Friday, 30 January 2009

The Corporate State - Blessing or Curse?

At her highly intriguing blog A Letter To The Times, Cassandra Goldman published yesterday the thought-provoking entry Aristocracy fosters high achievement. Bringing back the monarchy seems indeed too weird a concept to merit serious contemplation. But is it really?
The sacred cow, or perhaps I should say golden calf, of “equality” is wreaking immeasurable damage on our society. It started with a principle that at least sounds good, that of “equality before the law”. Of course, equality before the law precludes any sort of nobility or aristocracy, and now we are feeling the lack of those.

The principle of equality before the law had its first major exploitation when feminists demanded that women be treated precisely the same as men by the law. The problem here is that women are not the same as men. Women have different capabilities and needs. Women require more protection from roving criminals; men are more apt to be able to defend themselves... Naturally, the attempt to force the law to treat men and women equally has backfired in a thousand ways, and by now, of course, the legal inequality has simply been adjusted...

The mania for “equality” has created in most people a pathological intolerance for being shut out of anything. It has also led to an excessive emphasis on age, as children or adolescents are among the few people who can still be justifiably discriminated against. In the introduction to a recent edition of one of E. Nesbit’s novels, a modern woman told us everything that was wrong with these nonetheless charming novels. (I don’t have a sarcasm font, but let me assure you that the sarcasm is very much there.) She attacked a scene in which a man took one of the boys aside for a man-to-man talk about how he shouldn’t be mean to his sisters because girls and boys are different, and have to be to do the grownup work of women and men. She was furious at how “patronizing” this was; personally, I wish that the boys I was forced to associate with as a child had patronized me that way. She was also outraged that these upper-class children gave orders to the family’s adult servants, and demonstrated better judgment than they did. She did not explain how she thought the children and servants ought to have related to each other, but I hazard a guess that she thought that these children, who would grow up to have a measure of power and influence in their society, ought to have been deferring to, taking orders from, and perhaps even learning from their servants. Reflect for a moment on whether you wish your laws to be made by people who were taught about the world by servants, or whether you wish your retirement fund to be invested in the stock of a company run by such men, and you will see how absurd the notion is.

[...]

... We are now even seeing various proposals to prevent people from leaving their own property to their own children, because God forbid that those children should have any “unearned” privilege. That parents work for the express purpose of creating a legacy which can be passed down to their descendants, a legacy of property or beliefs or codes of behavior or skills, seems to elude these egalitarians. Deprive people of the right to bequeath a legacy to their own children - which is precisely what schools do when they teach children values different from those of their parents - and soon there will be no more reason for achievement of any sort. We have to endure a bit of “inequality” in order to enjoy the benefits of civilization.

[...]

I submit that people had a healthier attitude towards inequality when it was institutionalized - that is, when we had an aristocracy. A thousand social customs and laws reminded people from day to day of the very real differences in rank and station. This constant reinforcement of inequality of rank no doubt aided people in accepting differences in ability, made it easier for them to accept that some people were better at things than they were. They were used to being unequal; encountering a different sort of inequality was just a fact of life.

In addition, the modern attacks on ability were unknown, because ability was one of the few ways in which those born to a low station could hope to rise. Nowadays we punish people for superior ability. Bright children are expected to wait for their duller agemates to catch up, because what is important is that everyone go through precisely the same indoctrination routine, not that they be taught anything. Capable men see the jobs they have spent years working towards being given to less qualified women who then demand the right to be paid the same amount for part-time work. Such madness was unknown a mere century ago.

Bring back titled aristocracy and we will become a meritocracy again in no time.
A fascinating topic indeed, to which I, a European who was socialized in Germany as well as in England, would very much like to add some points. But before I come to comment on the gist of Cassandra's post, with which I basically agree, I’d first like to nitpick about a certain detail: "Reflect for a moment on whether you wish your laws to be made by people who were taught about the world by servants…". I think most people who grew up in a household that included servants (to which I happen to belong) will disagree with such a summary statement, and specifically the generation of the English aristocracy who were still brought up by nannies. I think it is the easy mutual understanding and acceptance of SOCIAL inequality, an understanding that goes together with a mutual respect as humans, which breeds the positive social climate Cassandra understandably wants to bring back. Case in point: English aristocrats of the old school tend to be uncomfortable around members of the middle classes, but comfortable with the working classes and vice versa. As long as such a "social contract" existed, by the time the parents took over (schools, more likely), the children were very much aware about the world.

