David Brooks, a senior editor at the Weekly Standard magazine, calls it "bourgeoisophobia"--a hatred of success, most particularly the hatred of commercial achievement. In no small part it's the kind of mind-set that pushed Mohammed Atta to ram a passenger plane into the World Trade Center, the kind of resentment that drives the Arab street to cheer when a 10-year-old blows himself up in a trendy Israeli discotheque.
Brooks points to the antibourgeois stance of the French intelligentsia in the 19th century: "Around 1830, a group of French artists and intellectuals looked around and noticed that people who were their spiritual inferiors were running the world. Suddenly a large crowd of merchants, managers and traders were making lots of money, living in the big houses and holding the key posts" --not unlike the "traders" at the World Trade Center "running the world" people judged by Atta to be his "spiritual inferiors."
These 19th-century self-made merchants, lacking the pedigree and high style of the European aristocracy, were viewed by the French intelligentsia as "vulgar materialists," writes Brooks, "who half the time failed even to acknowledge their moral and spiritual inferiority to the artists and intellectuals."
It was, of course, "stupid grocers" who provided French novelist Gustave Flaubert and other critics of the bourgeoisie with the freedom to write and sneer rather than plant and harvest. Nevertheless, what outraged the intelligentsia, says Brooks, was their belief that it was the "very mediocrity" of the merchants that accounted for their success: "Through some screw-up in the great scheme of the universe, their narrow-minded greed had brought them vast wealth, unstoppable power and growing social prestige."
In that anticapitalist view of things, I suppose I should make more money writing this column than the owners of Foodland. Clearly, that's a formula for an oversupply of columnists and mass starvation, exactly what's been delivered time and again whenever an anticapitalist intelligentsia has grabbed the reins of power.
Thirty years ago Ludwig yon Mises made much the same argument as Brooks in his book, The Anti-Capitalist Mentality: "Many people, and especially intellectuals, passionately loathe capitalism. In a society based on caste and status, the individual can ascribe adverse fate to conditions beyond his control. It is quite another thing under capitalism. Here, everybody's station in life depends on his doing. The profit system makes those men prosper who have succeeded in filling the wants of the people in the best way. …