A classic of British empire history, nearly fifty years old and still eminently readable and valuable as a contribution to the study of an idea with global clout. The Imperial Idea is complex, with a loose chronological narrative tying together a series of analytic and interpretative sections on the defence and opposition to Empire. Thornton’s book is sometimes frustratingly tangential, straying frequently away from the central preoccupations suggested by its title.  Power, as a concrete expression of police and armies, capital and law, class and bureaucracy, is elusive and not an end of the study in itself: consuls and armoured cars certainly appear, and his chapter on nationalism and the racism and discrimination is certainly enlightening, but what the reader will not find is a study of policing and military administration, as in Anthony Clayton’s or David M. Anderson’s work, nor much on the mechanisms and men who governed in Africa or India, nor any appreciable analysis of the financial and commercial sinews of empire found in Hutton and Davis’ Mammon and the Pursuit of Empire, or a thousand other deeply researched and heavily footnoted monographs. Perhaps it is the slipperiness of the subject: “imperialism has suffered from a working definition,” something that Thorton is obviously trying to rectify by studying the ideas of the imperialists and their opponents.  His focus on a coterie of important men is necessary because imperialism’s “translation into practice” demands “a political expertise that must be looked for amongst the few.” (264) Certainly many will disagree, and a great deal of excellent scholarship has been written about those ‘on the ground’ as it were and how they saw their duty, from Sarawak to Ghana.

Palestine Mandate, 1920, British Locomotive

Thorton’s book is instead much more of a history of ideas, ideology and political culture, one of the best I’ve read, that uses the conflicting discourses[1] of imperialism to get unfold its central tensions and ‘iron’ certainties.  Thorton thankfully writes fluidly and engagingly, a man so thoroughly familiar with the debates, sources and personalities that he rarely indulges in footnotes.  And like other great synthesising historians from the same period like Hobsbawm or Thompson, the editorial and polemical voice is never far.  Thorton can present the ideas, intimately and sympathetically, of a Milner or Churchill as if he himself holds them, and then by the next paragraph pull the curtain back on their venality, brutality or hypocrisy.  Careful reading is often necessary, as it can be easy for the unwary, as I was when I first read this book two years ago, to confuse Thorton with his subjects of study. The chapters on ‘The Imperial Idea at its Zenith’ and the two very loosely organised around the impact of the Boer and Great Wars are solid and probably some of the best condensed analysis of high-politics imperialism; Viscount Milner is the only major figure of stature who emerges unscathed, a man who seems to have genuinely felt that the Empire was a redeeming institution and worked to that end.  These chapters don’t reveal anything particularly new other than in the lightly incredulous treatment of bluster and hyperbole combined with high ideals.

Thornton’s treatment of British power in retreat are the strongest chapters.  He, for instance, identifies quite clearly the need of imperialism to “preserve its own moral content, its imaginative range, or its grip on the imaginations of its subjects,” wary of ever having the curtain pulled aside and the illusion shattered.  Imagination and emotion were necessary for imperialism to justify itself: “justification was therefore a term used emotionally.  The moment an imperialist began to use it rationally, he could not but see himself – in his private moments at least – as his enemies had always seen him: as a cynical power-grabber who would make use of any humanitarian or sentimental argument that happened to suit him at the time.” (213) Hence why emotional nationalism, either English or of the colonised, had less problem with emotional imperialism, with cricket or army barracks: it was the manipulative power behind the charade, profiting off empire while professing sacrifice.  The problem was that, aside from Milner and a few other prominent imperialists, imperial power, despite its imaginative appeal, had no real imagination.  It was run as a technocracy, of sorts, an administrative dictatorship that confirmed “there must always be a group of experts – the distributors, the co-ordinators, the trainers” running the show. The natives could not be trusted to run their own affairs, after all, nor would they be allowed.  The Radical and Liberal supporters who looked to the empire as a bastion of civilisation and education were uncomfortable with “the government of one people by another” (265) and had trouble reconciling the implications of their own enthusiasms, especially when it was  men from professions and classes often politically associated with Liberalism who ended up becoming those distributors, trainers and co-ordinators.

