Why do Conservatives believe in different social classes?
I received the following message for the post What do Traditional Conservatives believe?
Can you explain why you (or conservatives generally) believe in different social classes?
I come from a working class family and without access to tertiary education, something my parents were denied, I would not enjoy the middle class lifestyle that I do, nor the capacity to engage with our national and political conversations.
Do you realize how enriching, to a poorer boy, that can be?
That's an excellent question, why do Conservatives believe in different social classes? Here's why.
It is fashionable and has been for a long time to talk about eliminating social classes, to have a classless society, in fact some countries do claim to be classless. The most famous is the United States where everyone, it is often claimed, is middle class. A society in which it is possible to change social class very rapidly. It is claimed that as people can change social classes so quickly that means that the United States is classless, a society in which class is so fluid that it doesn't matter, therefore in effect it doesn't exist. It's a nice story but it's not true.
The truth is that most people will die in the exact same social class they were born into. There are many reasons for this, intelligence, ability, education, opportunity, money, location, family, environment, values, desire, ambition, drive, circumstance, etc.. This ties into another fashionable idea, that everyone is equal. The argument goes something like this, if only enough places were opened in elite schools everyone could be successful. Yes if the system is rigged enough, but in reality not everyone has the aptitude to succeed in such a school, even if enough positions were made available. It is a false equality, it is not based on people's real ability, they are simply proclaimed as being equal. If everyone is equal why can't I be a brain surgeon? Well when I look at the list above I think the problem is confined to the following intelligence, ability, education, money, desire, ambition and drive. Only a short list but still big enough to stop me from being a brain surgeon, fortunately.
But some people do change social class and it gives the illusion that because it can be done that it is easy. It's often forgotten that if your born wealthy and you die poor, your an exception. Actually the same in reverse, if your born poor and you die wealthy, your an exception. Of course most people who change social class do not have such radical changes, they go into or out of the middle class. Much more modest but still life changing. Actually Conservatives are not against people having opportunities or of someone taking advantage of the abilities they have to change social classes. We do not hold anything against the exception but we do not think society should be based around the exceptions either.
In short different social classes exist and there is no evidence that any society past or present has not had them. You might argue that hunter/gather societies don't have social classes and you may be technically correct. But they do have hierarchies and that's not much of a difference. Maybe a technical difference but not an actual difference. If all human societies have social classes it's a simple fact, social classes exist so we must accept that fact. Of course not all political philosophies agree, they are quite prepared to put their desire for a level or equal society in front of the reality. But we are not.
Secondly not only do we accept the reality of different social classes but we think they are good.
How can someone think that different levels of wealth and success is good?
Because people are different, if the only jobs available were for brain surgeons, or accountants or meter readers we would find in each case that there would be large numbers of people who could not work, in fact might never work, because they do not have the ability to carry out the tasks required. In fact such a society could not exist because we need people to perform different tasks. A society of only accountants would be an extremely dysfunctional society and the reason no such society exists or has ever existed is because it cannot exist. It isn't even really a society because a society is the bringing together of people with different talents and abilities to provide mutual support to each other. In other words different social classes are vital to the very existence of society as it allows people of different talents and abilities to work and co-exist together, in cooperation, instead of being external enemies with no other option but to prey upon each other.
Finally I should point out that while we believe in different social classes that does not mean one class should exploit any other class. Traditional Conservatives do not find that acceptable as each social class is a vital chain in the life of the community. Breaking the chain destroys the chain, making it useless. We are totally against destroying society as we are against anyone who attempts to destroy a portion of it.
Most people who you hear described as Conservatives are not Conservatives, most are right-Liberals. They are called Conservatives because they are more Conservative than the other fellow. If you are the most Liberal person in the room that doesn't make you a Liberal it only makes you the most Liberal person in that room. If you are the most Conservative person in a room it doesn't make you a Conservative it only means you are the most Conservative person in that room. So when two Liberals disagree the more Conservative one will be called a Conservative, he's not a Conservative, he is simply the most Conservative Liberal in the room.
Upon Hope Blog - A Traditional Conservative Future
Thanks for your response. I'm interested in the ideas of conservative thought, so I hope you can bear with me and my questions.
