Posted by The Happy Tutor
Vitia outlines several theories of class, acknowledges the paradoxes, (noble n'ere-do-wells and rich boors) and then asks, So I might ask the Tutor-as-Moralist: what are some valid reasons for not attempting to understand how class works? Actually, Vitia and I are both trying to understand wealth, power, dominance and submission, celebrity and brand culture. I wish him well with his thesis, and hope he will continue to share his evolving ideas.
The most helpful book I ever read, to really understand what true upper class might once have been in America was Old Money, by Nelson Aldrich. Another was Why the Wealthy Give: The Culture of Elite Philanthropy, by Francie Ostrower. Both show with vivid details and testimony how WASP upper class culture worked, what its ethos was, how it was transmitted, and to some extent how it lives on to this day in certain circles in NYC, Boston, or San Francisco. Once you see such a three-dimensional, "living ecosystem" of wealth, power, manners, mores, morals, taste, education, finishing schools, social clubs, inter-marriages, public service, interlocking board seats, brothers, sisters, cousins and uncles all working together for the public good, and their own, and see how particularized it was, how unique to a certain time and place, it becomes difficult to talk about high class in general. I think you have to understand class as you would literature, by getting down to specific cases, and seeing each individual poem or person in the larger context of the specific sustaining matrix for that person and group in that town or city, at that specific time in a country's and economy's and culture's history. Language is so sensitive to this, it embodies bits and pieces of these bygone cultures: "genteel," "shabby genteel," "lace curtain Irish," "well off," "comfortable comfortable places," each such word or phrase reeks of an era. Read Edith Wharton or Henry James, or Jane Austen to see how class worked and felt in a specific time and place.
Here and now, to me, it feels like a market run mad. The most real thing is not class, but a viable business plan, access to capital markets, a good legal team, good lobbyists, strong campaign contributions and plenty of hype. When it all comes together, you are high class, until it all blows up and then, maybe, if there is any justice in the world, you join Ken Lay in jail. The economy has blasted holes in old money culture, and now we have plenty of crass and no class whatsoever. If Bush repeals estate tax, however, we will learn in one or two generations, what an aristocracy of hegemonic boors really is.
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