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Advanced Reading Course | Class System

Advanced Reading Course | Class System

Advanced Reading Course | Class System


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Source: The Coursebook, For and Against

Unit 25: “Equality of opportunity in the twentieth century has not destroyed the class system

These days we hear a lot of nonsense about the ‘great classless society’. The idea that the twentieth century is the age of the common man has become one of the great cliches of our time. The same old arguments are put forward in evidence. Here are some of them: monarchy as a system of government has been completely discredited. The monarchies that survive have been deprived of all political power. Inherited wealth has been savagely reduced by taxation and, in time, the great fortunes will disappear altogether. In a number of countries the victory has been complete. The people rule; the great millennium has become a political reality. But has it? Close examination doesn’t bear out the claim.

It is a fallacy to suppose that all men are equal and that society will be leveled out if you provide everybody with the same educational opportunities. (It is debatable whether you can ever provide everyone with the same educational opportunities, but that is another question.) The fact is that nature dispenses brains and ability with a total disregard for the principle of equality. The old rules of the jungle, ‘survival of the fittest’, and ‘might is right’ are still with us. The spread of education has destroyed the old class system and created a new one. Rewards are based on merit. For ‘aristocracy’ read ‘meritocracy’; in other respects, society remains unaltered: the class system is rigidly maintained.

Genuine ability, animal cunning, skill, the knack of seizing opportunities, all bring material rewards. And what is the first thing people do when they become rich? They use their wealth to secure the best possible opportunities for their children, to give them ‘a good start in life’. For all the lip-service we pay to the idea of equality, we do not consider this wrong in the western world. Private schools which offer unfair advantages over state schools are not banned because one of the principles in a democracy is that people should be free to choose how they will educate their children. In this way, the new meritocracy can perpetuate itself to a certain extent: an able child from a wealthy home can succeed far more rapidly than his poorer counterpart. Wealth is also used indiscriminately to further political ends. It would be almost impossible to become the leader of a democracy without massive financial backing. Money is as powerful a weapon as ever it was.

In societies wholly dedicated to the principle of social equality, privileged private education is forbidden. But even here people are rewarded according to their abilities. In fact, so great is the need for skilled workers that the least able may be neglected. Bright children are carefully and expensively trained to become future rulers. In the end, all political ideologies boil down to the same thing: class divisions persist whether you are ruled by a feudal king or an educated peasant.

Advanced Reading Course | Class System

Advanced Reading Course | Class System

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