The chief problem societies have faced "since the time of the Babylonians," writes Dinesh D'Souza, has been the problem of scarcity. "But now that age has passed, and America has a new problem: coping with prosperity." It's a good problem to have, but also a serious, even debilitating, one. "The moral conundrum of success," the author continues, means that all too often, "the body is flourishing, but somehow the soul still feels malnourished." D'Souza is well known for his bestselling conservative books Illiberal Education
, The End of Racism
, and Ronald Reagan
. On these pages, however, he seems to set politics aside to ask deep questions about the meaning of life in a world of material abundance:
What is my life for? As affluence spreads ... hundreds of millions of people will be asking just this question. That they can ask it is in and of itself a great moral achievement, because it opens up to innumerable ordinary people the avenues of human fulfillment that were previously open only to aristocrats. Yet at the same time it is a strangely disquieting question, because there is no complete answer to it within the modern techno-capitalist framework.
The Founders promised "the pursuit of happiness," but they didn't explain where happiness can be found, or even what it is. D'Souza argues that it must not be found in materialism--in both the consumerist sense of the word as well as the philosophical one. In a time of unprecedented prosperity, of course, the temptation is to find happiness exactly there, and the threat is profound: materialism may "transform our very nature as human beings and possibly introduce a new species in the world, the posthuman." D'Souza does not welcome this prospect (and consequently sounds very conservative indeed). The Virtue of Prosperity
is a bold and thoroughly engrossing book. Readers won't need to agree with every one of D'Souza's points to find his many digressions fascinating. Whether he's writing about an extravagant Silicon Valley party, describing the ideas of Richard Dawkins, or making a casual reference to Marcus Aurelius, he's at once erudite and accessible. It's not always clear where he's going with his ideas until he gets there, but he makes the journey a pure joy. --John J. Miller
From Publishers Weekly
This latest work may mark D'Souza's graduation from a promising to an important writer, a possible heir to Michael Lewis's role as an insightful chronicler of our times. After serving a year in the Reagan White House, he wrote two conservative tracts, Illiberal Education (1991) and The End of Racism (1995). These well-argued, one-sided books established D'Souza as a B-list conservative commentator. In 1997, his political biography of Ronald Reagan achieved acclaim for its nuanced insights, even from some who didn't agree with D'Souza's politics. The new volume finds D'Souza wandering around the country discussing how to be hip, rich and wired with Internet billionaires, street people and regular folks. He wants to know if the techno-rich are different from other rich, whether the superrich act like the merely rich and whether most rich people are guilty, driven, shallow or happy. Lengthy discussions ensue on the meaning of inequality, who gets rich and how, the history of wealth in the world and what the future holds for the wealthy and the wired. Some Reagan-style homilies lead into predictable philosophical essays that may interest intellectual Republicans. But other stories show a sharp pen and sharper eye that transcends polarized politics, leading to philosophical reflections that are much deeperDor at least less predictableDthan in D'Souza's first two works, and delivered in a unique voice and with an unusually light touch. (Nov.)
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