This is the idea that if you belong to a certain social class (e.g. Stalin’s “Kulaks,” Mao’s “rich peasants”) you are by definition an exploiter of the proletariat and thus intrinsically evil. Class enemies were “outlaws” in the original sense. That is they were outside society’s protection. No law protected them and they could be killed and their property seized by anyone.
An unfortunate example of this syndrome ran in last week’s Kansas City Star in the form of an “As I see It” column. Written by Jim Haas of Olathe, a retired history teacher, principal, and graduate degree director, it was a slam on Downton Abbey, the PBS prime time soap opera set in an English country house 90-plus years ago. The title of the piece was; “Downton Abbey: A Republican Dream.”
Mr. Haas argues that the show’s depiction of an aristocratic family living in close proximity to its servants and dependents is a call for a return to a feudal oligarchy, which it shamelessly romanticizes. Haas would have us believe that this sort of exercise in reactionary nostalgia is not only offensive but dangerous. It serves to undermine democracy and justify evildoers like Governor Sam Brownback and his conservative Kansas legislature!
Never mind that Downton’s protagonist, Earl Grantham, is shown again and again to be wrong in resisting social change. Never mind that the working class servants are shown to be wise and resilient in ways their supposed social betters would do well to learn from. Never mind that its lessons of honor, duty, and loyalty apply to all its characters, regardless of where they are in the social hierarchy.
The real crime, in the eyes of Mr. Haas, is that the upper class characters have any redeeming qualities. If a member of the landed aristocracy is shown to be a gentleman (noxious term!) “courteous, generous, and considerate,” who knows what’s next? Why, we might even be forced to concede that Charles and David Koch are members of the human race!
To the extent the series has a political message; it’s a simple one, i.e., “We’re all in this boat together.”
It’s better if we recognize this, respect each others’ contributions, and try to work together as a society. Demonizing people of a different social class as members of that class may seem like good politics (Sam Brownback of Parker, Kansas as a member of the nobility? Whatever!), but like all attempts to play on people’s fears and resentments, it has a way of turning on you.
As a student of history (e.g., the French and Russian Revolutions), Mr. Haas should know better.