Liz Bennett couldn’t marry Darcy. Nor can your daughter.

Summary: America’s social structure changes slowly and unnoticed, taking us to a future with the class system of the past. Jane Austin’s books describe our children’s lives — unless we take back the reins of America. We can do that now. If we wait too long, we won’t be able to do so.  {This is a revision of a post from 2013; it’s even more accurate now.}

"Why does Mr Darcy keep staring at me?"
“Why does Mr. Darcy keep staring at me?”

 

Contents

  1. Back to the future for New America.
  2. How rich was Mr. Darcy?
  3. Conclusions for us.
  4. For More Information.
  5. Let’s not let America go back to the future.

 

(1) Back to the future for America

A common objection to reports about social change is that “this is nothing new”. That’s true, new things are rare in history (e.g., nukes). It is the recombination of familiar things in different combinations that creates the ever-changing pageant of history.

By now it has become obvious to anyone paying attention that increased concentration of wealth and falling social mobility has created an aristocracy in America. It’s a class with stronger ties to each other than the people of their local communities. They have assumed control at all levels, from local to national, of government, charitable, and business organizations. The upper classes marry within their class, further concentrating wealth. Our social structure resembles that of Georgian England, familiar to readers of Jane Austin’s books.

Our new aristocracy has begun to restructure our society to more closely meet their needs, taking America back to the Gilded Age (e.g., crushed unions, shrinking middle class, precarious prosperity of blue collar workers). We go from a flawed system of equal justice to parallel systems of High, Middle, and Low justice. Social mobility declines.

To see a possible future from these trends read this excerpt from “Why Darcy would not have married Elizabeth Bennet” a review by Linda Colley in the London Review of Books of The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England by Amanda Vickery.

Darcy & Bennet

“As Vickery points out …just as Jane Austen does, that the lesser gentry, urban professionals, successful manufacturers, even the superior ‘trades’, regularly appeared at the same social events, met each other on the commissions of peace, and intermarried. …{Their} menfolk played a vital part in local administration, as Justices of the Peace, as militia officers, sometimes as deputy lieutenants. National government, however, was a different matter. …

“{Her} prime gentry heroine …is shown moving among a wide array of lesser landed, trading and professional acquaintances. But she was ‘not on visiting terms with noble families, not even with the holders of lesser titles’. Yet it was precisely this more exalted sector which commanded the majority of Parliamentary seats, places at court, positions in the Cabinet.

Pride and Prejudice (BBC version, 1995)
Available at Amazon

“It was this split in function within the landed classes that helped to nourish Christopher Wyvill’s economical reform movement in the 1770s. …Here, as on other occasions, lesser gentry combined with mercantile dissidents in a critique of the 18th-century state because, at the centre, the former were conscious of not being synonymous with the governing class.

“… this point was fully understood by Austen. She took it for granted that her contemporaries would appreciate (as late 20th-century readers sometimes do not) the extent to which Pride and Prejudice was a deliberate essay in fantasy. An Eliza Bennet, fetching daughter of a small country gentleman, niece to a Cheapside attorney, might well be invited to a one-off county ball given by a Mr Bingley with a rented house and £5000 per annum. But a Mr Darcy with an inherited landed estate of £10,000 per annum would have been most unlikely to seek her hand for a dance, much less for marriage. Indeed, real-life Darcys would scarcely have wasted their precious bachelor youth on rural Hertfordshire. London, with its indulgences, its political life and its marriage market offering more eligible future wives even than Miss Bingley, would have been the automatic draw.”

The West’s social classes were broken over several generations by the combination of the industrial revolution and political reform. Unfortunately the current technological revolution appears to be reversing all that, re-concentrating wealth and power. For details see The coming big inequality. Was Marx just early? and How do we respond to the Robot Revolution?

Pride and Prejudice - the book
Available at Amazon.

(2) How rich was Mr. Darcy?

For a look at the aristocracy of Georgian England, according to “The Economics of Jane Austin“, there were 287 Peers in 1803. They had an average income of £8,000 per year. Mr. Darcy, who was not a peer, had an income of £10 thousand per year. The first census of Britain in 1801 counted a population of 10.5 million. Mr. Darcy was one of the 0.01%.

In the real world Mr. Darcy would be unlikely to marry a woman, no matter how pretty, who had only £100 pounds per year. For the same reasons today your daughter can’t marry a one of the 1%.

The poor versions of today’s Elizabeths face much the same kind of choices that Miss Bennet had — governess then, WalMart today. In 1810 they dreamed of marrying wealthy men; today they read Harlequin novels or watch Hallmark romances — and dream of marrying wealth men. The more things change, the more they stay the same — if we let them.

(3) Conclusions for us

We need not be victims or passive objects of these changes. Standing together, organized and thinking, we can harness these social, economic, political, and technological forces to build a better Republic. It requires only our willpower and work, risking much to gain even more.

You can start the process. For ideas see America – how we can stop the quiet coup now in progress.

(4) For More Information

Of all the film versions, I strongly recommend the BBC miniseries version (the source of the photos here). It’s almost as good as the book. Even better is the Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition. The photo of Jennifer Ehle is from the Everett Collection/Rex USA.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about increasing income inequality and falling social mobility, especially these…

  1. Consequences of growing inequality in wealth, income, and power.
  2. Why Americans should love Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – we live there,
  3. Our future will be Jupiter Ascending, unless we make it Star Trek.
  4. Complaints about air travel are the cries of a dying middle class.
  5. When marriage disappears: rising inequality as the threat to the family.
  6. See America’s income inequality grow during 1979-2011, a driver of Campaign 2016.
  7. An anthropologist looks at America’s growing proletariat.
  8. The Fed sounds a red alarm about rising inequality.

(5)  Let’s not let America go back to the future

Let’s not return America to the state portrayed in the Pyramid of the Capitalist System, a American cartoon based on a Russian version of aprox. 1900. It was attributed to Nedeljkovich, Brashich, and Kuharich; it was first published in an 1911 edition of Industrial Worker, a newspaper of the Industrial Workers of the World.

"The

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