Social Classes: the Upper Class in America


A series on social class in America. Lower, working, middle and upper middle here.

The upper class in America is widely misunderstood. Everyone thinks the upper class is made up of the people with all the money. This is incorrect. The upper class in America are the people who successfully inherited their money via a particular folkway. Most people who made their own money are upper middle class people, with upper middle class values, upper middle class lifestyles and upper middle class neuroses. If they're lucky and raised their children properly, their grandkids will be genuine members of the upper class, but very often, they won't be.  Some upper class people in America are fairly rich, but I strongly suspect most of the big money is in the upper middle class. Some upper class people have decidedly small checkbooks.

The upper class in America are the people who used to be in the society page of the newspaper. One of the great tragedies of American history was how this class mildly stepped aside as the ruling class, and handed it over to the "modern" cretins in the upper middle classes. They're still the upper class and distinct from the lower orders, but they mostly seem content to fiddle while Rome burns. They do well in the markets; why should they worry? They no longer make taste for the lower classes as they did in the past, and they  don't lead in any obvious way. They do understand things, as they are the embodiment of historical continuity, and so there may be some hope for them yet. One of the defining characteristics of the upper class in America is what I like to call the "agon." It's what Nelson Aldritch (a genuine member of the upper class) describes in his own way as "the three ordeals." If you're a young member of the upper class in America, you will not necessarily inherit the family fortune as a matter of course. Well, you might, but you might not inherit the status that goes with it. Things are expected of you. You're expected to attend a good school. You're expected to do dangerous things, particularly if you're a man. Acceptable ordeals of danger: sports, aviation, spying, sailing, dressage, Teddy Rooseveltian outdoors and military antics. You're also expected to contribute something to society; charity work, funding the arts, teaching kids, publishing ventures. These ordeals of the upper class are what tames them, and makes them a positive social good in America. In a sense, they earn their money by developing real virtues. Development of human character is what makes the upper class admirable, rather than Caligulesque monsters. Oh, sometimes they do manage to be bad people, but their ordeals are a moderating force on their excesses. Really, the upper class is America's aristocracy. In fact, we often find they're related to actual nobility. I posit that the dispossession, demoralization and decadence of this nobility is the core cultural fracture which ruined the United States in the middle 20th century.

How to be or suck up to upper class people:

1) Choose your parents wisely. Best way to be upper class is to be born into it. If not, it helps if you are a WASP, Scottsman or German. If you're pretty much anything else, resign yourself to the upper middle class who often have more money anyway. Also, if you're not a WASP, kraut or kiltie-boy, you can score lots of points by providing ethnic comic relief with upper class people. Ham up your ethnicity; they like that. If you're Italian, play the spaghetti chomping wop. If you're Irish, you're a drunk. If you're a Jew, you're tight with a dollar and can't eat cheeseburgers. If you're Chinese, you are good at math and can't drive. Black people dance well and are good at sports. This is one of the more endearing aspects of the upper class, in my experience. They are as earthy and fun loving as a decent member of the working classes.

2) Play football in school. It is more important than academic success. If you can't play football, play an olympic sport. These sports are admired by all, and there are enough olympic events like bobsledding that many can participate. These sports will open many doors in what is left of polite society. Everything else; baseball, hockey, soccer, basketball, boxing, is lower class. Learning a sport will teach you valuable skills, like how to be domineering towards your peers who are not on the team. Most people learn their life habits in high school; be the "big man on campus" and you will be through out life.

3) Go to an Ivy League school. Do what you need to do to get in. If you can't go to a first rank school, go to a second rank private school, like Fordham or Dartmouth: it is actually more classy these days.

4) Don't study too hard; it is declasse. You should get a legal (Business law) or business degree suited towards ordering others around. Math is for working class underlings.

5) Marry a social climber. Do not marry a narcissistic nitwit, political activist, smart girl, professional or a looney. Marry someone who cares about making a good impression and caring for the children. Barring that, marry someone who comes from the upper classes. If you can't pull off either one, a supportive immigrant will do nicely.

6) Wear a nice tie.

7) Hobbies: golf, conservationism, being an obscure newspaper reporter or schoolteacher, politics, yachting, being a drunkard.

8) Military service: Marines or Navy; officer of course.

9) Politics: hard right, or soft left, depending how long your family has been rich.

10) Habitat: exclusive country clubs, exclusive resorts, yacht clubs, their compounds and ranches, exclusive places you will never see and have never heard of.

Example upper class people: Richard Mellon Scaife, George H.W. Bush, Taki Theodoracopulos, Teddy Roosevelt. Most of the modern upper class are out of sight of mere mortals, and it's rare the media gives any attention to the nobility, so you've never heard of most of them.

Being upper class is no longer cool. It's really all about being upper-middle class these days. Most people would be hard pressed to even name a member of the authentic upper class; this is because the media despises them. The ones we do hear about ape upper middle class folkways. I'd like to see the authentic upper class, virtuous or not, standing up for their birthright. We're not going to get any help from the upper middle class: they're the enemy. I have no idea how to convince the upper class to remember their sense of duty to the country which gave them so much, but until that happens, we're pretty much doomed. I'm not done yet: some concluding remarks on what to make of all this will be posted next week.