One of my long term projects is to provide robust, useful definitions of common terms. Thus, I’ve argued in the past that:
- A racial group is a partly inbred extended biological family.
- An ethnic groups is defined by shared traits that are often passed down within biological families — e.g., language, surname, religion, cuisine, accent, self-identification, historical or mythological heroes, musical styles, etc. — but that don’t have to be. (Thus, you can be adopted into an ethnic group, but not into a racial group.)
Now, I’d like to toss out a half-finished definition of class intended to complement the first two definitions:
- A class is a group of potential in-laws, people who might turn out to be ancestors of mutual descendents. Contra Marx, one’s class is less a function of one’s segment in the economic market than of the marriage market.
In other words, from a genealogical perspective, a class is the mirror image of a race, looking forward into the future of your family tree rather than backward into the past.
Clearly, we don’t know what the future will bring, all we can do is make informed guesses about probabilities, so class is rather hazy under this definition, but few would argue that it’s all that crisply delineated real life.
This marriage market definition of class is clearly displayed in Jane Austen’s novels, whose young heroines’ romantic lives are full of interest because they are precariously perched somewhere in the middle and could thus marry up or down (or not at all), with dramatic consequences for themselves and their descendents.
My race and ethnicity definitions are designed to make sense of how the U.S. Census Bureau uses the two terms. the government specifically insists that Hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race, since Hispanics can be of any race. The Census Bureau doesn’t ask people their class, so there is no official standard to match.
My definition doesn’t match the classic Marxist usage of the term well, but I see that as a feature, not a bug. Marx thought of class in terms of control over the means of production. Marx’s perspective implied that classes were transnational, while my definition suggests that classes are primarily limited to the nation or to a group of nations all speaking the same language, with only the very highest class, royalty, being traditionally transnational. Our conflicting definitions of class were put to the test in August 1914, when, to the surprise of Marxist theorists, all the Socialist parties of all the European legislatures voted to go to war shoulder to shoulder with their nations’ bourgeoisies and aristocracies.
(Republished from iSteve
by permission of author or representative)