Status Anxiety: Reviews
Clemency Burton-Hill in Time Out London, 24 March 2004
Once again, Alain de Botton artfully packages self-help for those too self- assured to buy into it. ‘Status Anxiety’ charts the Western world’s slide into angst, where capitalist societies peddle the warped values of the American Dream, trade on the crippling insecurity that arises as a by-product, nurture the idea that our self-worth is calibrated by how others perceive us, and fuel an obsession with material riches and celebrity.
To his credit, this educated white male certainly grasps the complexities of the problem as he examines both ’causes’ and possible ‘solutions’. ‘The most profitable way of addressing the condition may be to attempt to understand and speak of it,’ de Botton announces (perhaps missing the irony in his use of the word ‘profitable’). His is a Freudian approach then: a talking cure. And Freud turns up in the book, of course. True to formula, there’s also a smattering of Aristotle; plenty of Tocqueville, Hobbe’s, Rousseau; a perfunctory dash of Kant. But some curious omissions, too. In a Chapter analysing the reversal of status assumiptions wrought by Christianity, there’s no mention of Nietzsche.
Gripes aside, ‘Status Anxiety” is illuminating, thought-provoking, intelligent. And user-friendly: the patient and slightly condescending exposition of hard philosophy has a soft centre. After acknowledging the ‘common assumption about which motives drive us to seek high status’, de Botton suggests ‘it might be more accurate to sum up what we are searching for with a word seldom used in political theory: ‘love’. So all we need is love, then. Well, he isn’t the first to say it, and he certainly won’t be the last.