THE THEORY OF THE LEISURED CLASS
[To the Editor of TIIE SPECTATOR.] Sins—In view of the independent policy of The Spectator the following views of a working-class reader, although perhaps not meeting the approval of all, may possibly throw new light on an interesting question now being discussed in your columns: the theory of the leisured class whose existence seems to be taken unquestionably for granted by your readers.
In his letter in the correspondence begun by Canon the
Hon. E. Lyttelton, Mr. C. G. Armstrong makes an interesting defence of the existence of a leisured class because apparently (1) it spends much money on luxuries, (2) provides work and taxes, a small portion of the latter going to (3) social services for the working-class (an extremely small portion indeed when it is recalled that analysis of the national expenditure reveals that of the taxpayers' money 70 per cent, goes for war, a mere 15 per cent, for the starved social services and educa- tion—Britain now spending as much for war per minute as a single unemployed man has to keep himself -alive on 'for over seventeen years!) Mr. Armstrong's defence of the leisured class rests -Upon- a very common, very peculiar and completely fallacious argu- ment. For, on this count, anybody however criminal' can be justified as a blessing to mankind and a credit to-- society. Arguing on these lines, every drunken road-hog who knocks down and kills pedestrians, every Public Enemy No 1, every gangster-Murderer and racketeer, who shoots up and pillages society, is a benefactor of humanity. For all undoubtedly- provide work and-plenty of it.- - Work for doctors, ambulance drivers, nurses, police, firearm manufacturers,- Mourning (healers, coachmen, coffin Makers, carpenters1 undertakers, manufacturers of bullet-proof waistcoats, and- -fbr hosts -and hosts of others. All pay heavy taxes. And' gangsters are notorious as extravagant lovers of expensive luxuries andare extremely addicted to ornate and costly funerals.
To my mind, Mr. Armstrong's defence of the leisured class fails and fails completely. The work provided by the leisured Class is not essentially prodUctive work and,- therefore, in our present state of society, indefensible. No luxury should be allowed to be produced so long as millions are— without the bare necessities. Planning would avoid this. The money the leisured class fritters as-ray in luxuries and pays away in taxation is itself mainly the surplus taken from the working
class, from labour, which in conjunction with the natural resources is the source of all wealth and capital. The small expenditure on social services is, therefore, merely giving back to the working-class an extremely minute fraction of the wealth they themselves produced.
The only other justification for the existence of a leisured class—as a repository and stimulator of art and culture—now no longer holds good. Mechanical inventions and greater leisure for all have brought, or are bringing, equal cultural opportunities before- all classes. And the working-class, oppressed though it be, is, as is being increasingly shown, beginning to show its cultural mettle. It only remains for a new age of economic- freedom and security to increase its cultural output and to let speak the many mute- inglorious Miltons who are now by reason of economic oppression frustrated and silent.—Yours faithfully, KENNETH BRADSHAW.