Alain de Botton (“AL-on de BO-ton”) is a contemporary philosopher, born in Zurich and based in London. His father (now deceased) is Gilbert de Botton, born in Egypt, moved to Zurich when Nasser kicked out the Jewish community, and founded Global Asset Management in 1983. Egypt’s loss. Alain has said “a million dollars was peanuts for my father”.

Alain has popularized philosophy through several best-selling (+ 1 million) books and a UK television show.  He naturally has his detractors. Particularly those from a more traditional philosophical background, no doubt envious of his success. Suffering from “status anxiety” I would guess.

Status Anxiety (full details of the book below) primarily traces how the relationships between the various classes in Western society have developed over the last few hundred years. It charts the development of the “keeping up with the Jones’’ condition.

Once the three traditional classes (Clergy, Nobles/Military & Peasants) were mutually dependent and respectful of each class. A peasant was important because he grew the food upon which all depended. It was thought that to be born to a certain class was God’s will, but that all were equal before God.

The Industrial Revolution and Capitalism changed all that. People were told that all had the opportunity to rise to positions of influence and wealth. This, of course, is not true. But people have believed that with effort they could become a member of the upper class.

The truly bad effect of this change has been upon the psych of the average citizen. When once most were peasants, there was little to envy. But now, the average person has many people to envy.  All those with more wealth, more talent, more popular and so on. And it lasts until the end of life.

This is status anxiety. It is a very real state of mind, and often leads to adverse outcomes, metal ill-health in particular. While today, peoples’ physical environment is the best it has been (sanitation, food etc.) mental health issues appear to be the worst in recorded history. Read this book, it will help you understand a lot of modern behavior.


Status Anxiety

Alain de Botton

Published by Penguin Books in 2005

Get it here