The word “class” has been a much-bandied term ever since “Das Kapital”, but what does it mean, really? There appears to be no accepted theory of class, and the term has acquired much flexibility, depending mostly on the speaker’s political persuasion, ideological roots and rhetorical requirement. In parlance of the American commentariat, the word has become synonymous with the middle-income employee, especially one who takes direction in his work from others, or, in other words, what was once called, even in “Das Kapital”, the working class.
A theory of class is needed to help make sense of social relationships that shape our interactions. First a definition: Class is a distinct social grouping with an idiosyncratic common set of values that are generationally inherited through family and milieu interactions. Class membership may have broad commonalities of wealth among its membership, but changes in wealth do not translate into changes in class status, even over several generations. Contra Paul Fussell (RIP) It can be said that one’s class belonging is determined by the class of one’s primary-care parent, typically the mother, who transmits to her offspring the cultural values and preconceptions that make up class membership. In fact, in families with parents from differing class backgrounds, it is often demonstrated that it is the mother’s background that ultimately prevails.
Class taxonomies change historically with changes in overall power and wealth structures — new classes are created as new economic systems are devised, sources of value and wealth change, and old classes are destroyed as the structures that gave them rise become irrelevant. The ancient classes, for example — those of royal, senator, equestrian, freeholder citizen, plebeian and slave — clearly exist no longer. By the time of the Imperium, the royal class was gone, with emperors being generally senators in the beginning, and later foreigners, who were outside the old system altogether.
The class system as described by Karl Marx, with division into working class and bourgeois (middle class, in English) that owns the means of production, is also mostly by the wayside. By today, the classes have aligned themselves in new and novel ways.
We have the working class, or — regardless of its common handle — those who generally work in others’ employ, aspire to no cultural ascension, define themselves by their employment, and share a belief that social positions determined solely by money.
We have the managerial class, that includes the economic and political elites — they value hierarchies and aspire to progression, pretend to culture, with of without justification, often have professional degrees. Ruling structures of industry and nations is comprised of their hereditary pinnacles.
In between, there arose a distinct and new class which we cal call intelligentsia — the chatterers who share much of the value sets of both working and managerial classes without quite belonging to either. They define the taste in culture, define social position by a set if values, and often play the part of arbiter and king-maker among competing managerial elites.
Another new class, brought into being by the advent of the redistributory socialism, is the welfare class, the social substrate that pays no taxes, contributes little to society in exchange for ongoing support except for the odd disgorgement from its midst of the occasional pop-music, sport or film sensation.
Each of the classes has a distinct in-group identifier set, easily enabling an observer to classify a specimen, including: manners of dress and grooming, ways of expression, attitude to violence, shared mannerisms. All of the classes do hold one attitude in common — that of believing their own value set supreme and so disdaining all the others.