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March 14, 2005

The Long View: Aristocracies Then and Now

Friedrich von Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards:

Have you ever noticed that even those who don’t think of themselves as Marxists often think of the world in ways inspired by Marx? It seems to me that the two Marxist notions--the class struggle as the prime motor of history and of the reducibility of politics to economics--have become deeply embedded in general social thought. One outcome for most of us is to think of the world in terms of bipolar struggles, focused around economic divides: bourgeoisie v. proletariat, Republican v. Democrat, rich v. poor, North (developed world) vs. South (underdeveloped world), etc., etc.

I grant you, this represents a major intellectual revolution wrought by old Karl. But what exactly in these ideas were original to him? The notion of society as the product of distinct groups (‘orders’ or ‘estates’ was the traditional term) long antedated Marx. It had been taken for granted for many centuries that European society was divided into three main orders: the aristocracy (the military-clerical-governmental elite), the bourgeoisie (urban businessmen) and the peasantry (the remaining 85-90% of the population, who were eventually converted by the Industrial Revolution into the ‘laboring classes.’) Moreover, the further observation that this system was in flux following the French Revolution was hardly original to Marx.

I would offer to you that old Karl’s real innovation was to reduce the number of significant groups to two, and to stress that economics created the dividing line. Or, to put it more bluntly, via this piece of intellectual legerdemain, old Karl made the aristocracy disappear. Hey presto!

As he puts it in “The Communist Manifesto” of 1848:

…the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world-market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie. [emphasis added]

Well, that certainly leaves no room for the aristocracy to function as an independent player anymore, does it? And a quarter century later in the German edition of “Das Kapital,” Marx went so far as to delineate the exact moment when the aristos became irrelevant:

With the year 1830 came the decisive crisis. In France and in England the bourgeoisie had conquered political power.

One would have to assume from old Karl’s account that the aristocracy had suddenly become unable to use its traditional position as the strong arm of the government in order to cut itself the biggest slice of the economic pie. In fact, Marx’s approach seems to imply—without ever explicitly addressing the question—that after 1830 not only the occupants of this very comfortable ‘ecological’ niche had suddenly disappeared, but that the social-political-economic 'function' of the aristocracy had also been permanently retired.

Well, given the omnipresence of aristocracies (i.e., military-administrative elites, often but not always of a hereditary nature) in most advanced human societies, that conclusion always seemed rather hard for me to swallow. As a result, over the past few months I found myself pondering what might be termed The Case of the Missing Social Class:

What exactly had been the fate of European aristocracies in the post-1830 era? If a specific group of individuals and their descendants known as the aristocracy had been expelled from their traditional social niche, what had happened to that niche? Had the this niche simply evaporated, pace Marx? Had it continued ‘via other means’ or ‘via other players’? If so, who were these other players?

Well, I came across a book, “The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy” by David Cannadine that offers some broad hints about the answers of these questions. Mr. Cannadine’s voluminous account certainly suggests, at a minimum, that old Karl wasn’t a very close observer of his adopted country as he trudged back and forth to and from the British Museum.

Looking at Britain in 1880, a full half century after the moment when Marx officially tossed the aristocracy onto the trash-heap of history, Mr. Cannadine finds things were still pretty rosy for the British landowning aristocracy. As he summarizes:

Viewed as an economic class, the gentry and grandees [i.e., the peerage] were thus both the wealth elite in that they encompassed most of the richest men in the country, and the territorial elite in that they owned most of the land of Britain. At the very apex, the super-rich among them were undoubtedly worth more than any other group, even the most opulent bankers or financiers…[Moreover, they] were also still very much the governing elite of the nation…[U]ntil the 1880s, the lower house of Parliament was essentially a landowners’ club: the majority of MPs were recruited from the British landed establishment—Irish peers, sons of UK peers, baronets, or country gentlemen…The upper house was even more the monopoly of landowners, and during the nineteenth century, these hereditary, aristocratic legislators remained at the apex of the power elite. They could throw out any Commons measure, with the exception of money bills; they dominated every cabinet directly or through their relatives; they virtually monopolized important offices like the Foreign Secretaryship; and Prime Ministers sat in the Lords for a longer span of time than in the Commons. In the same way, national administration and local government were still dominated by the landed classes in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. The judiciary, the army, the church, the law, and the civil service were the favourite occupations of younger sons who wanted a high status job that perpetuated their patrician position….

And remember, we’re talking about a situation that obtained a full century after the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. One would have to say that this speaks well of the ‘aristocratic’ business model. Keeping firm control of the government (including the Army and the Church) along with the bulk (60% - 75%) of Britain’s real property, both rural and urban, had allowed the aristocracy to capture the largest benefits of Britain’s industrialized economy for itself. This was an outcome running a bit contrary to old Karl’s notions of economic determinism.

