Class Dismissed

People walk through Hudson Yards in Manhattan, a new neighborhood with many luxury residences and office spaces on April 20, 2023, in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Dear Reader (except those of you running nude through St. Peter’s Basilica), 

One of my favorite things about America is the food, but that’s not important right now. 

Another thing I dig about America is how often it messes with political theory, particularly European political theory. The ruling worldview—monarchy, empire, aristocracy—in the 18th century was utterly vexed by the American Revolution. The fashionable, if not always ruling, political theories of the 19th and early 20th centuries—Marxism, German historicism, various racial theories—had a devil of a time reconciling themselves to the reality of America, because we were taking history in a direction not of their choosing. 

Broadly speaking, the primary sticking points were various theories of class. Aristocracy is obviously a form of class theory. Marxism even more obviously so. Racial theory is sort of class-adjacent, but it too rests on the idea of certain groups being both clearly defined and better or worse than other groups. German historicism is more complicated, but trust me: Notions of class—expert classes, ruling classes, etc.—are caught up in it. 

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