Status Anxiety, by Alain de Botton

In the chapter, “Philosophy”:

Cynics are, in the end, only idealists with awkwardly high standards.

– Alain de Botton, Status Anxiety (Powell’s | Indiebound)

De Botton is quite adept at aphorisms.

The chapter on “Art” has convinced me to read Mansfield Park, which I think is the only major Austen novel that I haven’t read yet. Unfortunately, it did not similarly convince me to attempt Middlemarch again.

De Botton very deftly undermines the idea that modern society is a true meritocracy but without explicitly saying whether he believes there is any truth to the assumption at all. He also refrains from saying whether he believes meritocracy is worth pursuing—a question that I’ve been seriously pondering myself—though he does argue that the assumption of meritocracy makes us unhappy. I think I would be happier if he dropped the facade of objective detachment and observation; the whole myth of “American meritocracy” could be explored in all its complexity if de Botton was willing to wade into thornier social issues instead of alluding to them as neutrally as possible. But then his entire premise presupposes the individual perspective rather than the social, and his audience is clearly situated in the middle-to-upper class.

The current chapter I’m reading, “Politics”, does start to address this subject more directly. Interesting though how he manages to sidestep any discussion of Marx so far, even though Marx was quoted in previous chapters.