(Not to come off like a Henry George single-taxer here, but have you ever noticed how often throughout history politically well-connected people have used real estate to skim the cream off of dynamic economies? You’ve got to admit, it’s a darn good trick.)

Of course, after painting this resplendant picture, Mr. Cannadine goes on to spend many hundreds of pages chronicling the headlong tumble of the British aristocracy from its social and economic plinth in the half century after 1880. (1880 was an especially significant date because the Liberal ‘landslide’ of that year allowed Gladstone and his Liberal successors to hugely expand the British electorate via the Third Reform Bill of 1885 and usher in the era of ‘mass’ politics.) When burgeoning international agricultural production and greatly improved intercontinental transportation systems inexorably lowered food prices and reduced British farming profits, this political revolution prevented the landed interest from manipulating government policy to provide itself with tariff protection. And while still economically hurting from international competition, the aristocracy then found itself in the astonishing position of having its traditional interests directly attacked by the state. Politically mandated rent reductions, land reform designed to permit tenant farmers to purchase their rented land, higher taxes and the imposition of death duties were no help, to say the least. Eventually most of the vast aristocratic land holdings were sold off. The traditional landed aristocracy was unquestionably kicked out of its cushy berth on the upper decks of the great British ship of state.

However, as I read along, I kept finding my attention drawn to who was replacing the aristocracy in its role as stalwart shield, mighty sword and, of course, prime beneficiary of the state. After all, it wasn’t as if the national government, political parties, the army, the Church of England, the law, the Civil Service, and local governmental administration (all the more or less exclusive preserves of the aristos prior to 1880) had dried up and blown away. In fact, most of these institutions actually expanded and flourished in the post-aristocratic era.

Well, let’s look at how Mr. Cannadine presents the evolution of each of these areas one by one. First let’s consider government administration at the national (Whitehall) level, previously staffed as a sort of gentleman’s club by the relatives of the great landowner-politicians. Mr. Cannnadine writes:

In every ministry, there is a clear break point where the old nobility bowed out, and the new professionals took over: 1900 (very early) in the Colonial Office, 1908 in the Home Office, and 1911 in the Treasury...At the same time, there was an unprecedented change in both the structure and the size of the civil service. The Liberal social reforms of 1905 to 1914 necessitated the complete reordering and massive expansion of the Home Office and the Board of Trade. The First World War witnessed an even greater extension in the functions and size of the Treasury, and the Versailles Conference, the return to gold, and the slump only intensified this. Moreover, these new rational bureaucratic structures were presided over by a new breed of middle-class mandarins…These were the new full-time professionals, the workaholic bureaucrats, who embraced the civil service as a lifetime’s career. [emphasis added]

Second, let’s see who took over the duties of the collapsing aristocracy at the local (i.e., county) level of government? The administration of the counties, and their social welfare programs, had been transferred in 1888 from the previous system, known as ‘quarter sessions,’ to new county councils. The quarter sessions system had been entirely dominated by aristocratic large-landowners, and so were the county councils…at first. Mr. Cannadine recounts how they evolved:

Initially, as [Conservative Prime Minister] Salisbury had intended, they were little more than quarter sessions under another name. Their budgets were tiny, their responsibilities were limited, and they employed only a small staff, with little professional expertise, who were often directly inherited from the earlier regime. But by the 1930s, their operations had been markedly expanded. In 1902, the county councils took over the functions of the School Boards, and in 1929 they also assumed the duties hitherto discharged by the Poor Law Guardians. In between, they were loaded with further responsibilities, for roads and hospitals, for planning and for libraries…. And as the business grew in bulk and complexity, it was the expert, full-time local-government employees who acquired the dominant voice, not just in the implementation of policy but in its formation as well. To this extent, the patrician element on the county councils had not been undermined by the lower-class democrats…so much as by the upstart bureaucrats. [emphasis added]

Turning to the law, this profession, prior to 1880 dominated by landowning aristocrats and their relatives, often younger sons, also saw

…major changes in structure and personnel, which essentially paralleled those in the civil service…Contemporaries had no doubt that these changes meant that the law was becoming much more professionalized and middle class that it had been previously …At the same time that the profession was becoming more bourgeois and more bureaucratic in its lower echelons…[at the highest levels] new Court of Appeal was created, which was …dominated by Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, who were only peers for life….[T]he overwhelming majority of these judges were middle class professionals…Their twentieth-century successors were neither recruited from, nor did they join, the [landed] elite…So professional, so middle class, and so overcrowded had the bar become, that it no longer provided a safe haven for patricians in search of a lucrative but undemanding profession. [emphasis added]

And what was the fate of the Church of England, an institution that had, in the earlier era, been firmly under the control of the British aristocracy? As Mr. Cannadine remarks:

