Using an article that claims Manchester was a ‘city that lets down its pupils’ as a starting point, David draws from his own experience of attending a broken school system, its impact on him and his peers, ‘a lost generation’, and details how limited the city was for young Mancunians and why so many turned to a drinking culture, and later on crime.
This chapter summarises the findings in the book – a testament to the lives of those who have shared their experience of living in Manchester at the turn of the millennium. Mancunians are not a homogenised people. Manchester is a mosaic.
Chapter 4 explores Adam Nicolson’s attempts to ‘revive’ tradition at his ‘ancestral’ estate, Sissinghurst Castle, Kent. Here Sissinghurst becomes the beacon for his political philosophy of landscape, agriculture, and something approaching ‘England’ via his mythology of ‘Arcadia’. It is argued that Nicolson’s vision for Sissinghurst ought to be understood as a response to the central sociological problem aristocrats face: sinking status. Given that if one starts at the top, the only way is down, sinking status must develop strategies for upward nobility. The strategy of upward nobility that Nicolson has chosen is to turn his ancestors into sources of social and political power for the future. It is shown that Nicolson’s telling of Sissinghurst’s story as a story of decline and fall is seized upon as an opportunity to revive and bring back a way of life that can mitigate the problems and ills of the present. Here we see how Nicolson combines Sissinghurst’s twentieth-century renown and its representation in modernist literature with a political philosophy of agriculturalism that evokes the early organic movement, which took the small manor farm and attendant hierarchy of lord, yeoman and peasant as the basis for social harmony and economic prosperity.
Chapter 7 consists of an examination of the writings of upper-class society journalist and commentator Peter York and his classic 1980s series Sloane Rangers. It argues that Sloane Rangers ought to be treated as continuing a tradition of English class categorisation where social status and economic interest are exaggerated by appeals to tradition in the idiom of kinship. Sloane Rangers arose in the 1980s as a response to English deindustrialisation and the rise of an advanced neo-liberal consumer economy: in contrast to new money and widening affluence, Sloane Rangers were offered as a long standing, inherited social position, part of what York called ‘the eternal stream of English life’. Through a critical examination of York’s writings, the chapter shows that the Sloane Ranger was invented to meet a challenge: to preserve forms of social behaviour, attitudes, practices and cultural worldviews which are seen as either dying out or from a time prior to the present. As such, the status symbols of the Sloane Ranger become another way in which the present needs of capitalism draw upon old ideologies and character traits. By extending the analysis of the Sloane Ranger through to its present reincarnations in brands such as Jack Wills, we see how this sense of social practices and status symbols being repetitions from a time prior to the present is one of the ways in which economic privilege and social exclusivity go hand in hand in England.
While the idiom of the house has been drawn up in a multitude of different areas of English social, political and cultural life in the present, it has not provided any satisfactory answers or directions for our future. As such it is suggested that the idiom of the house ought to be viewed as what the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan called a Thing: an empty void into which we have projected our inaccessible desires to guarantee the preservation of a view of English society which is no longer possible, morally permissible, or even desirable. Instead, we could view ourselves not as heirs to a tradition but, rather, as contingent remainders: those people who signal more the crisis and imperfections of a society where kinship and inheritance play so central a role. We could give up the ghost of the house and think of ourselves as freer to be together in new and collaborative ways.
Chapter 2 confronts the problem that sociologists of class in Britain face: how to explain the persistence of a traditional upper class in an advanced modern society where class ought to prevail over status. It is argued that England’s agrarian capitalism gave rise to a form of societal membership and language of class that was never fully able to dispense with kinship terms of descent, inheritance and ancestry. The chapter explores this in three domains. First, by examining Sir Thomas Smith’s 1583 De Republica Anglorum, it demonstrates that the vision of British society as a multitude of households and families provided the means to dispense with a centralised vision of state sovereignty as found in the continental European tradition. Second, it suggests that the origins of the house-based society arise, first, in the vision of society as a ‘multitude of individual households’ and second, in the peculiar economic arrangement of the lease-copyhold which governed the economic relations and kinship structures of the early modern agrarian economy. Because economic interests were conceptually indistinguishable from kinship terms, the organic transformation from feudalism to capitalism in England preserved pre-modern status terminology within naked ‘class’ (economic) interests. Third, it argues that from Sir Gregory King’s Natural and Political Observations and Conclusions upon the State and Condition of England (1696) onwards, class categories continue a conflation of economic interests with status, and kinship terms of inheritance with financial power.
