The fall and rise of the English upper class

Houses, kinship and capital since 1945

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Daniel R. Smith
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Why have England’s historic upper class come to the fore of public life? Britain’s protracted imperial decline in the twentieth century saw with it a decline and decomposition of its class structure defined by inheritance, status, exclusivity and traditionalism. Since 2016 this decline has been in the process of reversing as English society witnesses a resurgence of its upper class – a culturally and socially cohesive group of persons whose status, position and traditionalist worldviews have come to shape UK politics and English culture, and the sense of our collective future. The fall and rise of the English upper class examines how these traditionalist worldviews, while diverse in their application, are unified by a common thread. English society is imagined through idioms of kinship and inheritance, which take the form of a ‘house’. From our so-called ‘Establishment’ institutions to the ancestral homes of the landed gentry and aristocracy, through to the more unlikely areas of our society, such as the nostalgia for heritage clothing and the vogue for literature on Old Englishness, the kinship idiom underlying these institutions and cultural ideals is: who inherits the house, inherits England. By exploring the history of England’s passage to capitalism and its curious class structure, which combines status exclusivity with economic fortune, the book examines the writings of diverse upper-class gentlemen – from Rory Stewart to Adam Nicolson, Roger Scruton to Peter York – to illustrate how anxieties about the future of society always find their answer in the traditions of the past.

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