…the Church of England [had] truly [been] the landed establishment at prayer: rural, propertied, privileged, and suffused by a tone of aristocratic social authority…[However, in the new era] patricians like Gore, Lyttelton, Talbot and Cecil were superseded by such figures as Bell, Benson, Davidson, Henson, and Temple, the members of a new professional elite…They were bureaucrats rather than aristocrats, who sat on committees, wrote memoranda, and mastered intricate details of church policy and finance. Like the civil service—but increasingly unlike the majority of newly recruited clergy—there was continuity [at the higher levels] in terms of Oxbridge and public school background…Within half a century, the Church of England had ceased to be aristocratic and amateur, and had become lower middle class and professional. [emphasis added]

Turning to the British Army, we see again that, prior to the later 19th century, it had been a deliberate policy of the British aristocracy to fill the upper levels of the army with its own members, or at least its own relatives. As Mr. Cannadine remarks,

…the whole rationale of the purchase system of recruitment [where the officers had been forced to buy their rank] was that officers should be men of ‘high social position, holding large possessions and attached to the Protestant succession’, who would not form a separate ‘military interest’ that might threaten the patrician governing class.

With the decline of the aristocracy generally, and the abolition of the purchase system, the army underwent a similar process to those of the civil service and the clergy:

Among officers, as among bishops and civil servants, it was the public-school middle class that superseded the country-house patricians as the dominant social group. In the 1870s, only 30 percent of officers had been educated at public school; by the Boer War, the figure had doubled; and by 1939, the proportion was more than 80 per cent. Even the navy introduced a scheme of public-school entry on the eve of the First World War…the gentlemanly tone that survived was the product of education, not ancestry. At the same time, there was also a conspicuous increase in the number of middle-class military dynasties… [emphasis added]

The same process appears to have been at work in organized party politics—rather surprisingly, even in that traditional home of the landed gentleman, the Conservative (Tory) Party:

But while patrician involvement in…politics and representation did not disappear overnight in the aftermath of [Gladstone’s] Third Reform Act [of 1885], it is important to keep it in proportion…The local branches of [the Conservative Party’s outreach effort] the Primose League might be decorated with ornamental aristocrats: but the day-to-day work of management and fund-raising was undertaken by the increasingly bureaucratic Tory Central Office. In most Welsh and Scottish counties, it was the middle class professionals—the solicitors, the clergymen, and the schoolteachers—who were increasingly dominant in all local affairs. And in England, it was [Conservative Prime Minister and aristocrat] Lord Salisbury himself who sought to purge the constituency associations of the solicitor and lawyers who were the clients of the landowners, and to put full-time professional party workers in their place.

Finally, we have to turn to parliamentary politics. In looking at the House of Commons Mr. Cannadine offers this description of the dominant groups that arose in the post-aristocratic world:

As the patricians lost their grip on the Commons, they were superseded by those more vigorous occupational groups already in evidence by the late 1870s. In the Parliament of 1880, there were three working men; by 1918 there were fifty-seven Labour MPs, all lower class…Among the Liberals, professionals, financiers and businessmen came to dominate, and the same was true among the Conservatives.

Regrettably, Mr. Cannadine offers relatively sparse data on the occupational background of M.P.s thoughout the post-1880 period, not nearly enough to document this particular evolution thoroughly. But he does let drop some hints:

In the 1865 Parliament [out of 652 MPs], there had been 144 businessmen, 56 lawyers and 20 other professionals; but by 1880, the numbers had increased to 194 [35% increase], 83 [44% increase] and 44 [120% increase].

Although here businessmen predominate among middle-class M.P.s, the ‘professionals’ (legal and otherwise) in the House of Commons are both present in significant numbers and growing at a more rapid rate than their businessmen colleagues.

In another tantalizing tidbit, Mr. Cannadine notes:

Between 1911 and 1940, some 312 people were newly ennobled, of whom, as before, between one-half and two-thirds were former MPs. Of this total, the largest single group, amounting to 108, were those in finance, industry and commerce. The second largest category were the professionals, including lawyers, who contributed 55, followed by the home, armed and colonial services, who numbered a further 50. Between them, big business, the professions, and service to the state made up over two-thirds of the new creations—an accurate reflection of the dominance of these groups in the country and in the lower house.

The way I would count this would be 108 businessmen vs. 105 governmental or quasi-governmental bureaucrats and professionals. A fairly even distribution between these two groups.

As a minimum, it appear safe to say that in the House of Commons the landed interests (i.e., the aristocrats) were giving way to both to business interests and to the interests of middle-class professionals/bureaucrats.

