Status Anxiety (2004)

Why doesn’t money (usually) buy happiness? Alain de Botton breaks new ground for most of us, offering reasons for something our grandparents may well have told us, as children.

It is rare, and pleasing, to see a substantial philosophical argument sustained as well as it is in this documentary. De Botton claims that we are more anxious about our own importance and achievements than our grandparents were. This is status anxiety.

Alain quotes philosophical writings, such as Democracy in America, a report by Alexis de Tocqueville on his visit to the USA in 1831. De Tocqueville noted that American equality, notable in those times, was accompanied by a climate of envy.

We jump to present-day USA, and see what, to de Botton, are some awful examples of The American Way. A Christian preaches get rich. A steelworker tells of his insecure life in an industry being closed down through others’ love of money.

Our protagonist points out the advantage of high status: those with high status will enjoy the care and attention of the world. Then joins this advantage with the illusion, or attempt at meritocracy in the USA, mentioning Jefferson’s notion of an aristocracy of talent.


Buy the DVD at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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