Do you remember the golden age of Republican antimaterialism? If you blinked, you missed it. It surfaced for a few months in 2000 in order to counteract Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore's inarguable claim that the economy had boomed during the Clinton years. Oh, sure, Republicans answered. But what doth it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? Clinton had presided over the Internet boom, but he had also presided over oral sex from Monica Lewinsky. As candidate George W. Bush put it in a now-forgotten campaign slogan, the nation needed "prosperity with a purpose." At the 2000 Republican Convention, Bush warned that prosperity "can be a drug in our system—dulling our sense of urgency, of empathy, of duty." Hmm. Is that why, as president, he's given us so little of it? (Prosperity, I mean, not oral sex.)
The literature of conservative antimaterialist anomie at the turn of the 21st century is not extensive. Indeed, it is so not-extensive that I'm only aware of one book espousing it (albeit with some ambivalence). That book is Dinesh D'Souza's The Virtue of Prosperity: Finding Values in an Age of Techno-Affluence. When the book came out in the fall of 2000, I wrote about it here and here. For our purposes, though, this passage from Page 244 ought to suffice:
Today more and more successful people are fully cognizant of the limits of materialism. They are searching everywhere for a sense of meaning, of purpose, of something higher to which they can devote themselves. … I suspect that the quest for something higher is going to become a mass pursuit in affluent societies, and in general it is a trend that should be welcomed.
What better time to ponder the meaninglessness of material gain than this yuletide season, when crass commercialism has made it all but impossible to reflect quietly on the meaning of the Gospels? Which brings me to a Christmas e-mail sent last week by one wayfaring pilgrim to a few hundred people. I reprint it here in full:
With Christmas fast approaching, several people have emailed me about getting autographed books to give as gifts.
Autographed books are a unique gift and a great way to expand the mind, especially the mind of a young person.
I'd be happy to sign books as "gift packages" for anyone. I'm offering two packages:
—All six of my books (Illiberal Education, The End of Racism, Ronald Reagan, The Virtue of Prosperity, What's So Great About America and Letters to a Young Conservative) for $150
—Any four books for $100
There is no additional postage charge.
If you're interested, you can go to my website at www.dineshdsouza.com and place this order using Paypal.
Or email me directly at [D'Souza's email address]
If you act quickly, the books will definitely be there by Christmas!
Wishing you and your family a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
With best wishes, Dinesh D'Souza
When I wrote D'Souza to confirm that he'd written this e-mail, I explained that I planned to tweak him for this act of shameless hucksterism. Here is his reply:
Yes, I wrote it, but it only went to my private e-mail list of people who have written me about my books. A few hundred people. I haven't done any web promotion or anything. I hardly think this is "shameless hucksterism," but if you want to call it that, be my guest. What I find peculiar is this weird notion that authors should write books and then not try to get their message out, even among people who have shown a prior interest. You know as well as I do that the profit margin on books is negligible. So this is hardly a big money-making enterprise. But again, you may call it as you see it.
Here, then, is a working definition of "prosperity with a purpose." It is anything that fills the pockets of political commentators. I'm halfway through sending out Christmas cards that have a picture of my kids on the front, but to hell with that. For $100 you can give that Slate reader in your life a signed, numbered, and bronzed Chatterbox of your choice. Nothing says Christmas like Chatterbox.
(Note to the humor-impaired: This is a joke. Don't send me $100.)