Russell Taylor: Getting snobbery right

In early 1990, I remember listening to a radio show featuring several writers and pundits looking back at the Eighties and making predictions for the coming decade. Being the BBC, they were all drearily earnest lefties, and they all agreed that we had just emerged from an era of selfishness and moral turpitude, and were witnessing the dawn of a caring, sharing, collectivist age.

Their wishful thinking was no doubt prompted by the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Soviet bloc had long been a hindrance to the Left, representing as it did a living refutation of its ideas. Many felt that the end of the Cold War would consign socialism to the dustbin of history, but the opposite was true. With its embarrassing Eastern uncle off the scene, the Left could finally peddle its wares without anyone mentioning the poverty, shortages, oppression and all those other pesky consequences of socialist rule. The media’s drip-drip insistence that Thatcherism equalled ruthlessness and greed finally found an audience among people comfortable enough to indulge in a little self-loathing and sufficiently detached from economic reality to fall for zero-sum arguments.

The Nineties was party time for the newly liberated Left. Its manqué intellectuals, who had spent the previous decade fuming at their redundancy, found a society receptive to the touchy-feely overtones of their dark agenda. The academy’s beloved relativism seeped into the public consciousness. Authority was questioned and hierarchies rejected. Soon enough, any grounds on which one thing could be said to be better than another was decried as ‘elitist’. “No one can tell me what to do” became the slogan of the time, but this wasn’t the battle cry of freedom-loving folk; it was the bleat of egocentric brats, who expected the world to fall at their feet.

What got me thinking about those long-ago days, before the red terror graffitied our walls and pissed in our doorways, was a news story that did the rounds recently. Former Apprentice contestant Katie Hopkins prompted outrage for offering the opinion that you can tell a lot about a person from their name. “For me, a name is a shortcut of finding out what class that child comes from,” she said, “and makes me ask: ‘Do I want my children to play with them?’” To many, this was an outrageous act of snobbery, unheard of since before New Labour’s glorious revolution. How dare this snob judge a person on their name alone? For all she knows, there are hundreds of Tylers and Chardonnays running multi-global companies and working the Notting Hill dinner party circuit.

Except, the chances are, there aren’t. Obnoxious though she is, Ms Hopkins was probably right in saying that a person’s name is a good (though not infallible) indicator of their background, because certain names tend to be fashionable within certain social groups. I would bet dollars to doughnuts that the sniffy hacks, media luvvies and yummy mummies who squealed with outrage at Hopkins’ faux pas wouldn’t dream of calling their children after low-rent celebrities or cursing them with portmanteau carbuncles, like Sammyjo or Layla-Jade. Their designer offspring are far more likely to be named after saints and monarchs, or given twee retro monikers redolent of ethereal flower children or pensioners.

This is all by the by, because Hopkins’ real crime was to imply that people at the bottom of the social ladder are subhuman pig-men, with whom she has no desire to mix. In doing so, she violated one of the commandments carried down from the progressive mount in the mid-90s: thou shalt not presume to be better than anyone else. Suffice to say, this is the kind of disingenuous garbage indulged in by people far enough up the ladder not to have to worry about the pig-men reaching their level. When they assure their social inferiors that they consider them equals, they’re tossing them a bone. As long as their act of solidarity doesn’t result in the mouth-breathing masses showing up at their chichi gatherings, they reckon it’s harmless enough. It’s good for the image and good for the conscience.

In fact, both Katie Hopkins and her critics are guilty of snobbery, albeit of different kinds. We humans seem to have an innate need to lord it over others, even if the criteria by which we judge each other differs. Preening liberals who flaunt their classless credentials are really no different to lacy old snobs warding off the great unwashed with perfumed handkerchiefs. They’ve just chosen a different set of values to measure themselves against.

Traditionally, snobs have sneered at those whose lack of success demonstrated a deficit of the qualities required to achieve it. Unpleasant though it was, this brand of snobbery at least upheld ideals widely esteemed due to their social benefits. The war on elitism was a war against these values, which the Left found onerous – values such as conventional morality and respect for the demands of a free society. Unable or unwilling to meet these challenges, the Left turned our value system upside down, to present the top as the bottom and the bottom as the top. Suddenly, a lack of marketable skills and an absence of restrained conduct was met with praise or understanding, and a new kind of snobbery was born that discriminated against those who failed to demonstrate sufficiently egalitarian sentiments.

Like their old-fashioned equivalents, nouvelle snobs sneer at those who don’t have what it takes, only they’re judging people by a different set of values. They’ve joined a celebration of egotism, vulgarity and greed, perfectly suited to the Left’s over-entitled malcontents, moral peacocks and talentless nonentities. Snobbery is never pleasant, but at least the snootiness of yesteryear was underpinned by a system that generates wealth, maintains standards and safeguards freedoms. Its modern equivalent is only of use if you inhabit the gilded circle of the liberal elite or are one of its pet victims.

