Other Enjoyments, Of A Purer, More Lasting, And More Exquisite Nature

Fischoff’s defense of Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism that I mentioned earlier characterized Weber’s essay as a “conscious reaction to the Marxian hypothesis” and thus considered it understandable that Weber would “overstress the consistency and efficacy of ideal factors.” What Weber could not have have known, though, was how precisely those “ideal factors” were every bit as much involved in the “Marxian hypothesis” as they were in the capitalist spirit — if not more so.

In the conclusion of The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Consumerism, Colin Campbell highlighted a phenomenon he referred to as “the irony of social action.” “Neither the first Romantics nor their successors in subsequent decades, ever intended to grant legitimacy to modern consumerism or to that spirit of self-interested hedonism upon which it is based.” When I hear the word “irony,” I reach for my invisible hand (with my other invisible hand). Irony is a trope, a form of expression, not something that “nature” or “the gods” do to humiliate people for their pretensions. 

When actions have unintended consequences, it is not because of some celestial law of irony. It is because human motives and actions are intrinsically ambivalent. The ambivalence of social action is a proper subject for analysis. The irony of social action is a smug, reactionary sneer masquerading as wisdom of the ages.

Painted Guitar, Hippie, Music, Cartoon

The proverbial “work ethic” of the late 1960s and early 1970s (which is still with us) can best be understood as an ambivalent response by both hippies and hippie-punchers to the simultaneous eclipse of post-war full employment and the “Borrow. Spend. Buy. Waste. Want.” consumer society Affluenza. The confusion between irony and ambivalence is almost certainly because satire and irony are the literary forms used to call attention to ambivalence, especially in its more unsavory manifestation as hypocrisy.

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