The penultimate chapter on democracy is unsettling for this reason, and contains a great deal of sometimes well-earned jabs at the opponents of Empire. What worried the opponents of empire was “the reckless inculcation by the imperialists of an unthinking jingoism – the lust of the spectator – in the masses” and how “dangerous it was to beat on a big drum.”  They feared their own populism because so much of what was ‘popular’ seemed so repellent and conservative.[2] This is analogous in the Empire: they feared the colonial peoples even while they claimed to work in their name.  A little of this discomfort is actually on display in Orwell’s Burmese Days, in which the Burmese and the Empire compete equally for Eric Blair’s loathing. The Radical critique of empire was never a critique of empire, but instead a call to recognise that “the British people…[were] the largest race that imperialism had cognizance of,” and their oppression, misery and mal-education needed to be cured as readily as that of Central Africans or Fijians.  (269)  Again and again, an uncomfortable parallel is obvious in The Imperial Idea between imperialists and Radicals, who both pushed for schemes of human betterment; indeed, the irony should not be lost that, “even by the 1930s, when the leading imperialists were generally held by public opinion to be ‘Die-Hard and reactionary to the bones, it was still amongst their group that the most far-reaching ideals of human progress, as conceived by Conservatives, were to be found.” (270) Colonial administration looks all the more ‘apolitical’, like any good technocracy, when conceived in this way, a system designed and organised for human betterment that has little time and enthusiasm for the humans it aims to better; the difference being in the British empire paternalism reduced colonial subjects to children instead of numbers.

Continue Reading »

Tariq Tell, “Guns, Gold, and Grain: War and Food Supply in the Making of Transjordan,” in War, Institutions, and Social Change in the Middle East, ed. Steven Heydemann (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000)

A train in the Hijaz, 1905.

States grow through war, are indeed designed for war, and it is usual, in studying the history of the formation of states in Europe and Asia in the early modern era, to focus on the act of warfare and its links to the growth in taxation, bureaucracy, markets and even citizenship and nationalism.  So what happens when a state is built by actively attacking and challenging the very processes that are supposed to be tied to a strengthening, centralised state?  This is the subject of Tariq Tell’s essay on the origins of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, or Transjordan as it was called between the world wars.

Tell attempts to move beyond the narrow historiographies of Hashemite propaganda of a patriotic people’s war rallied behind the sharif of Mecca, and the Arab nationalist counter-argument that Hussein’s revolt was a narrow, reactionary affair, the Bedouin tribes fighting for gold and not for a wider Arabist ideal.   Instead, “it is precisely the social and economic conditions of war, local strategies, and material incentives, rather than the high politics of British treachery and Hashemite ambition, that hold center stage” in his narrative, focussed upon the way in which food supply “shaped patterns of participation.” Where the Turks controlled adequate supplies of food or the markets, “tribal leaders displayed a greater reluctance to join forces with the anti-Ottoman campaign of Sharif Hussein.” Only good harvests or material success in capturing those points of supply ensured widespread tribal backing for the Arab Revolt.

Tell lays the success of the revolt on “the inhabitants of the province, whether townspeople or Bedouin…united in their hostility to the centralizing bent of Ottoman reform.” Ottoman rule was extended into the Transjordan between 1851 and 1893 by forts and outposts, reinforced by loyal settlers from the Caucasus, Circassians and Turcomen implanted along the frontier.  These settlements became centres for Arab merchants and professionals, who turned a former Circassian village, Amman (the current capital!) into a market town.  Grain farming increased due to booming prices, while the collection of taxes “created excess demand for liquidity and, therefore, an opportunity for merchants to accumulate capital through money lending.”  From the 1880’s onward, land transfers increased as communal Bedouin pastures were bought by settlers, merchants, moneylenders and bureaucrats, who, along with some Bedouin shayks, imported Palestinian and Egyptian sharecroppers; the surplus of this expansion of farming helped to solidify a new local elite.  What, in some anthropologies of the Middle Eastern state, is called a ‘dual system’ of settled agriculture alongside nomadic husbandry, developed uneasily, with frequent raids and revolts well into the 1890s.

