The Unintended Effects of Middle-Class-Ification

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

In The Unheavenly City Revisited (1974), Edward Banfield discusses the “race” riots of the 1960s, and he makes the point that the lower classes were no longer tied to the institutions that used to restrain them:

Racial discrimination, although obviously a factor, is not the main thing that cuts them off from these institutions; rather, what cuts them off is the changes that have occurred in the nature of the institutions because of the “middle-class-ification” of the population in this country.

In the last century, for example, the volunteer fire company gave boys and young men of the lower classes opportunities to express high spirits under conditions that were to some degree controlled: the firemen fought each other, usually for the ‘honor” of their companies. Today, of course, fire departments are run on a professional basis and are open only to mature men who have placed well in an examination.

More or less the same thing has happened in politics. Not so long ago party machines labored to establish claims on even the lowest of the low; the trading of jobs and favors in return for loyalty tended to create some sort of bond between the individual and the government. Now that the machine, precinct captain, and corner saloon have been replaced by the welfare bureaucracy, the nonpartisan election, and the candidate who makes his appeal on television, the lower classes no longer participate in politics and are therefore no longer held by any of the old ties.

Even in criminal activities there has been the same trend. Like fire-fighting and politics, the money-making kinds of crime (as opposed to “kid stuff”) are organized in such a way as to exclude — and therefore to exert no discipline up — the irresponsible and incapable.


  1. TGGP says:

    Fred McChesney has a different take on the volunteer firefighters of the past (and present).

  2. Isegoria says:

    I’m not so sure that McChesney disagrees with Banfield.

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