May 22, 2017
Minor Nobles of Exquisite Breeding and Dubious Character Sarah Hoyt has a thoughtful piece up on aristocracy and class.
Mostly because Europe still largely thinks in "Classes” — I know, I was born and raised there — and those of us in whose mind it doesn’t fit easily always felt weird about it.Guys, we’re starting to feel weird about what the US is doing too.
I do urge you to read it in full. Like a lot of the products of Hoyt's MENSA mind it goes down a lot of different paths before before having them all begin to merge.
Her piece brought to mind an exchange I had with a professor this past semester.
The professor in question is a damned good one and teaches an extremely interesting class on the history of technology, which she comes at from very non-intuitive and thought provoking directions. At one point we were discussing the politics of late 19th century tech and she asked "Who is the left?" After a brief back and forth, she provided her answer, "Cosmopolitans!" Her position was that the left is constitutionally cosmopolitan as they are able to make common cause with people around the world without regard to national boundaries. This is not actually that far off, though it glosses over a bit. In particular she was very keen on pushing the internationalist aspect as opposed to any meaningful connection to the the origins of the word in the French Revolution. However, both are entwined closely.
For centuries Europe had a feudal system where a lord would run a small fiefdom and there would be various interactions with other aristocratic families, usually power related, but these guys ran the place. However, as fiefdoms merged into principalities and principalities into kingdoms and occasionally empires the power of the nobility waned. As the early policy in some regions of kings being elected gave way to primogeniture, the nobles became locked in, unable to advance, except at the expense of some other family, or perhaps in the event of a succession crisis, an invasion or coup. Then some of those damned commoners began making far more efficiently than any conceivable taxes on one's tenants. This was the merchant class, and they began creating wealth hand over fist and in some cases, like the Hanseatic League surpassed kingdoms in wealth, and certain aspects of power. Of course, to the nobles this was a great injustice. After all, they had legitimacy through their bloodline. These dirty capitalists selling cod of all things and gaining wealth without having first secured noble parentage were...CHEATING!
This being based on accident of birth, a litany of effete' social standards were set up to distinguish themselves from those who could not appreciate the magnificent blueness of the noble's blood. Their identity was not being common and so they shunned all things that had any trappings of the average people of their kingdom. On the other hand they tended to resent the upper aristocracy, who were a hard limit on their ascendance, indeed, an invasion or power struggle where a noble chose astutely to change loyalties could result in a major increase in stature. And of course these people had a white hot burning hatred for what we now refer to as capitalism as it enable even the basest people who were clever and assiduous to rise most distressingly...with no regard to ancestry.
When speaking of groups it is important to remember that they consist of unique individuals with the God given potential to develop their characters in any direction. However, in general, the minor nobility (of Europe in particular) became an insecure, status-obsessed group of inbreds whose social position above the hoi-polloi was based on...well, pretty much not being of the hoi-polloi. They were inclined to deeply resent their leaders and despise free markets, the latter because they threatened them by allowing an alternative avenue to mobility that did not pass through the nobles social register. They flaunted social mores to the extent they did not alarm the upper aristocracy because they could get away with it in a way that the commoners and the merchants (who were mostly commoners themselves) could not, this becoming a marker of their status and further establishing their position above those hated groups.
Obviously, this is a gross generalization, this class of people who had leisure time and nothing to do did produce some who applied themselves to non-despiseable eccentricities. (See Newton, Issac).
However, by and large we are talking about a social class that was pretty much worthless and hated everything.
Well not quite. They had much more in common with their fellow members of the minor nobility club in their country and others. So you had this group of people who had far greater affinity for people of similar status in other countries than they did with their own countrymen who they tended to despise as base and provincial in comparison to the ever so interesting different trappings of other countries...nobility.
Now even the most venal of us want to feel that we are good and noble. So the minor nobility twisted their noblesse oblige into a contemptuous pity for and desire to "help" (but not actually grant respectability to) the commoners. Now they often had no actual comprehension of how these people lived or what would help them. However, if the nobles were ever presented with the opportunity to remove their mask and express their sincerest and most heartfelt impressions to the king and his upper level aristocrats then the hoi polloi had the potential to not merely be objects of pity and charity, but could be most useful. If, after such a transpiration of events, the commoners were ungrateful or forgot their place, well, ' if the Vendee can't be a good example they can be a teaching moment'.
Fortunately, even before the Vendee was bathed in cruor, the founders of our country had provided us with a way to avoid this unfortunate societal dynamic. Title of Nobility Clause means we don't have nobility. For generations our upper classes tended to be people who moved up through hard work or at least astuteness. Now this is no foolproof filter against jerkwads achieving success. However, it did serve to deny the upper middle class and upper classes the permanence and persistence of a title. This break from historical norms produced an amazingly productive economy, that in 130 years went from a bankrupt backwater far from the center of civilization to an industrial giant less than a decade behind the most advanced nations on Earth in most technologies (and a world leader in a few). One of the factors here was that our successful people had to keep producing or be replaced, because, well, it wasn't like they could fall back on their titles 'CAUSE THEY DIDN'T HAVE THEM!