Tell stresses that Transjordan was an unlikely place for Arabist ideology to develop, as it was relatively backwards, a frontier where the state was actually seen as being ‘progressive’ or at least superior to the alternative.  But both the Bedouins and the Sherif of Mecca feared the centralising efforts of the Ottomans, especially the expansion of the railway, which curbed their significant autonomy. Tell notes, for instance, that Hussein’s call to revolt “appealed to educated Hijazi opinion in traditional rather than Arabist terms…and the articles and editorials of his mouthpiece Al-Qibla, accused the “atheistic” CUP [Commitee of Union and Progress, ruling party of the Ottoman Empire] of tampering with the Islamic legitimacy of the Ottoman state and called for the preservation of the ancient privileges of the Hijaz.”  The fighting forces assembled by the Hashemites in 1916 and after were mostly, almost entirely Bedouin or Arab tribesmen: few deserters from the Arab officers or ranks of the Ottoman army played much of a role in Hussein’s forces, except in training and administration.  The centrality of Bedouins and Arab nomads “stamped the Arab Movement with a tribal character. This ensured that whatever the motives of its instigators, the form and content of the Arab Revolt reproduced traditional patterns of political change in the rural hinterlands of the Middle East.”

Continue Reading »

Glory be to the Kyrgyz people, who did what I admit fully I would be far too chicken to actually do:  take on their corrupt government, fight the riot police and army in the streets, take over the armouries and ram the Presidential Palace with an armoured carrier, seize the means of communication, including state television, proclaim a revolutionary government and chase the hated president into hiding, bringing the armed forces to your side.  That is a brilliant heroism, paid for with a steep price in dead and wounded, especially after the Kyrgyz police opened fire with live rounds  in the capital, Bishkek.  Western commentary is predictably rather worried about the US military presence in the country, including a detailed article in Business Week that repeats twice that the US airbase is safe and unharrassed, and then relieved that the interim leader has “adopted Western mores,” whereas only a day later Time is rather distraught that “it seems clear now that Kyrgyzstan will quickly return to Moscow’s sphere of influence after months of strained relations with Russia, making the U.S. military presence in the country all the more precarious.”  Unsurprisingly, almost all the papers in the US, and it seems in Canada, are running with this story as a case of Russian resurgence or troublesome Kyrgyz, but beneath the rather pedantic and typical quivering boilerplate is a dramatic story that has become quickly elided.  A piece in Eurasia Insight traces the origins of the successful revolt to arrests of opposition leaders after disorders in Talas, the exclusion of northerners from the Kurultai, and economic sanctions from Moscow that raised the price of gasoline.  A massive hike in utilities seems to have been the final catalyst, hitting the urban workers, immigrants from the countryside, especially hard. The eXiled has, at yet, nothing to tell me about it, a shame because these kinds of events are often their speciality.  And we have seen the rise, according to this site, of the Fanny Pack Revolution:

Bakiyev’s fall marks  the first time this has occurred to leader elected during the journalist-named ‘colour revolution’s in the former Soviet Union, in his case the Tulip: the Rose brought Saakashvili in Georgia to power, and the Orange brought Yushchenko to the presidency in Ukraine.  In all three cases, they were not revolutions in the sense that this week’s events in Kyrgyzstan are: they all occurred during contested elections between an incumbent seen as being pro-Russian and using fraud to rig the vote in their favour, the response being small but well-organised protests, marches, sit-ins, some strikes in the Ukraine but all part of a protracted election and inter-elite bickering, a bit like the 2000 recounts in Florida if people had went out in the streets for a week for Gore.  Dramatic events, surely, for all involved, but the ‘colour revolution’ were also lauded, exalted and fellated in the Western press, NGOs and politicians (I recall some particularly adulatory articles from Maclean’s at the time) as if these electoral struggles were a kind of liberal democratic second coming, freedom finally here, universal human rights and American-style politics triumphant, the overthrow of evil kleptocratic ex-Soviet anti-democratic Russian bootlickers finally at hand!