Finally, turning to the highest levels of British politics, we have the prime ministers. This is a small group of British politicians whose family and vocational background are relatively easy for an amateur such as myself to research. I surveyed the heads of the 30 governments that have risen and fallen during the 125 years since 1880 . The class profile of the holders of supreme political power in Britain is fairly revealing. (I characterizing each of these in terms of their vocation outside of politics—granted, a sometimes a difficult-to-determine category, since many of these figures were essentially professional politicians).

The longest serving group, at 44 years in power, was the lawyers (Asquith, George, Atlee, Thatcher, Blair). The second longest serving group, at 40 years in power, was businessmen (Campbell-Bannerman, Bonar Law, Baldwin, Chamberlain, McMillan, Heath, Major). The third longest serving group at 28 years in power was the aristocrats (the Marquess of Salisbury, the Earl of Rosebery, Balfour, Eden, Douglas-Home)—although I should note most of these years in power were in the years immediately following 1880. The fourth longest-serving group was—for want of a better description—the journalists at 19 years in power (McDonald, Churchill). The fifth longest serving group, at 14 years in power, was civil servants (Wilson, Callaghan). The sixth longest serving “group” was the middle class professional politician—i.e., no private vocation outside of politics (Gladstone) at 9 years in power.

To summarize, we have aristocratic prime ministers in power for 28 years, businessmen prime ministers in power for 40 years, and professional and bureaucratic prime ministers in power for 86 years.

All of the above strongly suggests answers to my questions above.

Q: Had the aristocracy simply evaporated, pace Marx?
A: No, the aristocracy (or the aristocratic function, more accurately) did not evaporate.
Q: “Had it continued ‘via other means’ or ‘via other players’? If so, who were these other players?”
A: The ‘other players’ that took up this function are pretty clearly ‘middle class professionals and bureaucrats.’

The aristocratic niche that the middle class professionals and bureaucrats have taken for their own has evolved somewhat, of course. Middle class professionals and bureaucrats are a far less militarized caste than their aristocratic predecessors. They are also far less attached to agriculture than their ennobled predecessors. But they remain definitely a governmentally privileged class, and they retain the tight nexus between themselves and the state of which they are the chief sword and shield and beneficiary.

Now, I’m sure a hard-core Marxist would simply argue that focusing on a sub-specie of the bourgeoisie is just a slight refinement on the Marx’s paradigm. But I would argue that it is actually quite critical to separate out these two groups. Without clarifying the different roles of these two groups, the professionals-bureaucrats (or “PBs”) on the one hand and the entrepreneurs on the other, I doubt it’s possible to make sense out of society over the past century or so. This is for no other reason than most of what we call politics over that period has to do with tensions between these two groups.

In fact, I would argue that subsuming both these types under the rubric ‘bourgeoisie’ a la Marx is actually a form of intellectual bestialism. Entrepreneurs are risk takers. Taking risks to get their rewards, businessmen are not particularly inclined to share those rewards with non-involved parties (read the poor, the elderly, the disadvantaged, the state). PBs are conspicuously not risk takers. Invested above all in order, stability and control, they are perfectly inclined to share the pie to achieve social peace. Hence the otherwise somewhat surprising existence of mixed economies and capitalistic welfare states, paid for by progressive taxation, which should never have occurred according to Marx’s predictions. (But then, he kind of missed the whole significance of the PBs, didn’t he?)

PBs are also, by vocational requirement, heavily invested in the notion of rationality. They essentially get paid to analyze problems and suggest solutions that should logically work. Entrepreneurs, often with their own limited capital riding on their decisions, know that all decisions, no matter how well researched, are gambles. In essence, PBs get paid by the hour, while entrepreneurs get paid only for results. Hence I don’t think it’s all that difficult to see that PBs will be rather more optimistic about social engineering programs than entrepreneurs.

(And this worship of rationalism and its powers to remake the world/society may have had aesthetic dimensions as well. It’s hard to ignore how closely in time the rise to power of the PB class is paralleled by the triumph of Modern art and architecture.)

Looking closely at the PBs also clarifies such questions as why the university is such a central institution in today’s world. This is because the university is the prime validator of the PB class. The university in effect serves the same function for the PB class as the military did for the aristocracy. Each is the proving ground of their respective class, the ultimate justification of its social pre-eminence and wealth. That probably explains the explosive interest in such subjects as affirmative action, SAT-meritocracy and any passing remarks made by Larry Summers on the mathematical skills of women.

And to those who might claim that the PBs can’t be the successor class of the aristocracy because they’re not a hereditary group, I would point to the obsessive credential-mania displayed by PBs on behalf of their offspring. This is a phenomenon observable on a daily basis, at least in my neck of the woods. I would also note that as the PBs grow ever more powerful in modern American society, social mobility seems to be falling.

