Where did the concept of "class" originate? The idea that the world is made up of groups of people, fixed in their strata, fueled into action only by Greed, Envy, or the lust for power?
In ancient times, the oligarchic, aristocratic, and feudal systems of government enforced the notion of class by keeping power and wealth in the hands of a few. There was always a certain amount of fluidity to the classes, however. A Roman soldier could be rewarded with land and fame, so much that the need for more land helped fuel the Roman expansion. Merchants, tradesmen, and farmers have often been able, to one degree or another, to raise their fortunes by skill, diligence and discipline. Countless prodigals have spent their family fortunes on wild living, never to return from the hog pen. There has always been mobility, though it may not have seemed so to the masses.
Karl Marx, who took the notion of class to new heights, saw as inevitable that the working class, those whose hands do the work from which others profit, would bond together, while self-interest would keep the greedy capitalist parasites too preoccupied to unite. His naive model of capitalism, that of the factory with workers and owners, partly explains his disdain of it, but his view of history as a revolutionary class struggle waiting to happen has poisoned academic minds for over a century.
It is this concept of class which most sharply divides American politics. People have either the mindset of being a One or part of a Many. Conservatives generally think of people as individuals needing government to keep them from killing each other, to protect them from outsiders and from itself. Liberals believe government can and should make things right between classes of people, and that by doing this those outside will see how nice we are and ignore us.
The primary virtue, to a person in the Leftist religion, and of left-leaning branches of the Jewish and Christian trees, is a belief in "social justice", or decreasing the gap between "the rich" and "the poor". It presupposes that there are homogeneous classes of people. They treat everyone in a class as the same, whether they got however wealthy they are by inheritance, theft, skill, or hard work, and whether they became however poor they are from handicap, bad luck, or laziness. It doesn't matter how you got where you are: it is "unjust" for one to have more, or for another to have less. Government exists, by their thinking, to enforce that version of equality.
But are any of us ever, truly equal? Do two neighbors who have the same occupation and income level live identical lives? Of course not. There is always a difference in the standard of living between any two people. While the Marxist would call that a a difference without distinction, that dismissal is a result of seeing capitalism through a simplistic lens. People in a capitalist economy have an endless array of options to ply their hand at this occupation or that one, or even to invent something totally new. People are not stuck in place, like cattle in a herd; they are free to move up, or down, in status as their ability and diligence take them.So I chafe when someone beats the drums of class envy, stirring up those who feel they have no hope. The drumbeat most often resounds to the chorus, "You have no hope but we who beat the drums". I hear their clanging, but I know that only I can help those in my class -- for only I belong to it.
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