Not, of course, that popular revolt wasn’t in the streets, or that the governments unseated by the ‘colour revolutions’ weren’t unpleasantly corrupt, but to advocate that they were only grassroots events involves “steadfastly refusing to acknowledge the extent to which today’s velvet revolutions have fallen increasingly prey to manipulation by ruling class and imperialist interests,” as Dragan Plavsic has it; Mark MacKinnon’s book on The New Cold War might also be worth reading along these lines.  The sequel to the ‘manufactured’ revolutions aren’t exactly encouraging, either: Saakashvili turns out to be little better than his predecessor, starting a war with Russia, cracking down savagely on protestors and the opposition in general, his popularity slipping fast.  Yushchenko turned out to be an ugly character when in office, dissolving the Rada twice and bitterly battling in the dirtiest political way, kicking out former supporters, his popularity slipping fast.  Bakiyev doesn’t appear to have been much better, and he followed the ‘colour revolution’ pattern of also advocating and pushing through neo-liberal structural adjustment and privatisation; the opposition had, as one of its first aims, the return of some companies to state control. The movements that brought them men to power obviously believed deeply in real democracy, and practised it in the streets, but what they got was, it seems, another aspect of real democracy: out with the old, in with the new, more of the same.

About those Christian militia guys who got arrested in the States.  One of them is a real Surrealist, it seems, and surely is prove enough that Surrealism and its bastard child of absurdist comedy has infiltrated the consciousness of even those one who one who least suspect of it:

But Sickles, who in those videos identified himself as a member of the Ohio Militia, may also have a lighter side. The accused plotter looks to have starred in a deeply Not Safe For Work movie, filled with cursing, mock violence, pot jokes, and sound effects conveying flatulence. Sickles appears entirely naked but for a mask of President George W. Bush that obscures some, but not all, of his genitalia.

In the film, Sickles’s chubby, tattooed character finds himself attacked by an enormous creature which appears to be half man, half duck. “Scar my tattered body no more with your punishing dildo mallet,” Sickles exclaims at one particularly dramatic moment.

The Freudians should have a field day with this as well:  Christian anti-federalist militias as projections of deep sexual anxiety about dildos, duck-rape and skull-fucking George W. Bush.

Link:     http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/04/scar_my_tattered_body_no_more_with_your_punishing.php


Garbage Warrior: Michael Reynolds is an interesting film, in so far as it shows the brilliance and hubris of the environmenalist movement.  Its a heroic film, a triumphant and edifying biopic of a man elevated as a radical, a visionary and a dreamer.  Reynolds has spent thirty years as a architect and builder constructing earth ships, which are defined on the movie’s website as such:

n. 1. passive solar home made of natural and recycled materials 2. thermal mass construction for temperature stabilization. 3. renewable energy & integrated water systems make the Earthship an off-grid home with little to no utility bills.

