Part II. How the bourgeois individual proves his worth in his home, capitalist society

Part II. How the bourgeois individual proves his worth in his home, capitalist society

Bourgeois individuals obviously do not first acquire their manners, and then try them out in the world. They do not bring their minds into line with the principles of good conduct before developing these principles into a program of adapting to every situation. This separation carried out here is a theoretical one, which aims at portraying the “logic” of the workings of an abstract free will. So there is no reason to suppose that this logic exists apart from the individual’s continual restricting himself to the circumstances that he considers a means to his success.

If the determinations of bourgeois individuality so far portray “only” the general techniques of accommodation executed in both everyday and Sunday words and deeds, this is surely no objection to their objectivity. And since the principles of bourgeois good conduct are taken from the concrete forms of intercourse laid out in Part II, this section can read like a collection of “examples” of the “method” of a calculatingly self-restraining will.

The “secret” of “second nature”: Accommodation

However, we have no interest in a “catalogue” of evidence. What is to be shown here is nothing less than what the heading implies: that the moral individual, with his consciousness of his freedom, feels at home in bourgeois society. In all his concerns he is forever mobilizing his forces to reinterpret every restriction as a permission, the permission as an opportunity, the opportunities offered as the freedom to make use of them; and whenever he is dissatisfied with the results of his freedom gained in this way, he has the consolation that he is even conceded the right to be dissatisfied — with himself and others. The four chapters that follow therefore deal with how the bourgeois subject brings his self-consciousness to bear in all spheres of life, so that he takes every critique of bourgeois life and dealings as a direct criticism of himself that he “doesn’t need to put up with”; they deal with what sort of criticism his assent does lead to — and with how he thereby progresses toward considering himself a beneficiary or a victim. This is not a proof that bourgeois individuals behave in the way stated in Part I; rather, it turns out that their efforts at self-control must have solidified into “character” in order to function again and again in the face of what people are forced to do. Thus what is “proved” is only that the techniques of the moral person — who prides himself on the fact that “only” his self-control but not “he himself” is monitored, rewarded or punished — that these techniques exist as habit ever ready to be applied, as “second nature”; and that he so values this second nature, acquired through his upbringing and through limited experiences of bourgeois life, that additional or worse experiences leave him no wiser…