Toby Young Toby Young

Do what they do, not what they say

The hypocrites who espouse hedonism while living classic bourgeois lives

Last month, two law professors named Amy Wax and Larry Alexander published a piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer praising ‘bourgeois’ values. They argued that many of the social problems afflicting the American working class, such as the opioid epidemic, are partly due to the decline of these values and that reviving them might go some way to help. They summarised them as follows: ‘Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighbourly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.’

That is a fairly uncontroversial set of precepts and it’s hard to deny that those who follow them are more likely to lead happy, productive lives. The authors pointed out that most successful Americans, including those academics, writers, artists, actors and journalists who preach the gospel of personal liberation, tend to live by these values themselves. They accused the chattering classes of hypocrisy: they espouse an anti–bourgeois, hedonistic philosophy in public, while practising fidelity, abstinence, hard work etc, in private. It’s do as I say, not as I do, which is odd because the liberal intelligentsia claim to care about the least well-off. If they want to help them, why not recommend the values that serve them and their middle-class friends so well?

Wax and Alexander were careful not to link these values with any religious or ethnic group. They condemned the rap culture of inner-city blacks, the anti-assimilationist attitude of some Hispanics and the bad habits of some working-class whites, particularly having children out of wedlock.

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