He builds homes out of garbage: bottles, cans, tires, used pipe and scrap metal, packed with earth, covered in plaster and designed as almost fully autonomous, many with farms and greenhouses included as basic features of the architecture.  They are indeed brilliant pieces of architecture, relatively inexpensive to build if almost always illegal under most zoning laws (as one of the lawmakers who tries to help Reynolds candidly states (paraphrasing): ‘they [New Mexico state legislature] won’t upset the utilities, they don’t want people off the grid.’  Most of the film focuses on Reynolds and his ‘crew,’ a group of likeminded men and women trained to assemble earthships and disciples of Reynolds, and their long project to construct a community outside of Taos, New Mexico that heats itself, feeds itself, collects its own rain water and requires no outside aid.  As it is relatively easy to find information about earthships online, there won’t be much about them in this review.   The movie, after all, dwells as much on Reynold’s political battles, the slow bureacratic sapping of his bold experiments in new sustainable communities, and the repeated defeat of the laws he attempted to have introduced.  We get lots of shots of how the houses are built, and even some discussion of the basic principles behind much of their design, though not enough for my taste.

Reynolds is an affable man, likable and charming in the film, and the loyalty he inspires in his ‘crew’ is evident.  His scorn for the way in which politics  is pursued in legislatures, as  a game, as tortuous nitpicking, is something many of us, on the left as elsewhere share, and it is all to evident from his time in the New Mexico legislature just how stultifying, old and status quo conservative much of its members are; if there is any surer demonstration of one of the many reasons why so many are dissatisfied with politics, than the legalistic bureaucracy and gerontocracy of our democratic institutions, and the active way in which they discourage layman from participating through those elements on display is interesting on its own.   Reynolds is clearly convinced that change in the way we build and live is necessary yesterday, and his energy and ambition are incredible, as is the reach of his projects: his crew goes to Mexico after hurricane Rita and the Andaman Islands to help rebuild after the 2004 tsunami, and there finds a society more than willing to adapt his ideas and teach engineers on the spot how to build these homes (which are admittedly cheaper and sturdier than many other kinds that could be used) is impressive and interesting, and to many probably hopeful as well.  I did notice that he had an almost ‘Shock Doctrine’ analysis of disasters, that getting earthsips built will only happen after disasters, though he is no way hoping for them; somehow, it might have been possible, or at least easier, in the Andaman Islands before the tsunami to have built his earthships, whereas his struggles with the law and subdivision zoning in New Mexico demonstrates how deeply the  housing industry has infiltrated all building in America (and Canada, where it turns out the identicalness of homes is a direct result of zoning laws).

So, on one hand, deep sympathy and admiration for what Reynolds is attempting to do, and the construction of earthships in the Andaman Islands forestalled at least in part one of the easiest criticisms to lay against Reynolds: that his homes are impractical for those parts of the world where space is still at a premium and poverty and overpopulation is widespread.  The homes he builds in the Andamans are eagerly adapted by locals, impressed by their ease and efficiency, and the film avoids the whole ‘white guys teaching brown guys what to do’ angle that sometimes infiltrates unexpectedly into such films.  Still, this movie brings back a conversation with an anarcho-syndicalist friend I had a few nights ago about some of the conceptual problems of environmentalists.  Impassioned, highly skilled, putting their ideas into action, that is much more than many leftists, whether anarchist or socialist or what have you, can say they do.  And Reynolds solution to the challenge of global warming is impressive: a wholescale reappraisal of how we live, a shift to more self-reliance and agricultural handicraft.  Indeed, there is some lineage to these projects, and Reynolds is in some way a modern day Victor Prosper Considerant, building his  Fourierist utopian communes in the wilds of Texas to escape the horrors of capitalism and build a new, better society.  218826679_6073c2d06a

