Shortly after I made my last post, I edited it to add that class boundaries should be permeable. I was inspired to say this partly because of something a friend of mine said after I made some pro-class-system remark. She’s apparently bought Hollywood’s version of what a rigid class system is like, because she immediately protested that someone capable of curing cancer shouldn’t be stuck doing menial work because of the class he’s born into. Obviously they shouldn’t, but really, few societies sufficiently advanced to make finding cures for diseases a feasible project have had indentured servitude, and then not for long. It’s the lack of technology that motivates slavery and serfdom. Nobody would deal with trying to keep slaves in line if they could just buy a tractor instead.
Then I watched a documentary on television about the Hapsburg royal jewels, which after the Great War were stolen from their rightful owners and are now in some dreary museum. In discussing one stunning and elaborate piece, the speaker related how many years it took for the craftsman to create it and a little about his methods. He then announced that when it was completed, the craftsman’s family was ennobled in recognition of his skill and service.
Which got me to thinking that, despite what the unimpeachable source of bodice-ripping movies tells us, class boundaries have always been permeable. Really, the big problem has always been trying to shore them up, because they are naturally permeable. Your son will grow up and marry the daughter of a tanner. Tradesmen will make enough money to indebt you to them however you resist, and you’ll end up raising them to the peerage to buy guns to keep the Huns at bay. Italian corporals will leave their native land and display enough charisma and strategy that no one dares to stop them from plucking a crown from the gutter. Now and then a commoner will insist upon developing such an excellent brain that you have no choice but to make him your chancellor even if he does slurp his soup.
Enemies of class distinctions like to rail against the elaborate codes of etiquette favored by the well-off, but there is a practical reason for them: they are guarding themselves from con men and gold diggers. You can’t very well ask the guests at your cocktail party to show their identification and bank statements, so instead you go on guard if they break one of your thousand unwritten rules of behavior. Richard Coniff relates the story of one aspiring grifter who finagled an invitation to dinner at the home of a wealthy acquaintance. The wealthy man, for some reason, served a cheap wine out of a decanter, hoping perhaps that his guests would drink enough of it not to notice. The grifter took a sip and said, “Wonderful. A Bordeaux, no?” The wealthy man serving the cheap wine immediately realized that his guest could not possibly be the old-money patrician he pretended, and when the bait for the con was dangled before him, declined to bite. Shortly thereafter the grifter was arrested on multiple charges. “The moral of the story,” Mr. Coniff concludes, “is, of course, know your wines.”
Another remark I wanted to follow up was the one about how keeping the masses from causing trouble was not justification for forced and involuntary servitude. I announced that even for a reactionary, this is over the line beyond which individual rights must be respected despite the potential threat to society.
It is over the line for a reactionary, but not for a progressive. Left-wing British journalist Brian Basham wants private schools to be abolished. “[T]he siphoning off of influential, powerful middle-class parents causes the most damage. Who can doubt that if those parents had no alternative to the state system, they would force the Government to ensure that it was successful?” Well, I can, for one. It’s kind of hard to force the Government – you know, the people who own lots of guns and an organized police force and army and a bunch of prisons – to do anything. Even if they could, I don’t see that enslaving their children and holding them hostage is justified, but then, people who are not progressives tend to have hidebound notions about individual rights. He also blithely ignored the method shown by history to be quite effective at keeping school standards high: of leaving control of all schools in the hands of parents. If all parents had the say in where their children went to school and what the teachers taught, even lower class parents would not stand for what Western governments are currently forcing on almost everyone.
Mr. Basham is missing the central point. Giving all children identical education would not make all adults grow up with equal abilities. A great deal about us, including our IQ, is determined the moment our parents put their DNA together. Progressives believe that “education” is some sort of magical process, and that by sufficient immersion in it, a sow’s ear shall be turned into a silk purse – or perhaps the other way ’round. It isn’t. Your chromosomes have far more to do with your future abilities and success than anything some tart standing in front of a blackboard might recite to you.