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Coventina Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 03:13 PM
Original message
Are social classes necessary to civilization and/or culture?
I was pondering this yesterday, because I was reading an essay by Clement Greenberg.

He was talking about T.S. Eliot's late conservatism, and Eliot's belief that social classes are necessary to the preservation of high culture.

The arguement is that "high" culture can only be sustained by the upper class, because they have the time and money to preserve it.

Furthermore, the elimination of the classes would throw society and civilization back into the dark ages.

Greenberg seemed to agree with Eliot, but with the criticism that the importance of improving life for the masses was too important to hold it back. That it is worth sacrificing high culture in order to improve people's lives.

Anyway, it was an interesting read and I'm wondering what people out in DU-land think.
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Name removed Donating Member (0 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 03:15 PM
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ProfessorPlum Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 03:17 PM
Response to Original message
2. I read your title completely differently
As in "are classes about being social necessary to civilization?"

I was about to answer that it sounds like it would be a good idea, but there would be a war about what would be in those classes.
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tk2kewl Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 03:17 PM
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3. Seems to me most artists and writers don't know much
about being rich. So I guess it depends on your definition of culture. If the distribution of wealth were flatter wouldn't it just make it possible for more artists to prosper?
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sui generis Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 03:33 PM
Response to Reply #3
8. well traditionally art and literature have not been well paid
throughout the ancient world and middle ages, art was looked upon more as a craft than with the lofty philosophy we accord it today.

Much of that attitude still holds over today with rare exceptions. The artists that make the most money have publicists and marketing teams; that doesn't necessarily make them good artists and writers.
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tk2kewl Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 03:37 PM
Response to Reply #8
11. yep.
there is a big difference between an entrepreneur and an artist. having both together is a rare combination.
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MsTryska Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 03:35 PM
Response to Reply #3
9. Most writers and artists
at least back in the day, had the opportunity to focus all their time one making art or writing because they were sponsored by the rich.
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bryant69 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 03:21 PM
Response to Original message
4. I don't know, I can kind of see it
I mean people have different skills and desires, and will naturally gravitate towards those who are like them to a certain extent. Plus, I'm also pro-capitalism, which pretty much implies that there will be losers and winners at the game.

Bryant
Check it out --> http://politicalcomment.blogspot.com
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bloom Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 03:25 PM
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5. It might be that
it is necessary for some people to work for very little money so others can have very much money by comparison. (That seems pretty straight forward).

I was thinking about the ads in the WSJ for the $1,000,000 engagement rings while on a nearby page someone trying to make the argument for the class system. (And on another page - two editorials excusing torture).

I think the class system as we know it represents a breakdown of community. It gets even easier when the people doing the work for $.20/hour live over in China - so people don't have to think about them at all.


I don't think it is necessary. And I think the more polarized things get - the more culture created is by a few and consumed by the masses - the LESS culture there is. And perhaps - the less civilized we are.
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BBradley Donating Member (645 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 03:27 PM
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6. I've always hated T.S. Eliot's philosophy...
I thought the dark ages were marked by a rigidly defined class system, ala serfdom. In fact, it seems to me that everytime the distinction between class becomes lesser, the body of art becomes greater.
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sui generis Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 03:30 PM
Response to Original message
7. I agree with Greenberg
but more important that having a class system is having mobility between the classes. That means if you live in an economy or society that doesn't rigidly enforce cultural or economic layers you have motivation and consequence. We are creators and schemers and tool users and when we have the motivation to succeed, or fail and leave a vacancy, we help the pot boil.

Without desire and conflict, fulfillment and resolution, and the ability to achieve or at least try to achieve, we would never produce great works of human expression and understanding in art or in science.
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MsTryska Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 03:36 PM
Response to Reply #7
10. This i wholeheartedly agree with. nt
nt
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Ratty Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 04:02 PM
Response to Reply #7
13. I'd been wondering about this too
I like your answer. I'm not what you would call a "deep thinker" but I've often wondered very hard (usually when daydreaming about my own utopian civilization) whether the poor were needed "to be the garbagemen" as it were. If everyone was educated, had food, housing, clothes, and if everyone made a comfortable sum of money, who would be left to do our poop jobs?

Actually, there are a lot of poop jobs I wouldn't mind having, compared with a lot of preofessional jobs. I'd much rather be a garbage man all my life than a lawyer or MBA.

So anyway, that is an amazingly cogent, even comforting answer. I wouldn't mind reading something or other on the subject either.
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jpgray Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 03:38 PM
Response to Original message
12. If we started all over with a system of perfect equality
We would reorganize into the same old crap in very short order. The history of the human race has been a series of ambitious, power-hungry individuals abusing and exploiting those who are less ambitious and less power-hungry. Unless you can change that, no system that I've seen can stop it from happening.
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Lexingtonian Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 04:05 PM
Response to Original message
14. There has never been a society without classes

People sort out into groups by ability, interests, and particular needs. They pass much of that on to their children (think Phillip Larkin's "Coastal Shelf"!), and before you know it it all ends in stratification. The great political issue is not whether there are classes (social anthropology says there always are) but how sharp or shallow the social pyramid is, i.e. its oppressiveness as imaged by the relative height compared to width of the base.

As I recall, Eliot's argument is not just that the upper class has the time and the money; it also has some sensibility about nobility and the society's history as its reference point- i.o.w. a kind of historical selfknowledge of the whole, a kind of clear (but tribal) memory of everything learned and worth remembering across time. In historical linguistics there's a complicated distinction between things that are 'diachronic' and things that are 'synchronic', and Eliot is sort of arguing it on a social level- that the synchronic is the common person's sensibility of the here and now, the diachronic the far rarer kind which deserves all the help it can get.

I was just looking at Eliot's 'Four Quartets' two weeks ago. They're all about this problem, about the things of time and contemporanity, and the 'timeless'/eternal, and how people live in both (more the first when young, increasingly the latter as they age).

Ambrose Bierce defines an artist as 'a member of the leisure class, but unable to pay for his leisure'. There is some kind of truth to that. It's something of a context for Eliot, the interdependence of the artisan class and the cultured/wealthy art sponsor class.

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el_gato Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Jan-11-05 04:10 PM
Response to Original message
15. it begins with the division of labor
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