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.
Chapter 8 examines the fortunes of the twenty-first century in relation to two interlocking but competing sensibilities in English culture, Raymond Williams’ Country and the City. The city is London, and the country is the spiral of the Home Counties surrounding London: Middle England. Here we find two competing sensibilities in relation to the fortunes of the twenty-first century, one which recalls the aesthetics of the father of modern conservatism Edmund Burke. On the one hand, the fortunes of the twenty-first century appear as sublime, while, on the other, those who make such a judgement long for a more agreeable vision of fortunes and its accompanying aesthetic of beauty – a beauty sought for or revealed in either architecture or landscape of an England of old. As the fortunes of the twenty-first century cannot be easily divided by Old and New Money, a move away from a moral hierarchy of wealth has been replaced with an aesthetics of feeling and desire. Examining the writings of a disparate mix of upper-class gentlemen, critical sociologists and environmentalists we shall see how the fears of excessive, plutocratic capital accumulation is tied with an alternative aesthetic of beauty which is socially elaborated as an old imperial-colonial Englishness. The chapter demonstrates that within the traditionalism and empiricism idioms of the house of England, we can find a tradition of English socialism and radicalism which does not seek to revolt, to destroy, to overturn or break down but hopes for a piecemeal, gentle, prolonged reformation.
Chapter 1 argues that we would benefit from viewing England’s traditional upper class not as an aberration of contemporary forms of capital accumulation or an anachronism to our comprehension of power, politics and identity. Instead we can re-examine the origins of English agrarian capitalism, not as an incomplete capitalism because it arose under the auspices of a hereditary aristocracy but a far more prodigious and pristine form of capitalism. England witnessed a more developed form of capitalism, whose pre-modern symbolism, far from stymying capital accumulation, exaggerated economic inequalities and social distinctions. Once this framework is in place, the chapter builds an argument to suggest that kinship idioms of inheritance and descent feed not only England’s relationship to capital but also come to forge a vision of ‘society’ as well as the foundation for our language of class. Whenever class and capital are mentioned, kinship thinking follows close behind. This is illustrated through an examination of Eurosceptic laments on the demise of national identity written by, largely, upper-class men (b. post-1945) at the turn of the millennium. It is observed that these narratives of national decline form part of a genre of writing on English national identity crisis unified by the tendency to tell the story of national decline through the kinship idiom of father–son. This idiom holds one key to understanding the imbrication of upper-class sensibilities with the crisis of national identity in which we find ourselves.
Chapter 3 examines the politician Rory Stewart’s memoir, The Marches (2017), narrating his walks across the borderlands of England and Scotland with his late father. A memoir that seamlessly mixes a father–son relationship with a political tract for the future of Anglo-Scottish, British–European relations, The Marches morphs into a melancholic search for the proper burial of the imperial world of Stewart’s father and ancestors. The chapter argues that Rory Stewart’s mercurial social and political identity can be traced back to both the imperial history of Britain and its manifestation in his father’s imperial career. On the one hand Stewart appears everything the son of a colonial officer in the twenty-first century should be – Eton, Oxbridge, the Foreign Office, diplomat, Iraqi governor and Conservative MP – while, on the other, he is unable to ground or channel these statuses in a productive and politically expedient or permissible way. As such, the chapter examines how a form of imperial melancholia hangs over Stewart’s identity and concludes that his affirmation of pragmatism as a political virtue is more a reflection of the lingering afterglow of British imperial decline than it is a coherent political ideology.