By Nick Sorrentino
Karl Marx hated the middle class even more than the aristocracy. Though the aristocracy controlled the means of production, it could either be co-opted in a revolution or simply liquidated.
A far stickier wicket was the middle class, or bourgeois. It was this much larger emerging class of merchants and factory owners that Marx reserved special ire for.
As the industrial revolution matured the world shook out into a new order. Instead of the simple feudalism of past centuries, with 97% of the world serfs (read slaves) and then a landed nobility that ran things, the new industrial world encouraged the emergence of a new kind of individual- the entrepreneur.
In the late 1700s and into the 1800s this new group, the middle class, was able to accumulate wealth, and with this wealth political power. The issues that were important to this group of innovators and business people were many, but chief among them was the protection of property rights through the rule of law.
If one could be secure in one’s property, one could make decisions about how to do business. If one was constantly fearful that the king, or local noble would appropriate ones fortune, markets could not flourish. Over time contract law was developed. The concept of individual property was expanded and developed. So long as the middle class understood the rules of the game, business could go on and wealth could be created.
Indeed this was the spirit behind our own Constitution. This document, developed by a new class of colonial property owners sought to codify the protection of the merchant, the engine of wealth- from the state. So long as a man, and for a long time it was only men, could remain secure in what he had, he would be more inclined to venture out, in a business sense, and create more wealth.
The Constitution is a friend of the middle class. To be sure it is a friend to all people- poor, middle class, and rich, but it sought to codify the rules necessary for the bourgeois middle class to prosper. We lacked the aristocracy of Europe. America was the land of the innovator, explorer, the entrepreneur.
Marx looked on the middle class as generally vulgar and foolish, not to say as an enemy of mankind. The “petty bourgeois” sensibilities of this group of people disgusted him, largely because their values were directly in contrast to what Marx thought were the values of the larger “proletariat” or working class.
Why, in Marx’ mind should this group of business people, who lacked an understanding of the progress of humanity, and lacked a “revolutionary consciousness” be allowed to prosper? Mix an unenlightened mind (in Marx’ opinion), with wealth, and you have a very dangerous group of people who would never allow the true progress of humanity as he defined progress.
We continue to see the political world through the Marxist prism. Most people don’t understand this, especially in America. Somewhere in the 1800s progress became defined as what expanded the social safety net, not what gave the most freedom to people. Somewhere back there the increased sovereignty of the individual became “reactionary” whereas a new softer version of the same old servitude was “progressive.”
Essentially the Marxists were able to define the rules by which the political and economic games would be played for the next 150 years. The classical liberals, those who believed that the increased freedom of the individual was “progressive,” lost out. And the rest is history.
But our Constitution was written before Marx, and so is deeply liberal (in the classical sense.) One could say that our Constitution is even a libertarian document, and one that is at least as compelling as Das Capital.
This is one of the reasons, and the chief reason I believe, why our government, lead by the judiciary has constantly sought to transcend the spirit of the Constitution. Simply, for many, the Constitution is a reactionary document (in Marxist terms) written by a group of land owning, slave holding, white males. What they fail to see is that though this is true, it in no way diminishes the words within the document.
The fact that Marx was a vehement anti-Semite, despite being of Jewish ancestry himself (see On the Jewish Question) did not negate in the minds of many that his opinions still had value. Yet because these same people happen to disagree with the spirit of the American Constitution the “white male” criticism of the Constitution has been used by a large group of sociologists and political scientists for generations now to demonize the document.
Though many who disdain the middle class as boorish and petty would not call themselves Marxists, and they largely they are not, they fail to see that the prism through which they see the world was long ago defined by Marx and his fellow travelers. The fact that collectivism is considered by the mainstream media, academia, political establishment, etc as positive and not negative is example of this.
This explains the “limousine liberal” phenomenon. Why, it is often asked, would some people who have had the most access to wealth and privilege so embrace collectivist political philosophy? Simply, the well off liberal sees the merchant class, that is to say entrepreneurs, capitalists, etc, who overwhelmingly come the lower middle class backgrounds originally, as lacking in social consciousness. The fact that anyone would concern themselves so much with money, and specifically the preservation of their relatively small pile, just shows how stupid and obstinate the bourgeois class is. After all one should not concern oneself with preserving such silly things as a house in the suburbs, one should instead be more focused on sharing ill gotten gains with the “deserving.”
“What is wrong with these people” They ask. “Geez. Didn’t any of these dolts go to Smith? Oh wait. They probably could only afford community college. No wonder they are so unenlightened.”
To be sure the American aristocracy which often leans to the left so long as their summer vacations in down east Maine are not threatened would likely become very traditionally conservative if their property were ever under threat. For them though, they know that if push comes to shove, under normal circumstances one can always get the government to write a law that will protect ones interests.
No wind farms off of Martha’s Vineyard. That would clutter up the view and we can’t have that. Put them off of Atlantic City!
The merchant class, the middle class, needs a transparent government and economy to prosper. That is why there is a renewed interest in the Constitution and also why libertarianism is becoming increasingly popular with many people in the middle class as we again descend into an even more opaque political and economic mire.
The obfuscation of the political and economic system benefits those who currently hold all the power. The ruling class that so disdains the petty bourgeois tendencies of the middle class can use an opaque system to buy off the proletariat. They also are also able to solidify their positions as rulers, all the while thinking that they are doing “the right thing” and promoting “social justice.” In reality however they are raping the cash cow that is the American entrepreneurial class. And raping cows is just wrong.
Econlib in Classes
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