A recently-purchased book previously owned by a prominent anthropologist and containing an essay on snobbery causes Dalrymple to consider “downward cultural aspiration”:
Until quite recently, emulators emulated those higher in the social scale than themselves, which meant of course that there were more emulators than emulated. Nowadays, however, it is persons in or from a higher social class who emulate those in a lower social class. They adopt the manner of speaking, dressing and cultural tastes of those below them. Intellectuals affect vulgar expressions and anyone with an avowed uninterest either in sport or in popular music is suspected at once of enmity towards the people…
If, as Hocart says, ‘The desire to emulate one’s better has been a most potent, perhaps the most potent, force in the diffusion of customs,’ the fact that the higher echelons now ape the lower means that the lower have no need to aspire to anything in order to imagine themselves to be rising in the social scale, for there is nothing higher to emulate. This false egalitarianism serves, then, to conserve the social structure as a fly is conserved in amber. Social mobility falls while culture becomes less refined.
Excellent essay. I too relish used-book-bin oddities, as I wrote in “Forgotten Books of Witness” (http://benfiniti.com/2011/12/26/the-forgotten-books-of-witness/).
Your thoughts on snobbery add to those I remember from a prescient article by Charles Murray in the Wall Street Journal of 6 Feb 2001. Entitled “Prole Models”, he analyzes the phenomenon as an example of Arnold Toynbee’s “the vulgarization of the dominant minority.” (The Study of History, Book V “The Disintegrations of Civilizations”, Ch.XIX “Schism in the Soul”).
Murray summarizes Toynbee: “The growth phase of a civilization is led by a creative minority with a strong, self-confident sense of style, virtue and purpose. The uncreative majority follows along through mimesis, “a mechanical and superficial imitation of the great and inspired originals.” In a disintegrating civilization, the creative minority has degenerated into elites that are no longer confident, no longer setting the example. Among other reactions are a “lapse into truancy” (a rejection, in effect, of the obligations of citizenship), and a “surrender to a sense of promiscuity” (vulgarizations of manners, the arts, and language) that “are apt to appear first in the ranks of the proletariat and to spread from there to the ranks of the dominant minority, which usually succumbs to the sickness of `proletarianization.’”
Toynbee describes the receptivity of the elites as imitation of both internal (our underclass) and external (multicultural underclass) proletariats, as the dominant minority “atones for its sins”.
Murray sees himself as adding Toynbee’s analysis to that of Gertrude Himmelfarb and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Theodore Dalrymple must be added to the list of Cassandras on this topic.