What you write above seems more or less reasonable, but I wonder about the practical implications for the democratic society.
It is true that the idea of formal equality is fanciful, because as you say too many innate variables (such as ability and intelligence) render the proposition at odds with reality. It is undeniable I think that society can ever become truly 'fair' or 'equitable'. And perhaps it is the case that many of the efforts made to try to make it so are simply a waste of time.
And yet as I said earlier, without the more comprehensive education I enjoyed over that of my parents, many of the abilities I have would never have been developed. The contributions I am able to make to my community have been enhanced because of it and while I would never think of myself as being gifted I have certainly become better informed and now have a broader capacity to engage with the various issues that arise in the national conversation.
So looking at this and the implications for a democratic nation with compulsory voting such as ours, how can people truly comprehend the issues of the day if they remain undereducated?
Is it a positive to have many in the electorate with little comprehension about what they are voting for? Should it be the case that only the elite social classes properly comprehend and define political policies?
An additional point: How many Beethoven's or Mozart's have died without realizing their talents due to class rigidity or lack of opportunity?
Do conservatives think this matters?
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I don't think education has anything to do with how informed people are about politics. No matter what your level of education you can vote, belong to a political party, you can even run as a candidate. Your involvement in politics is your personal decision not something decided by how educated or uneducated you are.
I was just looking at James Scullin, Australian Prime Minister from 1929-1931, he left school at 12 with some night schooling in his 20's. That was quite common for that era, you might say but times have changed. In part, but your own level of involvement is still your personal decision.
I know a truck driver who's reading and writing is not good, but he listens to the radio every day. His knowledge of politics is quite good, he knows what he supports and doesn't support. His education was substandard but that doesn't stop him from having both knowledge and an opinion.
I think using Beethoven and Mozart are bad examples, both were not only geniuses but both came from successful musical families. It turned out that they were geniuses in the family business. If they had had a general education and then found music it would suit modern education theories better, but the fact is that they were both trained in a very narrow field. Music was the majority of their education. They might have been great Generals or Politicians or Theologians or Scientists or Blacksmiths or Farmers, but they were never given the chance to find out. They stayed in the family business, music....lucky for them (and us) they were both great at it!
Mark, excellent post on some interesting questions. A good answer on Beethoven and Mozart as well.ReplyDelete
All traditionalist and conservative societies are hierarchical with distinct social classes and boundaries between them. In most societies the way in which to move up social class is by means of education. Money alone is insufficient as money can be made and lost. Social pedigree (ancestry) is the major determinant of class and an attachment to land is usual. Family rank and land are the basis of social structure traditional societies.ReplyDelete
Marriages are endogamous and arranged to preserve class structures, land and property ownership and maintain the value system of each social class.
Ah! There you see? We still have far to go!?? Social class structures are nothing more than institutions of oppressive and narcissistic " survival of the fittest" Bull!Delete
If we are ever to progress : this repugnant entitlement mindset must be overcome and put into the bin of history where it belongs. Greed! Self-preservation have got "Jack shit" to do with ability - as the years of social injustice has constantly demonstrated. Change will happen, whatever the ponsey class structures attempt to do to maintain the "status. quo". Get use to it.
And yet as I said earlier, without the more comprehensive education I enjoyed over that of my parents, many of the abilities I have would never have been developed. The contributions I am able to make to my community have been enhanced because of it and while I would never think of myself as being gifted I have certainly become better informed and now have a broader capacity to engage with the various issues that arise in the national conversation.ReplyDelete
I too come from a working-class background. My parents are the first generation that went to college. Before that, they were all manual laborers as far back as I can trace them. Undoubtedly, in a different time, I too would have been such a laborer.
But I have to question the idea that those laborers did not make a valuable contribution to their community and that their lives were in some way wasted. At least, I have no reason to believe this was so.
I also question whether mass education has in fact made the majority of the people "well informed" and "able to engage in the national conversation". The purpose of "education" these days is not to inform, but to inculcate the Leftist) values, attitudes and behaviors that the elite wishes the lower classes to have.
The purpose of "education" these days is not to inform, but to inculcate the Leftist) values, attitudes and behaviors that the elite wishes the lower classes to have.ReplyDelete
Yes, there is a considerable focus on indoctrination.
