Class Distinctions, Then and Now

Ace has an interesting post comparing class distinctions in mid-1800s England with those that are arising in American society today. Citing the book Victorian London by Liza Picard, he says:

She noted, for example, that a Bank of England clerk would be a member of the middle/professional class, despite the fact that what he did all day was hand-write numbers into ledgers and do simple arithmetic and some filing work and the like, whereas, say, a carpenter actually did real thinking, real planning, at his job, with elements of real creativity.

And yet it was the Bank of England clerk who was considered a “mind” worker and the carpenter merely a hand-laborer.

and, moving to the present era:

I noticed in the mid-nineties the new buzzword was “the Information Elite,” a proposed new class that included, by definition, anyone in the media, no matter how low-level or rote/mechanical in their actual job function. And you know who couldn’t get enough of talking about the “Information Elite?” The media, of course! Because everytime they brought it up, and fretted about this new class distinction that might have harmful effects for sooociiiiety, they were of course flattering themselves by naming themselves “the Elite”…And this all goes hand in hand with my own Great Big Idea, that liberalism is largely, by subconscious design, a machine of class-differentiation for those aspiring to be part of an upper class to count themselves as part of that upper class, even if (especially if!) their credentials for belonging to that class are otherwise slim.

Read the whole thing. Link via Maggie’s Farm.

2 thoughts on “Class Distinctions, Then and Now”

  1. The first time I visited England, in 1977, I saw an example of class distinction. We went to the George and Vulture chop house for lunch. It is only open for lunch and goes back to the 17th century. Samuel Johnson used to lunch there and his house is nearby. The G&V is on St Michael’s Walk, a small alley off Cornhill Street in the Bank district. Across the alley, which is a 17th century lane surrounded by tall modern buildings, is the Jamaica Wine Bar. This is a large wine bar and, if you go to the George and Vulture, you tell the Maitre D that you want a table and he tells you to go across to the wine bar and he will find you when your table or booth is ready. I was skeptical but he showed up 20 minutes later and found me.

    Anyway, the Jamaica Wine House, in those days, was divided into a half dozen rooms, all open to the central lobby. I learned that each room was intended for a certain class of bank employee to drink while waiting for a table or to drink his lunch. Each of the various jobs had its own room and the twain did not mingle. I’ve been there many times since and the class distinctions seem to have declined as the rooms seem less limited to separate groups. Also, the George and Vulture does not seem as busy at lunch time as it was 30 years ago. Maybe the bank employees are more likely to have a salad than a beef chop for lunch.

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