The funny thing about my own upbringing is that my father was a Socialist. That, together with the fact that we had a live-in maid (or, as it is put oh-so-coyly today, "help in the house") and a chauffeur who worked in my father’s business as a driver when he wasn’t needed, made me aware at an early age of the absurdity of this outlook. I owe that woman the happy part of my childhood, being lumbered with a mother wo was both, clinging and remote.

In a social climate of jealousy so typical for Germany, we, my mother more than I, were made aware all the time that we were expected to apologize for such a non-politically correct member of the household. I guess it is owing to aristocracy still in situ (socially, even if not politically) that such things are accepted with more grace in England.

But back to the core topic: I couldn’t agree more. I have no children, but what you describe is exactly the reason for the wreckage of lifes I am forced to watch everywhere around me. Beautiful, intelligent children of my friends, now in their twenties, who are wasting their lifes and their precious inheritance, not in a material, but in a spiritual sense, because the parents were unable to convey the values of their class, wrecked families because the live-in-servants were not kept in their places, marrying the wrong partner in the first place and being excrutiantingly unhappy once the honeymoon is over, on a less tragic but still absurd note: women from the oldest of families who are cleaning after their char because they don’t "dare" to tell her to do her job properly. The list is endless.

It is difficult, mind you, to keep up upper-class customs if one is living in a very middle class environment. A friend of mine who was taught (as it is the custom in oldfashioned aristocratic German families) to kiss an old lady’s hand, kissed the hand of the … postwoman as well. I don’t think it is all that easy to teach children social differences if one’s ordinary rented flat in an ordinary block of flats has only one entrance and not a second one for servants, the more as the postwoman may well be living close by and in a bigger one. A corporate society lives from symbols and keeping up the lifestyle of a manor is impossible in a rented urban flat.

However, assuming it would be possible, bringing back the old order would be like trying to put spilled toothpaste back into the tube. If one sees how once respectable (well, as respectable as glossy magazines go) society mags are celebrating scum like the Beckhams, or some scummy pop stars whose names I can’t remember, together with the Royal Family, if one sees (and this is even worse) how easily and gladly the English upper classes are mingling with just that unspeakable scum (Princess Diana and Elton John is only one noticeable example), one loses the faith that “bringing back titled aristocracy” would lead to anything positive, however alluring the thought may be. People degrade so quickly without proper guiding and, worse, irretrievably, and the upper classes are no exception.

That lead me to additional thoughts and maybe I am falling in the same old equality-trap here, but here it goes: I somehow don't believe that the upper classes are full of people magically blessed by nature with better insight and manners and the working classes equally magically endowed with social contentment and lack of jealousy, but that the strict rules of a corporate state forces the people to bring out their best abilities. Moreover, it encouraged the will to get on and maybe to reach a more elevated position, a position that was not just defined by the money one earned (or rather: that comes flowing in) but requires a more intact personality. The haute volée we are currently watching is the antithesis of such a concept, as are the hoi polloi. The corporate state required, too, responsibility from its higher echelons towards society and one's inheritance. To put something back into society as well as into one's own estate was an, albeit unwritten, law. As such, it couldn't be possibly any further away from most American ideals of freedom and liberty. It is as remarkable as interesting, though, that I seem to discover an increasing number of reflections on monarchy by Americans.

Cross-posted at Roncesvalles.

5 comments:

greta_elisif said...

I like this, but will you please correct the word "looses" to the word "loses?" Thank you.

The_Editrix said...

Done! Thank you very much!

How perfectly embarrassing.

greta_elisif said...

You're welcome! : ) You can probably tell I love grammar and spelling! Anyway, I don’t like most weblogs, but still I like yours a lot. By the way, your post about Queen Elizabeth was a charming portrayal of her and I enjoyed it. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts.

greta_elisif said...

P.S. I forgot to acknowledge we all make spelling mistakes and I am embarrassed too by them. I wouldn't want to appear a self-righteous spelling-correcter.

The_Editrix said...

I am grateful for correcting me. Any confusion of "lose" and "loose" stands out like a sore thumb. I didn't take it as self-righteous, the more as you said nice things about my writing in general. ;-)

I know, I have neglected this blog shamelessly and that when I have lots on my mind worth writing about. I am, too, sitting on a crucial entry for my other blog for days now, all research done, and I can't bring myself to get over that writing block. Such a bore!