Saturday, 2 July 2011

Ideologies and Perceptions

I once asked a lecturer in American history why the United States was the only major industrialised country never to have a significant Socialist movement or party. He replied that he thought this was due to the lack of a hereditary aristocracy: although Marxists are hostile to capitalists, it is actually hereditary wealth and privilege which provoke hostility.

This theory can be linked with the anecdote which is supposed to express the difference between British and American attitudes: when the rich man drives past in his Rolls-Royce the American worker says, "some day I'll have a car like that!", but the British worker says, "Some day we'll take that car off you!" I think there is an element of truth here. The reason, however, is that in America it is assumed that the car has been obtained by talent and hard work: in Britain the assumption is that Daddy got it for him. The British worker therefore tends to think that luxury cars are obtained not by exceptional talents but by the good fortune of having noble or wealthy ancestry, and that he, lacking these advantages,has little chance of ever owning one.

I wonder, however, how long this distiction can hold. In politics, America has far more of a hereditary aristocracy than Britain does, though they do not possess titles of nobility. What else can we call the Rockefellers, the Kennedys and the Bushes? In Britain, they would have been given peerages long ago, and forfeited all political credibility. The 2000 Presidential election was actually fought between two aristocrats, Bush and Gore, which is without parallel in Britain for the past century and a half. And Britain is thought to be a class-ridden society! David Cameron, educated at Eton and Oxford, is actually the first Etonian Prime Minister since Sir Alec Douglas-Home in 1964. Few people realise that between 1917 and 1945 not a single Prime Minister had been to either Eton or Oxford.

No comments:

Post a Comment