This often vexed the children of the successful as they were suddenly expected to be productive. Going back to even before the days of Caroline Webster Astor setting up "The 400" there were attempts by people to secure their position an eliminate competition (the trusts of the 19th century for instance). Astor's mean girl snobbery was an overt attempt to create a de-facto aristocracy, but, without the titles there was nothing to enforce it and, indeed, families that produced children obsessed with such trivialities did not compete well. Thus there was intense churn among the upper class as new people came in bringing new technologies and perspectives, while the children of the previously successful proved to be a tad too comfortable to achieve the spark needed to compete and their families were frequently replaced by people bringing new ideas.
However, in recent years, a combination of factors that include regulations raising entry barriers to start up businesses, the inordinate weight placed on credentialism and in particular credentials from a few universities that only accept people from the upper echelons of society and a few new comers who think as they do. These factors mean that the credentialed class is now, for the first time in the U.S., largely self perpetuating. Elite credentials as titles of nobility certainly seems to be a superior arrangement to primogeniture, but in practice, the credential, seems to nullify any sense of noblise oblige, just as the group is becoming increasingly hereditary and it seems, far more credentialed than meritocratic.
This is an extremely status-conscious group and like the Astors of old they have found a kindred spirit in their hereditary counterparts of the old world. The upper classes of developing nations as well are drawn to this and this trans-national class of jet-setters who scold us on our carbon footprint are arguably more international in makeup and outlook than even the Third International. Despite being, in some ways a successor to the old Comitern, this transnational class is, while generally leftist in its politics, quite hostile to and contemptuous of the working classes in general. Indeed, their identity, at least in the U.S.A., is based on not being working class. Futhermore, while this group is want to proudly tout their cosmopolitan outlook, they seem to be, from the outside looking in remarkably provincial. That is, they talk to people from the same social strata from around the world, who are thus similarly socialized. Their diversity is thus superficial at best.
Likewise, their policies, while leftist are far closer to the black shirts than the brown. They are explicitly corporotist in outlook, forming cartels that rival and potentially surpass the American gilded age trusts in scope and power. The main difference between them and the Rockefellers, Carnagies and Morgans is that they frequently have enjoyed indulgence by the government from the get-go and those considerations are based to a large extent on social acceptability and political loyalty. This has resulted in the regulatory agencies becoming a weird hybrid of the Cultural Revolution, the Court of Versailles and Tammany Hall.
Like the minor nobles of old this group has set up elaborate rituals, ceremonies and byzantine social codes to differentiate themselves from the average Joe.
"I'm afraid that 'average Joe' is likely to be problematic because "Joe", as a name for a "male", is cis-normative and also an example of patriarchal oppression given that "Joe" is being used as an example rather than Jane, unless, "Joe" is actually a girl which might make it barely acceptable, though bland and non-exotic except in cases where "Joe" used to be a guy named Felix but has transitioned. This is especially true in cases where Felix was a white male and now identifies as a Black tree-squirrel named Joe who demonstrates freedom from the patriarchy by marrying xerself. "
Ahem...which brings us to Political Correctness. It is not merely a totalitarian movement to squelch and instill fear in political opposition, but it also acts as a modern equivalent to the old powdered wigs, courtly graces and appreciation for the latest fashions which required social connectedness in the pre-internet age. It is a barrier to entry for those who do not live and breathe it, and only someone who has considerable leisure time or is working in circles where the ever changing rules are being discussed can hope to navigate this minefield covered in eggshells. It's a useful way to differentiate the nobles from the plebs.
The upper-middle-class/minor nobles have been the social strata that has given history its Catalines, Robespierres and Che Guevaras. Now that clique pretty much runs the world.
Of course these guys face a problem that the vicecounts and barons of old never contemplated. The plebs still have a vote, which is why they have been bringing in lots of foreigners to their respective countries with which to cancel out that annoying fact. That this has deleterious effects on the average citizen is not seen as a bug to these latter day aristocrats. This, of course is why we got Trump, who while odious in his own ways, is the working class equivalent of Churchill siding with Stalin against Hitler. It is a singularly desperate, hail-Mary-pass by the working and middle classes to save themselves from serfdom.
It should be remembered that he notion of a republic of free people equal before the law is a major aberration in the history of humanity. It is a concept that we struggled to live up to and only embraced as a society in the last 40 years. We are in danger of loosing it, and regressing to the mean; to what is merely a variation on history's most perennial concept of governance... aristocracy.
Update: Fixed some typos and a completely incoherent sentence in paragraph 19.
Update 2: Gracious! It's an Instalanche! Thanks for stopping by! This blog is mostly fluff, but we do occasionally rant about politics, science and defense.
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