Monday, October 05, 2009

Middle class ideology

One of the interesting things that Marx insisted on, particularly in his earlier writings that are more explicitly libertarian, was that bourgeois or middle class life was not devoid of ideology even though it was liberal. This is very significant because the liberalism of Marx's day was based on classical liberal ideas closer to today's right wing libertarianism and claimed that there wasn't any sort of ideology attached to it. Liberalism as it's used today was not what Marx and company were referring to. Liberalism back then took off right from Locke and claimed that it was against statism, against traditional ways of social organization and for freedom of labor and of trade.

But in opposing an old order the middle class liberals formed an ideology of their own. Where the conservative order supported inherited social status, the liberals believed that people should come into whatever they have through hard work. Where the aristocracy was seen as decadent, the middle class defined itself as more balanced and realistic, more personally responsible in their actions. The arts went in for similar treatment. In opposing state sponsored companies like those connected to imperialistic policies by great European powers they supported the right of people to become small business owners, as well as associating virtue with the process. Labor wasn't seen as oppressed but as liberated by the introduction of competition. In religion they favored non-comformist sects in England, that dispensed with the high church model that was too close to Catholicism, favoring things like the Congregational church and Presbyterianism. Salvation, like work, became individual. So an ostensibly non-ideological libertarianism gave birth to a set of morals and attitudes of its own, that is with us still today.

Now most of those attitudes are identified with conservatism if they're explicitly stated and advocated for, but as an undercurrent they exist in middle class communities everywhere. So what's the point? The point is that there are no social groups without some ideological interest attached to them. Ideology and society reinforce one another and the choice isn't whether or not you belief in an ideology so much as which ideology you believe in and whether or not you explicitly realize that this is what you do believe in.

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