The populist version of Marx’s ideas can be summed up as the Golden Rule: The Entrepreneur Who Has The Gold, Makes the Rules. And this is often the case. But it often seems to work the other way around, too: The PB Who Makes or Analyzes The Rules, Ends Up With The Gold. If you doubt that this is so, I would point out that U.S. taxpayers in the top percentile for income are split roughly 50-50 between entrepreneurs on the one hand, and professionals (specialist doctors, law-firm partners and accounting-firm partners) and high level corporate bureaucrats on the other. Something to think about.



posted by Friedrich at March 14, 2005



I'd add that the events of the summer of 1914, a generation after Marx's death, which set in motion the catastrophes of the 20th century, including the destruction of the continental aristocracies, were largely undertaken by aristocrats in Germany, Austria, and Russia. If aristocrats like von Moltke the Lesser, the head of the German general staff, had avoided WWI, the reign of aristocrats would have lasted into the second half of the 20th century.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on March 14, 2005 1:24 PM

In this analysis of Entrepeneurs and PB's, which was very interesting,you made little mention of "old money", the inherited-wealth class at 4th or 5th remove from the originator. Mellons and Rockefellers. At first glance they seem insignificant both politically and economically, but both Bush and Kerry had connections on their grandmother's sides.

Does this wealth diffuse away? I would not count the Waltons, so old money may only be 10 percent of the Fortune 500, but maybe 50 percent of the top 10,000? And so an underlying force toward conservatism? Just curious. And wondering where I could find the data about 4th + generation wealth.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on March 14, 2005 3:06 PM

The historian Arno Mayer published a book, The Survival of the Old Regime, along the same lines, but less detailed and covering all of Europe, maybe twenty years ago.

I also wrote a college history senior seminar paper (in 1971)on the entry of non-aristocrats into the French foreign service under the Third Republic. One book I read (by AJP Taylor) said that before World War I, France was the only European power with with significant numbers of non-aristocrats in its foreign service. If I recall my own research, non-aristocrats began entering the French foreign service at lower levels around 1880 and worked their way up. (There also were a few non-aristocratic politcal appointments at higher levels.)

Posted by: Martin on March 14, 2005 4:29 PM

As usually from Friedrich, interesting and highly original theory.

I will probably have more thoughts later when I have time to reread the article. For now, some notes along the way – and forgive me my sketchy at best remembrance of the Scientific Communism.

- You have to differentiate more between aristocracy as class and aristocratic function, wich could be attached to other classes and subclasses. (I would argue, f.ex, that in Brezhnev’s times Party nomenclature had all functions of aristocracy, without factual possession of material valuables. Wait, - you can call them PB, too, from the opposite side of political specter…I need to chew more on this).

-Marx didn’t proclaimed the fall of aristocracy per se (and I don't recall any instances where he gives time frame prognosis; he wasn't in Nostradamus business) but as a ruling class in feudal society, with transformation of feudalism into capitalism. Marx's idea is that every passing society grows the seeds of the next one within itself, new classes do not evolve overnight but co-exist for some time (which varies in different countries due to local factors) with the new, progressive, ones; the latter gaining more and more power and finally transforming themselves into the ruling ones (progressive in their relation to economics first, in the sense that bourgeoisie is more progressive than land aristocracy, so as freewill peasantry is more progressive than slaves/serfs.)
Marx proclaimed eventual disappearance of land aristocracy but he didn't say capitalism will have no ruling/exploiting classes afterwards. This role he reserved for middle class/ bourgeoisie. British aristocracy simply prolonged their time on arena by a) adopting good entrepreneurial skills in agriculture management and industry investments b)controlling legal and military system.

-“Liberal landslide of 1880”and consequent Gladstone reform didn’t appear on a whim, it was economically based, as you described. That clash of interests – state on one side and land aristocracy on the other was the sign of the decline of traditional British society structure, and rise of the “middle” as ruling class. What’s more, it was a typical process in all countries of Europe, sooner or later (rather sooner than it happened in Britain)
So far, Marx’ notion of primate of material (i.e., economics over power play) stands, and I don’t see how he wasn’t right about it.

-Regarding “skimming the cream”, enterpreneurs/producers on one side and parasitic PB on the other
: consider the following passage.

Hitherto whenever classes had begun to form, it had always been exclusively in the field of production; the persons engaged in production were separated into those who directed and those who executed, or else into large-scale and small-scale producers. Now for the first time a class appears which, without in any way participating in production, captures the direction of production as a whole and economically subjugates the producers; which makes itself into an indispensable middleman between any two producers and exploits them both. Under the pretext that they save the producers the trouble and risk of exchange, extend the sale of their products to distant markets and are therefore the most useful class of the population, a class of parasites comes into being, "genuine social icbneumons," who, as a reward for their actually very insignificant services, skim all the cream off production at home and abroad, rapidly amass enormous wealth and correspondingly social influence, and for that reason receive under civilization ever higher honors and ever greater control of production, until at last they also bring forth a product of their own - the periodical trade crises.

