granted. Teaching people habits of cleanliness, punctuality, and politeness was critical in an era when all three of these bourgeois virtues were lacking." (p. 270, Profile, London, 2000)

History by an economist.


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