Egalitarian dogma does nothing to abolish social hierarchy; it simply ensures that people at the bottom are denied a chance to progress within it. In the real world, where work must be productive and skills useful, hierarchies continue to exist, and those who have been reared on a diet of relativism and self-esteem preservation are at a disadvantage. Liberal poseurs striking moral poses are not helping people when they rail against excellence; they’re stealing their futures. As Roger Scruton put it: “In a society of equals there is neither failure nor success, and despair is conquered by the loss of hope.” That’s no kind of society for anyone concerned with fulfilling their potential to live in. If we are to have snobbery – and I think we must – then surely the old-fashioned variety is the best.

8 comments on “Russell Taylor: Getting snobbery right

  1. Simon Roberts
    August 21, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    I’m not entirely convinced that the type of snobbery you’ve described in yesteryear ever really existed as it is portrayed today.

    Certainly there was a degree of class-based snobbery, but that was really the preserve of the aristos, based on birth and largely irrelevant to the majority of people.

    If you interpret Victorian literature as I do, it doesn’t seem to be a matter of despising the less successful, more a question of despising the badly-behaved. I don’t recall coming across any snobbery towards those who were recognised as hard-working and honest, yet poor. It does seem to have been directed towards those who exhibited criminal and anti-social tendencies.

    One could of course argue that Victorian views of criminality were different to today, but I would certainly take their values over ours – where serious physical assaults or burglary are not considered worthy of incarceration.

    • Russell Taylor
      August 21, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

      I agree, Simon. There has never been any significant snobbery towards the hard-working and honest poor. Perhaps ‘success’ was a bad choice of word. What I really meant was success at conducting oneself in a civilised and cultured manner. Old-fashioned snobbery would, as you suggest, have focused on a person’s behaviour and tastes rather than their economic fortunes.

      Katie Hopkins’ brand of snobbery is directed at people who are perceived to be feckless, work-shy,vulgar, lacking in self-discipline and criminally inclined. This has traditionally been the preserve of the middle classes rather than aristos, who were far more disdainful of bourgeois upstarts.

  2. John B
    August 21, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    It is not new; has been a stalwart of post-war class warriors who villified the upwardly mobile Working Class who had ‘betrayed their class roots’… it is called Inverted Snobbery.

  3. Rocco
    August 21, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    Here’s something interesting regarding this ‘cultural socialism’ that gets conservatives so worked up. And as always, I welcome any thoughts or criticisms Mr Taylor. (Or from anyone else for that matter.)
    Socialism, as political ideology, is the belief that the state should enforce an economic pattern on a country, that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
    Conservatism, as cultural ideology, is the belief that the state should enforce a social pattern on a country, that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
    Therefore, ironically, conservatism is a form of ‘cultural socialism’. In fact, in terms of numbers of adherents, we might consider conservatism to be ‘cultural socialism’ par excellence.
    In order to be consistent then, conservatives worried about such things should abandon conservatism.

  4. Michael
    August 21, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

    Rocco – I did notice your arguments of the blog pieces on immigration and I would haphazard a guess that you relish playing an Agent provocateur role whereby you take Libertarian thought to the absolute logical end to produce an argument that questions many Libertarians beliefs. Nothing wrong with that but your arguments totally forget about human nature.

    Conservatism recognises human nature for what it is in that “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is best achieved in a society with rules and conventions. Where Conservatism differs from Socialism is that social conventions are driven from the bottom up whereas Socialism is very much a top down philosophy that can only be maintained by force as most humans want to be left to get on with their lives and pursue Life, Liberty and Happiness as they see fit rather than being dictated what to do and how to think.

    • Rocco
      August 21, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

      Michael, I don’t know about this questioning libertarian beliefs thing. Perhaps you and I define libertarianism differently, but as far as I’m concerned I simply make plumb-line libertarian arguments. And I do so to convince any who should read them to adopt libertarianism.
      As to forgetting human nature, Michael, I am not guilty. Man is the rational animal, is he not? Man is the arguing animal, therefore I present men with arguments.
      Now, of course, men prefer to live in societies with rules and conventions. I don’t deny this, it would be ridiculous to deny it. The point of my argument -and this is where you are mistaken, Michael- is that conservatism must be imposed top down. For, if everyone in a society was happy to live as they always had done, what would be the point of conservatism as a political phenomenon? It would be completely redundant under such circumstances.
      The existence of conservatism is proof that individuals do not wish to follow the old ways. It is the call for dissident individuals to be brought to heel by the state. It is the admission that social forces alone are not enough, that force must be employed. It is the admission that argument has been abandoned, and now violence must be used in it’s stead.

    • Rocco
      August 22, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

      Michael, its just struck me that you must be American, and what you and I mean by conservatism are rather different. We must have our wires crossed.
      Even allowing for that though, my point still stands. Because, for you conservatism is fundamentally bound up with political power, being as it is, a political programme to be enforced by a government.
      In a word, conservatism is a species of protectionism. And all protectionism rests on state aggression.


  1. Snobbery- Does it Still Exist? | Concrete Bunker - August 25, 2013

    […] a great article on snobbery on Mr Taylor has a wicked sense of humour and a clear logical argument […]

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