But there is almost no mechanism for explaining how and why these original changes took place.  It is clear that he views cities with some distate, claiming that they are crumbling and crime-ridden, without figuring out why cities are like that, including the collapse of funding, money and the flight of wealthier whites and professional minorities out of inner cities: cities are not inherently hellholes, as Reynolds and many environmentalists seem to think.  Freedom, individualism, self-sustainibility in doing whatever you want, are touted again and again, being off the grid, a rejection of industrial urban civilization; it reeks of frontier American utopianism, again, the cult of the heroic rugged mountain man mixed with communing with nature.     And yet they all use drills and equipment made by those urban working classes and industrial cities, and they all drive massive trucks and build communities that look exactly like the old unsustainable suburbs that sprawl outside all major and minor North American (and many European, and Australasian, and now even Asian cities).   They benefit from the enormous surplus of unclaimed and undeveloped land in New Mexico, claimed in part through the death and forced settlement of the aboriginal tribes (Reynolds hates that he was required by law to allow archeologists had to scour his subdivision for, and found, arrow heads) so as to enjoy the mountains in their backyard and 10 hectares of property, and advocating unreasonably the same for the rest of the world; indeed, there is little consideration that people might like living in cities, or of adopting his techniques to cities.  Instead, we have a modification of the ruralist dream of late capitalism mixed with the science fiction of the dispersed population in Simak or Stapledon, of every man an island in the wilderness, self-sustaining aside from the tools, fuel and vehicles needed to live in a civilization, provided from somewhere ‘else’.  As I said, there is a certain universalising tendency here, one both wondrous and full of hubris, often typical of some strains of American (and not just) political thought.

On the other hand, there is an explicit and radical challenge to late capitalism, what I like to call asphalt capitalism, a rejection of consumerism and civilization geared for overconsumption, a conviction that anybody can do and use their technology, and save money at it, without the heavy cynicism I have on display here.   On the other hand, these criticisms are frequently very muddled, and in many ways his dream and that of those who buy his homes is one of: more of the same, only greener.  Reynolds is still a business man, but his own settlement schemes involved blind lotteries and equal distrubition of property.  He repeatedly affirms he is not a hippy, though he looks like a bearded French utopian socialist.  Though forced to water down his language for the law he attempts to get passed, from a near messianic insistency on his homes being the only solution, the need for its revelation and clear contempt for the tardy status quo, in many ways it seems he wouldn’t need to, because he repeatedly affirms that his plan is safe and comfortable for everyone.   The worst thing to happen to Reynolds though, would be for his schemes to fail, be commodified by people less moral and committed than him, or to be consigned, like the Owenite and Fourierist communes before hand, to isolation, ignored and surrounded and then destroyed from within or from without, by a civilization that ultimately doesn’t care and can’t abide his sustainable housing system. Nonetheless, a well shot film, generally not too hagiographic or swooning, and at the very least a clear vision of a man with the knowlegde and expertise to prepare for what may well be a very bleak future.

Heard a strange little show on the CBC today, on Family Day, our lovely government mandated holiday round this province wherein we get to take a day off and not spend time our families in lew of drinking and such like. Rewind, hosted by CBC regular Michael Enright which repeats old shows from the CBC archives, had a special for the day, on the definition of the family from the 1940’s until today. A rich part in the beginning: Mr. Enright affirming with all seriousness that the CBC once was dominated by politicians, pundits, intellectuals and stars, but no longer; the misses quipped rightly ‘sure, now they have call in show occasionally.’ Then the segments, all of them interesting for the particular attempts to deal with the changing role of the fathers, the freedom of teenagers and woman’s place in the home and workplace. The first dealt with….well, with not much at all, just interviewing a couple about the possibilities of post-war prosperity in 1945, but the way in which the CBC framed their interview is a telling sign of how much ‘the middle class’ was a construction even then. The CBC opined that this small shopkeeper, who runs a shop out of the front of his house and makes (in 1945 dollars) $2000, is part of the largest social group in Canada, the middle class, and is a part of that great prosperity that so distinguishes Canada. The actual shopkeeper and his wife seem less certain, but eagerly agree that they are just like everyone else, privileged, wealthy, happy, bourgeois. They are the backbone of society.