Who does Engels talk about here? Not the Professional Bureaucrats, even if I’d say it applies perfectly, but the “merchants”, or entrepreneurial class you (and I!) so admire. Another instance of “Marx/Engels’ teaching is universal because it’s true!”
[Btw, if it interests you, it would be fascinating to learn about your thoughts on the subject of family>property>state]

- Lastly, I think emergence of PB is just a case of another universal law, Division of Labor.
here? Not the Professional Bureaucrats, even if I’d say it applies perfectly, but the “merchants”, or entrepreneurial class you (and I!) so admire. Another instance of “Marx/Engels’ teaching is universal because it’s true!”
[Btw, if it interests you, it would be fascinating to learn about your thoughts on the subject of family>property>state]

- Lastly, I think emergence of PB is just a case of another universal law, Division of Labor.

Posted by: Tatyana on March 14, 2005 5:39 PM

A great post! You seem to have backed your way into New Class theory, Friedrich.

What's New Class theory? Well, the Russian anarchist Bakunan told the Bolsheviks that while they might get rid of the bourgeois/proletarian classes, they would create a "new class" in the form of the state bureaucracy. The Bolshies of course responded that the state would whither away, so why worry?

But a half century later a high-ranking Yugoslav named Djilas looked around and noticed that Bakunan's prediction had come true. He wrote a book about it and got himself jailed for his trouble.

As Wikipedia notes, Djilas saw the foundation of his New Class in their wholly new form of property:

Djilas claimed that the new class' specific relationship to the means of production was one of collective political control, and that the new class' property form was political control. Thus for Djilas the new class not only seeks expanded material reproduction to politically justify its existence to the working class, but it also seeks expanded reproduction of political control as a form of property in itself.

In the seventies some neo-cons [PDF link!] like Irving Kristol and Daniel Moynihan tried to apply NC theory to American life and found it a perfect fit.

Myself, I've found that putting together a bit of New Class theory and a bit of Public Choice explains our present world with almost alarming accuracy. Talk about fitting the facts! (It can also be pretty funny.)

I'll definitely be checking out Mr. Cannadine.

Posted by: Brian on March 14, 2005 7:03 PM

One other thing: no matter how bad it gets, at least we ain't China!

Posted by: Brian on March 14, 2005 7:25 PM

Thanks, Brian, I will have to find that Djilas book (and may be Bakunin). Shows my dogmatic and source-limited marxist education.

I just noticed duplicating of the last 2 paragraphs pf my comment above.
Apologies to all.

Posted by: Tatyana on March 14, 2005 7:52 PM


I can offer further reading that closely coincides with your argument:

Harold Perkin: The Rise of Professional Society: England Since 1880.

Here's the Amazon description:

"The Rise of Professional Society lays out a new and controversial framework for the study of British society, challenging accepted paradigms based on class analysis. Perkins argues that the noncapitalist ``professional class'' represents a new principle of social organization based on trained expertise and meritocracy, a ``forgotten middle class'' conveniently overlooked by classical social theorists."

Prof. Perkin passed away recently. I had the good luck to take a graduate seminar with him at Northwestern -- a very nice man.

Posted by: Derek Johnson on March 15, 2005 3:32 PM

Thanks for everybody's comments.

I was glad to be reminded of the New Class theorists, who had briefly passed onto (and off) my radar screen a few years ago. My only argument with them, as far as I know (which is not far) is that they seem to see the rise of the New Class as a far more recent phenomenon than I do. In the U.S., we've seen the rise of the PBs since as early as the Progressive Era (c.1890 - 1920s). I couldn't sleep a couple nights ago and ended up actually reading Robert Caro's huge biography of Robert Moses, "The Power Broker." I was astonished to note that Moses was a perfect exemplar of the PB class, and he was born in 1888 or thereabouts! (Yale, class of '09 I believe.)

Tatyana, I think it's pretty amusing that you seem to be defending poor Marx from my savage ideological attack!

My criticism of Marx, which I probably didn't say clearly enough, is chiefly that I don't think politics really reduces all that cleanly into economics. Marx was right to note the increasing political influence of the middle classes in the first half of the 19th century, but that was hardly a revolutionary insight--it was a commonplace. And the extreme time lag between the rise of the middle-class entrepreneurs as economic agents and their long-delayed inheritance of meaningful political power raises all sorts of questions about Marx's thesis that politics is just economics by different means. Remember, the preparatory steps for industrial revolution, like the 'putting out' system, had begun c. 1700--quite a long time for bourgeois to wait for its political ship to come in, no? And it's quite clear that the industrial revolution began c. 1780 and not c. 1580 or c. 2280 for reasons that were far more political than economic.

