More On Middle Class Values

Let’s talk about the middle class.

The 20th century redefined what it meant to be middle class, especially in the United States. In the past, it was a particular set of mercantile and moral values combined with a basic material requirement of property ownership.

Gradually, with the help of more than a century of propaganda, it changed into a squishy set of beliefs centered around faith in education and in sending children to be educated by their priestly betters. This was not the case in the 19th century, especially in the United States: you can read about the disdain for formal education broadly shared by the barons of the bourgeoisie. Similarly, you can find a disdain for high culture, preferring the virtues of hard work, thrift, and personal restraint.

Previously, the role of thrift was critical. It was middle class to wear inexpensive shoes and simple clothing. Investors who wanted to show canniness would condemn company owners who used fancy pens or who purchased gilded books for paying excessive attention to form over function.

Parents instructed their daughters to marry men who displayed such values, in large part because it’s more natural for women to be physically attracted by rakes and not by dentists.

We can criticize these values from a different standpoint, but that’s not the point of this post. Whether or not those values were good or bad is less important than observing how they have been obliterated in the present.

Currently, middle class has become less about thrift and ownership and more about displaying your access to credit with enormous vanity purchases used to signal class status. Because, under democracy, it’s not possible to formalize class distinctions in law, people will often expend enormous sums to signal their status informally. They will buy expensive new cars on credit, buy expensive (and useless) educations for their children from the most prestigious (holy) institutions that they can get their children into, and buy ticky-tacky houses in the nicest neighborhoods that they can borrow for.

Part of this has to do with many decades of monetary experimentation that punishes saving and rewards borrowing, but that, too, is co-morbid with a change in values.

One of the big problems is that we have told everyone that they are ‘middle class’ even though that they show none of the attributes that were historically attributed to that class. You, too, can be middle class if you borrow enormous amounts of money to live in an ugly house full of pulp furniture. You can be middle class if you’re a slut. You can be middle class and a single mother. You can be middle class and own no property. You can be middle class and not be either a professional or a business owner. You can be middle class without displaying Christian virtues (in fact, you needn’t have any religion at all).

The Horatio Alger values of the past are widely mocked, even by Senators and Presidents. The notion of mobility is not the same as ‘classlessness,’ because even aristocratic systems ennoble people for demonstrating heroically noble values.

A class system is not a caste system, although they do have some relation to each other. Noble houses can and do tumble into the earth. Part of the reasons why princes struggled against each other with such vigor was because of the real possibility of losing one’s position in war.

In the classless Diet Communism of democratic society, ideologues seek to abjure the values of the classes in an attempt to destroy the class system itself.

You can blame the Federal Reserve for the destruction of the middle class, perhaps rightly, but it’s more right to blame the destruction of the middle class on that class’ abandonment of its own values.

You can’t be middle class (in the old sense) and support:

  • The divorce looting bonanza of modern marriage
  • The notion that one can borrow one’s way into the middle class
  • That one can be middle class without monogamy
  • That psychological theories trump religious duties
  • That devotion to the education system of Diet Communism trumps family
  • That spending money as sheer display is admirable, and thrift pathetic
  • That gender equality is sacrosanct
  • That universal suffrage is a moral mandate

Now, the problem is that almost all leftist movements have started in the middle class, and have found their strongest supporters among the middle class. The stereotype of the champagne socialist who joins a revolutionary movement to get back at her daddy is a stereotype for a good reason: because that’s the psychological type that has always dominated the left and will continue to dominate the left for as long as we maintain the idea that political egalitarianism is desirable.

Modern monarchists get tarred routinely as unrealistic. Well, fine.

But if not the King, then who will put red heads on pikes when heads need to be mounted upon pikes?

We have observed that, when the moderating influences are removed from the middle class, ferment and then revolution tend to follow soon afterwards. The slower that those influences have been removed, the slower the pace of the revolution. Because the middle class is inherently insecure in its social position (always in danger of falling due to changes in material circumstances), when placed into political authority, its members tend to do what they can to co-opt and bribe people who want to take everything that they have rather than going for the more direct solution of just killing and exiling the troublemakers.

In the United States, early laws against sedition and legal norms for suppressing socialist uprisings were eventually overturned. It’s not possible to somehow claim that the Founding Fathers were opposed to restrictions against sedition when John Adams made it a central plank of his presidency.

When the sovereign no longer exists, entrepreneurs of violence fill in the gaps. These can be gangs, but they’re also often institutional purveyors of violence that do what they can to protect themselves from open competition. When the problem of ‘drug gangs’ emerged in response to prohibition (a vain attempt by bourgeois intellectuals to externalize the costs of enforcing their own values), the proposed solution was the ‘war on drugs,’ which militarized the police force, demanding ever-greater payoffs by the middle class to maintain the enormous fighting force of acronym-bearing agencies.

Similarly, while in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American capitalists were willing to use mercenaries to suppress socialist political activity (with the legal permission and assistance of the state), this eventually gave way to elite capitalists supporting half-throttle socialism via foundations. The muddled democratic ethos of Carnegie is a good demonstration of this incapacity of the middle class to properly perpetuate itself.

Because individual members of the middle class can never individually have a controlling influence over the state (an institution whose main business is violence), they all have strong incentives to defect on an individual level, to submit to paying protection to people who are better at violence than they are. Because the wealth of the middle class is necessarily created through trade and not through violence, individuals will always be at a competitive disadvantage in war. This necessary disadvantage is not possible to imagine away.