It has long been an argument, voiced as much in Barthes and Sontag as in any classic or canonical Marxist text, that the bourgeoisie assumes universalism, assumes that its mode of life, aesthetic sense, cultural mores and political beliefs are universal and shared by all; actually, this is more likely a liberal bourgeoisie attitude, because I can’t imagine the conservative or monarchist financiers of Paris arguing they ever had much in common with the shopkeepers. That the majority of the CBC’s reporters now, as then, are bourgeois, upper middle class, educated, professional, travelled and mostly intelligent, should be a given. That they impose their own sense of what is right about politics, war, society, the economy, on what they report, without doing so actively or even in some cases realizing it, and assume that their listeners all hold stocks, think politics is about soundbites and image, care about the Dalai Lhama and the employer’s eye view of the world, is not as popular an explanation. It makes more sense, I think, though it would need to be sketched out much more, than the Chomsky thesis from Manufacturing Consent (I suspect his later works are better than this), that all media is bought out and controlled by governments and corporations; I’d argue that plenty of reporters for a figurehead of the liberal, business establishment like the CBC don’t need to be bribed to follow the narrative of the War on Terror or fret over employer’s and their problems, because they genuinely assume those issues are of universal concern and are approached in the same way by all Canadians. It isn’t an agenda, it’s just being upper-middle class professional reporters. Now, this analysis can and should be more complete, and far be it from me to discount the fact that their political editorial lines at Canwest or the CBC, or that many reporters are deeply moral people who care actively about reporting injustice and corruption;  but try telling me when they ramble on about stocks in the business reports that that isn’t for a specific, privileged demographic who actually has an extensive portfolio they manage themselves.

Back to the 1945 middle class. The concept of the middle class is ideological, a product of a universalising assumption and tendency integral to the bourgeois. That there is a middle class is beyond question, of course, and its existence can be objectively proven, as much as possible, through census data on incomes, mobility, jobs and such. But far more people, just like those shopkeepers in 1945, belief they are middle class than is actually demonstrable by any census data. This may very well be an artifact of the post-war world, the result of a prosperity that allowed even millworkers like my dad to afford a big house, televisions and two cars, and that continues to inform many of our assumptions to this day, that owning a computer, an iPod or a car is a symbol of being ‘one of us,’ that universal middle class. The inscription of objects with class values has a long and storied history of its own, from sabots and sans culottes to peaked caps or tails to denim and bow ties, so it isn’t really a surprise that it still occurs to this day. But it is a confused identification, for the costs of those items have gone done, most obviously in the cases of appliances and electronics, and because so much of our culture is popular, and denim is no longer a class signifier.  It is a confusion that leads Labour governments in Britain to argue ‘we are all Middle Class now’ even if such uniformity is bought by cheap tricks on censuses and the manipulation of poverty measurements, so that the lower you go, the more middle you are (and this just isn’t in stats and figures, I remember reading an article in the Guardian by Polly Toynbee in which City bankers were certain an employee would ‘only’ need 20,000 pounds a year to live, which is below the official poverty line). And even if Canada is more egalitarian and less class conscious and allows for more ‘upwards mobility’ than Britain, or even ‘egalite, liberte, fraternite’ France, or the United States, that a universal middle class does not make.

That the project to make a middle class is so old did surprise me, as ten years earlier in 1935 it was quite clear there was something called a working class, which made up a good percentage of the population; ten years and one depression and one world war later, we are all middle class. The shopkeeper, the miner, the lumberjack and steel worker and textile worker and professor and doctor, all middle class, all friends, the bedrock of our democracy. That was what the CBC said in 1945, telling the petty shopkeeper he is now a member of the good class, it does the same now, in 2009. There are some potent democraticising elements there, especially when compared to the fierceness that Tories, capitalists and the Church clung and endorsed hierarchy and aristocracy even today, and rail against popular culture, that is to say working class culture, of a sort, which has triumphed against all odds over its more rarified but universaling bourgeois antecedents; indeed, popular culture now makes those same claims, that it is represented by all, and counter culture and subcultures are placed in the position of railing against their own forebearers.  There is something very nice that my father is no longer as openly snubbed by doctors and teachers, even as they both behind each others back mutter curses.