Amy Wax’s strange campaign to promote bourgeois culture

Besides the Eiffel Tower and the foie gras, France is known to have produced an intellectual class which, over the centuries, from Diderot Encyclopedia to Derrida’s critical theory, managed to export its products to the rest of the world.

The intellectual history of France demonstrates that alongside traditional social classes, a nation can cultivate what is called the intellectual class, a loose network of people who collectively produce ideas about society that are no longer limited to categories. traditions of philosophy, science and literature. Eminent intellectuals merge the three in their quest to interpret the complexity of the world and of human history.


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French intellectuals are seen as floating freely in the media landscape. American intellectuals, on the other hand, tend to be attached to universities or think tanks. They publish and sometimes appear in the media, but with a serious disadvantage, having to compete in shaping public discourse with much more influential media figures such as Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson or even Tucker Carlson.

A stale historical cliché compares Europe to ancient Greece and the United States to the Roman Empire. Rome and the United States both produced a vibrant and distinct popular culture, with a taste for gaudy spectacle and superficial entertainment. But in Roman times, plebeian culture coexisted with a patrician culture cultivated by the ruling class of Rome. Modern democracy categorically rejects the very idea of ​​a ruling class. Commercialism turned out to be the great equalizer. Everyone in America is supposed to share the same culture of film, television, and popular music. The same is true of popular ideas, whether political, scientific or economic.

Amy Wax is a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania who doesn’t hesitate to express her ideas, especially her updated version of class differences. She is convinced that what she calls “bourgeois culture” has replaced the patrician culture of Rome in the United States but is in danger of extinction. Wax believes everyone in the United States, including recent immigrants, should share this culture. Anyone who resists must be excluded. She also believes that race and ethnicity are reliable indicators of immigrants’ ability to comply.

As a young woman, Wax walked the halls and absorbed the wisdom that had sprung from lectures at Yale, Oxford, Harvard and Columbia University. Along the way, she has amassed the kind of elite educational experience that identifies her as a distinguished example of the modern intellectual class. With such impeccable credentials, it’s fair to assume that she is not only knowledgeable, but has learned the art of responsible thinking, a quality the media attributes to such luminaries.

Could it therefore be that such a distinguished thinker and prominent member of the intellectual class is now accused of sharing the kind of white supremacist attitude that Hillary Clinton (Wellesley, Yale) famously attributes to the “basket of the deplorable”? The intellectual class in the United States uniformly and loudly rejects all forms of racism. If Wax expresses ideas that echo racist theses, it would indicate that she is betraying her own intellectual class. Rightly, her university acknowledged her betrayal when it condemned her “xenophobic and white supremacist” speech.

In a podcast in late December, Wax went beyond her previously expressed belief that the United States “would be better off with more whites and fewer non-whites.” On that previous occasion, she specifically targeted black people, whom she describes as intellectually inferior. This time it has targeted Asians, whose reputation for academic excellence and scientific achievement most people admire. She justified her attack in these terms: “As long as most Asians support the Democrats and help advance their positions, I think the United States is doing better with fewer Asians and less Asian immigration.”

When the podcast’s host, Professor Glenn Loury, questioned her logic, she spoke of “the danger of the domination of an Asian elite in this country” which could “change the culture”. Wax’s fear of being dominated by an alien race and his defense of white civilization could hardly convince Loury, who is black. Loury replied that Asians Wax wants to exclude “create value” and “animate society”.

“How do we lose from this? ” he asks. In response, Wax posed his own rhetorical question: “Is the spirit of freedom beating in their chest?” “

This week’s devil’s dictionary definition:

Spirit of freedom:

America’s supreme civic virtue of pursuing selfish goals and waging aggressive assaults on anything boring

Contextual note

Wax came up with her own definition of the spirit of freedom, which she identified as the virtue associated with “people who distrust centralized concentrations of authority who have a sort of ‘don’t step on me’ attitude, which focus… on our freedoms, on our freedoms, on some sort of small-scale personal responsibility that is maverick in a good way.

Besides Wax ascribing a cultural attitude to “Asians” (over half of humanity), his idea of ​​freedom reflects feelings associated with aggressive nationalist historical memes (eg, “don’t step on me” ) rather than the kind of political concept one would expect from a serious intellectual. In his 1859 essay “On Liberty”, John Stuart Mill defines it as the “protection against the tyranny of political leaders”, analyzing it in terms of the individual’s relationship with authority, and not as a “spirit.” or an attitude. But Mill was English, and unlike Americans, the English are reluctant to celebrate attitude.

Wax, who is Jewish, paradoxically complained that Jews “have a lot to answer … numerically because of their dominance.” She laughs at their “susceptibility to idealistic and fanciful socialist ideas.” When Loury accuses her of using a stereotype, she objects that there is nothing wrong with having a stereotype when used correctly. Just as Wax approves of nonconformity “in a good way”, she tolerates “correct” stereotypes. She believes herself to be the arbiter of what is good and correct.

Historical Note

Wax shares with Fox News host Tucker Carlson a sense of legitimate dominance over what she calls “the tradition of the inherited population,” identified as the Traditional Anglo-Saxon Protestant Majority (WASP). Wax aligns itself with cultural nationalists like Samuel Huntington, whose book “Who Are We: America’s Great Debate?” – following his famous “Clash of Civilizations: and the Reshaping of the World Order” – preached for the reaffirmation of the political and moral values ​​transmitted by the WASP founders of American culture 400 years ago.

Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs summarizes the components of Puritan culture: “the English language, Protestant values, individualism, religious commitment, and respect for the law.” Admirers of the culture routinely forget that their respect for the law could mean a lack of respect for the law of the indigenous people of the land they have chosen to occupy. Enforcing this respect sometimes results in genocidal campaigns carried out in the name of this law. He also embraced slavery on the basis of racial criteria.

Wax’s modern WASP culture, which she prefers to call “bourgeois culture,” no longer requires genocide or slavery to prevail. Her defense of a largely imaginary cultural heritage nonetheless led her to adopt a racist view of humanity. While denouncing the multicultural “wokism” which, according to her, now dominates university culture, she seems to believe 19e-The France of the century rather than the Yankee revolution establishes the standard to be respected.

Wax is right to deplore the very real collapse of American intellectual culture. The fashionable moralizing revival so prevalent in American academia deserves her criticism. His attitude and that of awakened scholars stem from the same Puritan tradition that insists on imposing its understanding of morality on everyone.

The choice of Wax from “bourgeois culture” as a desirable alternative to Wokism seems curious. Bourgeois culture is identified with the mores of an urban upper middle class that emerged in the 19e French century which projected the image of a vulgar version of the aristocracy. It produced a culture unique to France, very different from the democratic culture of the United States at the time.

This highlights another difference. While the French intellectual class, even when it engages in its traditional disputes, tends to agree on the meaning of the terms it makes up, American intellectuals regularly proclaim terms that they never seek to define or define. to understand and use them to punish their enemies. This is what Wax has done with bourgeois culture and in doing so has declared several races and ethnicities its enemies.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Fair Observer Devil’s Dictionary. After four years of daily appearances, Fair Observer’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary moves to a weekly format.]

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Fair Observer.

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