I think what we have to acknowledge is that middle class values are not effective governing values, because politics concerns the effective use of force.

The middle class is a largely peaceful class that is not particularly adept at the violent business of politics, except perhaps in a society that mandates militia membership and forbids other forms of military organization. Part of what the right ought to advocate for is for the middle class to return to its subordinate position within the traditional political hierarchy, in return for a better defense of its own values. In the United States, we’ve seen both the greatest growth in the middle class ever observed in history, as well as the greatest looting extravaganza ever enabled by law.

As the middle class is being mopped up right now, despite its indispensability, we should consider what must be done in order to make its re-establishment and proper maintenance possible.

9 thoughts on “More On Middle Class Values

  1. As a general principle we shouldn’t derive too many timeless lessons from our present age of aberrance. We hold aberrant behavior as a norm, we barely notice what’s not just transgressive but evil. None of the people who follow the path escape – drugs, mindless sex, financial ruin, monetary chaos and so on. We have pornography as a utility second only to the electricity it rides, unlike electricity or water it’s free [we don’t ask why]. I can go on – as could you – at far more length.

    We don’t know enough about normal or what life is like in a stable society to be doing anything but the first duty, the removal of the evil and insane from power. We need to perform our first duty. Perhaps a generation later we can reflect on any lasting principles to teach mankind, beyond next time nip it in the bud, all laws and rights be damned.

    Of course the timeless principles were already known, and still are. We simply allowed misplaced loyalties to free speech, law and tolerance to overcome our judgment.

    We have a duty to perform. We must remove the evil and insane from power.
    We have no duty before the First Duty. Whatever lessons else are to be drawn from us are for history and our posterity.

  2. Pingback: More On Middle Class Values | Reaction Times

  3. The middle class as a concept is relatively new to history, but it as an ideal has become the dominant one of our era. We see the poor as ‘not middle class enough’, and the rich as the most successful members of the middle class. It seems like this is a rather universalist paradigm that’s sprung out of liberalism [in the broad historical sense of the term].

    Historically, the divisions of society have been marked by function or role, rather than income. For example, estate–or, more rigidly, caste. But with the rise of bourgeois-oriented systems of governance and society in the 19th century, social distinctions have been reduced to just wealth or income and the ‘middle class’ as the universal end that everyone must strive for. Hence, the disintegration of bourgeois values and the devolution in meaning of ‘middle class’ to just the bourgeois way of life.

    • Dugin hates the English people.

      Really, I’m arguing for a more exclusive and less inflationary redefinition of the middle class. Americans have come to see it as an entitlement and not an attainment that can easily be lost through some combination of bad behavior and misfortune.

      He does notice that tendency (especially with modern rhetoric about the middle class, which elasticizes the definition to meaninglessness).

      He’s also playing a language game with ‘middle’ that, while cute, does not in this case mean ‘mediocre’ or ‘normal.’ Namedropping Baudrillard makes me reach for my handgun instead of impressing me.

      • That’s because the English are pretty hateable for many other peoples.

        I don’t know, I can appreciate some Baudrillard. But I guess Dugin and I have stronger affinities for the Nouvelle Droite and its more postmodern influences.

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  5. Your definition of middle class focuses on values and lifestyle as well might (or the ability to self defend and grow one’s own class). I have a hard time pinpointing the exact time or place in history where your definition of middle class fits best but perhaps this is one of your points, vagueness being a virtue on certain occasions. You drop a hint by adding Christian, which limits your def. of middle class to basically Europe or the Americas.

    Historically there have been other definitions of middle class in function even though not in class (nor indeed “middle”), as for example the merchant/artisan caste of Japan where very limited land availability, high fertility in the population and a rigid caste system of farmer/warrior/lord was extremely dominant, forcing surplus population to find new forms of subsistence outside (beneath, really), the established system as “landless peasants not involved in farming of any kind”. The merchant/artisans became in effect a new caste at the bottom of the rung while in all practicalities often being far richer or powerful than most warriors and many minor lords.

    But that is an aside. I totally agree with you that the only realistic way of preserving the middle class or indeed any class is to make it wholly exclusive, either by forcing a certain minimum level of independent wealth (i.e. not only self employed by also employing others) or by election (burghers, guild members, etc.).

    However, the destruction of the middle class seems to me to be a problem of overall caste destruction. All classes are getting pummeled and only the most opportunistic of any class will be able to make it up on top.

    Which is what you get when value signaling over substance.

    Personally I feel very nostalgic when I read the old tales of the “odd ducks”, the wandering monks whose old caste could only be determined by the way they drank their tea or the proud but dirt poor subsistence aristocrats falling on hard times and being reduced to nothing but his two swords, his spirit and a loincloth, the old Ronin, masterless samurai.

    There is no point in preserving the middle class if there is not upper class or lower class. There is however a point in preserving middle class values, because as pointed out in other comments, times will eventually change.

    What I want to say is this is damn good blog and that Baudrillard is a charlatan. Thank you.

    • You’re welcome.

      > exact time or place in history where your definition of middle class fits best

      In Anglo-America, it’s the 19th century, probably more America than GB, because GB still had (and has, I suppose) an aristocratic class.

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