The word and suffix “phobia” derives from the Latin word phobos for fear. In psychiatry, a phobia refers to any irrational fear. [1] Arachnophobia is the irrational fear of spiders. People who fear heights suffer from acrophobia. People who post at political web sites obviously do not suffer from doxophobia or fear of expressing opinions. Recently, a secondary meaning of phobia has fallen into a too common usage. The new definition of phobia includes not only fear, but also aversion and hate. For example, homophobia has come to mean hate of homosexuals, not just fear of the same. Actually there is a double intended meaning here. Certain activists for homosexuals would like people to believe the aversion to homosexuals is borne of a phobia about personal sexuality. There is no use arguing about the new usage of phobia. Changes in usage happen in living languages.

In a recent article in the Weekly Standard, David Brooks argues that we are encountering a new phobia, a phobia characterized more by hatred than by fear. According to Brooks, this “Bourgeoisophobia” explains why European and Arabs have come to hate America and Israel. [2] Brooks recently wrote Bobos in Paradise on how a unique combination of bourgeois and bohemian values and attitudes characterize the new upper class in America. He has thus spent considerable time studying the history and evolution of bourgeois values.

According to Brooks, the attitude of Islamic fundamentalists iseasy to understand. They hate the values of the “meritocratic capitalist society.” They hate highly commercial cultures and what they are based on: individual liberty for the masses, even women. They hate what free cultures produce: everything from popular music to videos. Most of all, Islamic fundamentalists are “inflamed” by “humiliation.” In the 1960’s and 1970’s, some Arab societies attempted to embrace a modern economy, but wouldn’t allow their cultures to adapt. The lingering and unhappy residue of these attempts is a sense of failure and anger. America represents the West with its bourgeois values and Israel is the foothold of the West in the Middle East. Hence, they both evoke a particular animus.

Europeans both love and hate America. The love American popular culture, while showing a distaste for the idea of American exceptionalism. Europeans embrace bourgeois values at least as much as Americans. How then can Bourgeoisophobia explain European anger with the United States? Part of it is a little jealously of American economic success. Some Europeans view Americans as many of us might view a rich uncle who wears checked suits, sports a $5 haircut, and became wealthy by selling brightly colored Cadillacs. We have to acknowledge the monetary success even while our sense of fairness and justice is assaulted because of our conviction that the uncle is our moral and intellectual inferior. Even worse, unlike the uncle, to Europeans Americans possess a blithe, casual, and infuriating certainty in their own goodness.

As Brooks explains:

“No European would ever acknowledge the category, but America and Israel are heroic bourgeois nations. The Israelis are driven by passionate Zionism to build their homeland and make it rich and powerful. Americans are driven by our Puritan sense of calling, the deeply held belief that Americans have a special mission to spread our way of life around the globe. It is precisely this heroic element of ordinary life that Europeans lack and distrust.”

Once Europeans thought themselves to be the economic, cultural, military leaders of the world. Europe had a colonial empire that extended around the globe. Two world wars and their aftermath splintered off what was left of European colonial holdings while dissipating European self-confidence. American hubris reminds them of what they once were and can be no longer. Retaining a sense of moral superiority by creating the myth of the unsophisticated American cowboy blustering unthinking into the world acts as a mild analgesic to European frustration at self-imposed impotence.

  1. On-line list of Phobias.
  2. Brooks, David, “Among the Bourgeoisophobes,” The Weekly Standard, 20-72, April 15, 2002.

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