A very illuminating post.ReplyDelete
What I find interesting is that JJ immediately refers to politics as the thing that his education is about. He is able to take part in political discourse because of his education, whereas his working class parents weren't.
Could I just say that most of the problems of the world stem from the fact that people take politics far too seriously?
We would all be much happier if whining lower-middle class oiks on the left didn't continually go about making everything political. SO much creative energy is wasted upon 'reform' or new means of letting the State interfere with society. I suspect that many people on the left now don't even realise that society and the state are, to paraphrase Charles I, two clear different things.
JJ did what people have done throughout the ages, changed his social class by dint of more education.
My wife did the same. She went from denizen of the worst of the west of Sydney to Eastern Suburbs toff by dint of superior intelligence, a wish to be something better and the foresight to marry an Eastern suburbs toff.
As someone once said, there is always room at the top for money, brains or a good pair of titties.
Dr Johnson of course was right when he said: "Why, Sir, most schemes of political improvement are very laughable things."ReplyDelete
Nobody laughed at my political improvement programs!ReplyDelete
I attempted to respond a week ago, but my comment wasn't processed by the blog. So I will reply now.
I disagree a little with the idea that education is not linked to how informed someone is about politics. Now I use politics only as an example, because there are many other spheres in life which become more comprehensible when a good, well-rounded education is acquired. Some areas that spring to mind are the arts, sciences, economics and the law. Deeper comprehension of this kind has resulted in a more enriching life for me.
It is one thing, I think, to hold an opinion on whether we should 'stop the boats'. It is quite another however to comprehend the myriad complexities of the debate. To comprehend the issue on the micro and macro level; to understand the competing ideas and philosophies that underpin different perspectives, and to have the analytical ability to coherently back up ones opinions. The capacity to do this is rarely accidental. Usually it comes about through a solid and formal education.
In saying that I recognize that not everyone must acquire a sophisticated education. There are undoubtedly people who would not personally desire it, have the aptitude for it, or benefit from it.
But neither do I think the opportunity to acquire a good education should be limited to only the elite classes, or the occasional genius who from time to time may pop up from within the working class. And I wonder whether this position is reconcilable with conservative thinking.
NB: I’ve just seen your new post on Education, so I’ll have a read of that.
Hi Mark, I agree that rags-to-riches stories are the exception rather than the rule. I also like the idea that each person/class has a meaningful role to play in society. My question is, how would you (or your traditional conservative friends, in general) view the ambitious, hardworking, intelligent few who focus their efforts on breaking into a higher social class? Are they to be lauded, viewed as inspirations? Or, do you think it's better, in general, that these individuals seek to understand their family's historical/traditional role in their particular community, and seek to fulfil that role? Or do you think this micro-level question boils down to personal decision, and is quite separate from the discussion at hand? Thank you.ReplyDelete
You may have missed this part of my article:
"Actually Conservatives are not against people having opportunities or of someone taking advantage of the abilities they have to change social classes. We do not hold anything against the exception but we do not think society should be based around the exceptions either."
We are neither in favour or against such people. The idea that they are inspirational seems alittle strange. Traditional Conservatives believe in the balanced society, that means that we want things to be neither too much or too little. In other words if no one ever changed social class we would be against that, but if everyone changed social class we would be against that. We would be against them because both are too extreme, neither are balanced.
I thoroughly enjoyed your article and couldn't agree more.
Though my politics are much farther left than the garden variety Liberal, I am flexible enough to find value in many points of view.
I think far too many people of lower status confuse the concept of equality with being the same. We are not the same, what a boring world it would be if it were true. We are however equal in the sense that there are opportunities for all who recognize it when it's presented. Higher education can often lead to upward mobility but it isn't a guarantee. Many well paying occupations have been gained by people of lower status and limited education just simply by them learning all they can about the company they work for which in many cases makes them valuable enough to move up or move on.
I think many people tend to get caught up in their own misery which creates a dangerous cycle. They either refuse to learn all they can because of fear, disinterest or lack of ambition as a result. If all one decides to do is focus on everything wrong with their life instead of the possibilities than they inevitably will perceive our system as being unjust.