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On Vanished Elites

“The conversation of these titled aristocrats, – most of them educated at Oxford and Cambridge, cultivated by foreign travel, and versed in the literature of the day – though full of prejudices, was generally interesting; while their manners, though cold and haughty, were easy, polished, courteous and dignified.  it is true, most of them would swear, and get drunk at their banquets; but their profainity was conventional rather than blasphemous, and they seldom got drunk till late in the evening, and then on wines older than their children, from the most famous vinyards of Europe. During the day, they were able to attend to business, if they had any, and seldom drank anything stronger than ale or beer. Their breakfasts were light and their lunches simple. Living much in the open air and fond of the pleasures of the chase, they were generally healthy and robust. The prevailing disease which crippled them was gout; but this was owing to champagne or burgundy rather than brandy and turtle soups, for at that time, No Englishman of rank dreamed that he could dine without wine. William Pitt, it is said, found less than three bottle insufficient for his dinner, when he ha been working hard.                                                            

 – Dr. John Lord, Beacon Lights of History, vol. V.  1885.  P. 231-232.

I’m fairly certain that the elite of today’s global hegemonic power are not going to come off nearly as well at the hands of historians writing in 2078 as did the Hanoverian aristocracy and gentry of the British Empire did at the hands of the Victorian era scholar.

5 Responses to “On Vanished Elites”

  1. Seerov Says:

    I think the subject of the elites should be discussed more.  One of the first articles I read at this site was your writings on the American elite.  What bothers me regarding today’s elite is their allegiances?  How do we trust a "transnational" elite?  Whose interests do they serve? 

  2. Lexington Green Says:

    Plus, they knew how to fight.
    Also, they were fairly open, as elites go.  You could work your way in, though social acceptablity took an extra generation. 
    I am not sure the ever-growing credentialism of today is not more exclusive and excluding than the social ranking of Victorian Britain. 

  3. zen Says:

    William Pitt certainly knew how to fight ( incidentally, an enobled commoner as 1st Earl of Chatham and a viscount) as did the Duke of Wellington. The old aristocracy of Great Britain was long the most exclusive in the world and essentially government of the empire and landholding at home was long in the possession of about 700 families ( broadly defined to include close cousin gentry). Outside of the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons, continental nobility did not measure up in British eyes.
    Today’s elite have no allegience, they’re not a class but a heterogenous group united by common educational path , careerism, avarice and social outlook. I have to wonder if guys like McGeorge Bundy who were the last of the old Eastern Establishment cringe when they look at their postmodern successors

  4. Lexington Green Says:

    "I have to wonder if guys like McGeorge Bundy … cringe …"
    George Kennan certainly did.
    Yes, 700 families.  But they were smart enough to make room for someone like Alfred Milner or James Bryce or various inventors and businessmen and lawyers (Asquith, Carson), and Navy and Army guys.   They were snobs about it.  But they did not squash these guys, they gave them the chance to make it big, and to have a say in the government.   It was a remarkable balance, and it worked well for them for a long time.

  5. zen Says:

    The British are ( or were) pragmatists. Their exclusive system was more elastic than met the eye – it stretched at need rather than tying itself into knots.
    Kennan sure did! Been mean to read his Cragged Hill book for some time now. Read his memoirs and Russia and the West years ago.

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