Heck, I guess I'd say that throughout history, political power dictated economics at least as much as economics dictated politics.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 15, 2005 5:22 PM

Friedrich, my principle is "know your enemy".
It's sort of like surgeon's attitude: "Esteemed colleague, look at this beautifully burst appendix!"

Posted by: Tatyana on March 15, 2005 6:47 PM

Why did you categorize Winston Churchill as a journalist rather than an aristocrat? As a direct descendant of John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough. Winston Churchill was, at one time, the second in line of succession to the Duchy, "American heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt, declared 'Your first duty is to have a child and it must be a son, because it would be intolerable to have that little upstart Winston become Duke.'" And, of course, Winston was born at Blenheim palace.

Even though he was untitled, his activities during his early life were entirely consistent with those expected of a younger son of nobility: cavalry officer, war correspondant, 1st Lord of the Admiralty.

All of which only serves to strengthen your argument that the aristocracy hadn't exactly disappeared in 1830, of course.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on March 15, 2005 7:00 PM

Going off on a tangent,

In Harry Turtledove's Darkness series only aristocrats can become officers in the military. Then war begins (a fantasy version of World War II) and the heavy losses forces the promotion of commoners to officers.

On a not all that related note, In 1634: The Galileo Affair Eric Flint (a self-identified Trotskyite) makes note of a generations long animosity between the aristocrats of Europe and the common folk. As if there has been a very long term resistance between the pre Indo-European indigenes and their Indo-European conquerors.

A struggle that may have continued here in America between our self-identified elites and everybody else.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on March 15, 2005 9:39 PM

A question you've got my dingaling, ahistorical mind playing with is this: when did some aristos (at least those who remain, or maybe just inherited-privilege people in a more informal sense) start thinking it was cool, groovy and attractive to go progressive and lefty? (I'm thinking about Kennedys and others.) There's some conservative political theory that argues that a landed-gentry class 1) is inevitable and 2) should be a good (because stabilizing) influence on society at large. But that'd seem to assume to that landed-gentry types would be mature, have the long view, etc -- that they'd be like society's board of Wise Old Men directors. These days it can seem as though aristos are anything but, if ever they were that in the first place.

Of course, maybe I'm just thinking of the rich, and maybe only of those who show up on my personal radar screen in NYC ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 16, 2005 11:45 AM

I'm glad Martin mentioned Arno Mayer.
While waiting for a search request to be processed in the library years ago I picked up a book about the persistence of the old regime aristocracy in Europe till 1914. It was so fascinating I checked it out and read it at one sitting. I thought of it as soon as I ead this post but couldn't remeber the author or exact title. I'm now fairly sure tjis was Mayer's book.

I think there's been work done on the continuity between old daimo and samurai families in Japan and the ownership of newer commercial and industrial zaibatsu as well.

Posted by: Joseph Ebbecke on March 16, 2005 2:55 PM

What you are ignoring here is the interdependency between the entrepreneurial class and the professional/bureaucratic class, so that they are both key parts of a unified capitalist class. This interdependency occurs because the modern corporation needs to be rationalized and bureaucratized. You need to read more Weber instead of Marx. Or for that matter Alfred P. Sloan.

And you have a kind of vulgar reading of Marx -- economics does not replace politics, but politics is governed by the ideology of classes that emerge and draw their vitality from economic processes. Marx was quite right to toll the death knell of the feudal aristocracy. His historical predictions have stood up very well for stuff written in 1850 (e.g. the predictions of feminism and globalization in the Communist Manifesto). But I think most everyone would agree that he did not assign a strong enough role to the autonomy of the state, too determinist in that sense.

Posted by: Marcus Stanley on March 17, 2005 12:22 AM

Mr. Stanley:

Sorry to be so vulgar. but when Marx asserts that "The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie" I'm confused as to how what he's describing isn't the reduction of politics to economics.

And yes, the entrepreneurial class and the professional-bureaucratic classes interact, particularly in two arenas that are important in modern life: the government-business nexus and in the large modern corporation. However, both of these areas are really the domain of the PB class, as both are marked by bureaucratic processes and a split between the managerial function and the risk-taking function which does not obtain in areas that are more purely entrepreneurial.

To sum up my points:

(1) This stuff is complicated, and Marx, I believe, oversimplifies in order to heighten one of the main things he is selling, which is the aura of historical or rather mechanistic inevitability that he attempts to drape over his thought.

(2) I believe that it clarifies, rather than obscures, to go in at a slightly more detailed level and point out that what you describe as a "unified capitalistic class" is not nearly so unified as that description would suggest. I believe that if you pay attention you will see that the various constituent parts visibly pull and tug in different directions. I also believe that this occurs for quite comprehensible reasons, if you keep the different styles and motivations of each group in mind.

But what do I know?

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 17, 2005 1:59 PM

Let's set aside Marx for the moment (I think he was a great social scientist as these things go, but those arguments never go anywhere) and look at the "unified capitalist class". It's obviously an oversimplification to claim either that there is some kind of seamless "capitalist class" with no internal splits, or that your posited bureaucratic new class and the "creative destruction" capitalist class never work together at all. But I would argue that their interdependence goes well beyond just "interacting". The great entrepreneurs of the 20th century, from Rockefeller to Ford to Bill Gates, made vital advances in bureaucratic organization -- the design and management of large enterprises. There's a reason that Bill Gates' favorite book is Sloan's memoirs of General Motors -- Microsoft didn't dominate by producing brand new technology, but by organizing, standardizing, and dominating the software market in a way it had never been done before. I would claim that the key to 20th century business history wasn't been romantic lone entrepreneurs, but the increase of market rationalization and the exploitation of various kinds of economies of scale. There's a reason why business demands MBAs from its executives today, rather than high school degrees as at the turn of the century. And it's a fact that the economy is still overwhelmingly dominated by large bureaucratically organized firms, even in the most dynamic sectors (establishment size has dropped, but firm size has not; within-firm bureaucratic hierarchies are probably flatter but again firms are no smaller and giant mergers are still eagerly pursued). None of this is to argue that entrepreneurs aren't vital, or that risk-taking isn't a key personal characteristic of a certain kind of businessman. But they don't exist in opposition to professional rationalization. But I think the two complement each other and work together much more closely than your story has it.

Posted by: M Stanley on March 17, 2005 5:41 PM

I should use the preview function...sorry for the giant paragraph, run-on sentences, and grammar errors. Sigh. Thanks for the thoughtful post -- I enjoy your blog!

Posted by: M Stanley on March 17, 2005 5:43 PM

I think taking Marx' influence in isolation is a mistake. It was really Freud, Marx, and Darwin who changed the world among them.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on March 18, 2005 10:31 AM

Um, not to mention Lamarck, Spencer, Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, the Wright Brothers, Bismarck, Ford, Pasteur, Einstein, etc., etc., etc.

But it's kind nf hard to look closely at all of them simultaneously. I do my best one at a time.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 18, 2005 11:59 AM

i was always partial to...

Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind. regard to intellectual 'property' rights, in that i think marx was (unintentionally) prescient :D and like, skimming over the communist manifesto just now, it sounds strangely familiar!

wrt the bureaucratic function and private enterprise, paul mcculley just today did an exemplary job of highlighting M Stanley's point about how the two complement one another, to wit:

In the real global world of fiat currency regimes, however, the notion of a free and open market in currencies is an oxymoron. Sovereigns, everywhere, have the power, granted or taken from their peoples, to declare what is and isn’t legal tender for the payment of debts. This is an awesome power: monopoly power over money creation.

Accordingly, the notion of free and open markets in currencies is but a veil over reality. Yes, in real time, countries with convertible currencies and no capital controls ostensibly let the markets determine the value of their currencies in terms of other currencies. But at the end of the day, sovereigns retain control over the supply of their currencies, otherwise known as the size of their central banks’ balance sheets (or their ministry of finances’ balance sheets, which are but one step removed from their central banks’ balance sheets). This is reality!

Thus, economists steeped in the textbook microeconomics doctrine of purchasing power parity, also known as the "law" of one global price, are constantly frustrated in forecasting currencies. In the textbook, global arbitrage is presumed to bring currencies into such an alignment that prices for goods and services denominated in various currencies are all roughly equal. In the real world, currencies deviate so far from presumed purchasing power parity values as to make a mockery of the concept. Why?

Very simple: there is no free and open global market in citizenship...

the federal reserve, iow, is a vast (and relatively insular) bureaucracy that maintains the machinery of our currency system, upon which 'free markets' (as we know them) operate. unless we were to retire to say a hayekian system of private script, i think one needs to acknowledge at the least the quasi-public nature of institutions that capitalism is founded on :D


Posted by: carabinieri on March 18, 2005 4:17 PM

"It seems to me that the two Marxist notions--the class struggle as the prime motor of history and of the reducibility of politics to economics--have become deeply embedded in general social thought."

But Michelangelo (cf. your earlier Renaissance post) has become "deeply embedded" in general social art history, yet you said he could not be considered without Pope Leo X.
History is context, context, context, remember? What happened to your theory that ideologies cannot exist outside of historical context?
This appears to be a contradiction.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on March 18, 2005 5:25 PM

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