24 NOVEMBER 1939, Page 10



TODAY many persons who belong to the so-called middle classes are looking back a little wistfully at the past and facing the future with resignation. The tender consciences and levelling economics of war-time dispose them to re- member that all men should be brothers, and that economic equality, whether they like it or not, will soon be thrust on them. The sight of a baronet doubling round a parade ground with militia-men or a peeress driving an ambulance reminds one that there is no divine ordinance that a baronet should have larger rations or a peeress a smarter uniform. When attention is called to the index figure of the cost of living, and one is told that the figures are based on a working- class standard of living, and by no means on a middle-class standard, discontent is smothered by the question: Are not the middle-classes lucky to have this higher standard and to be in a position to pay proportionately more for their " luxuries "? Again, if a dock-labourer joining the army is satisfied that his wife and children are receiving an adequate separation allowance, is a barrister or doctor, in like case, justified in his grievance that his wife and children have no more?

Circumstances and sentiment alike have conspired to in- crease the tendency towards economic levelling. Circum- stances—because the war has automatically robbed many people of their financial superiority, among them barristers, architects, Harley-street specialists, research-workers, well- known artists and actors. Sentiment has contributed its part, the prevailing feeling being that since some are called on to sacrifice their lives all should sacrifice their advantages. Both employers and trade unionists note this mood of the moment with satisfaction, since for the former it means less to pay and for the latter more to share. Nor has the Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by a House of Commons in its most sacrificial mood, failed to make the most of this spirit of equality and fraternity. He has, rightly or wrongly, heaped such taxes on the middle-classes as to leave them dubious of the right to be so-called. How are they to send their sons to public schools? And anyway, should sons be sent to public schools in war-time? And even if they should, will there be any public schools left to send them to? May it not be both necessary and just that there should cease to be an even modestly privileged class—that wives and mothers should discard their domestic servants and do the household work themselves, that children should go to Council schools, that only Penguin books should be bought, and that the pleasures of travel, entertainment and the theatre should be curtailed if not abandoned? Is not the war making the middle-classes out of date?

After all, this is what happened long ago in Germany. Post-war inflation, by destroying their savings and diminish- ing the purchasing power of their incomes, came near to abolishing the German middle-classes, and especially the intellectual middle-classes ; and to many of those who remained Nazism administered the coup de grace.

But not much satisfaction is to be derived from the example of Germany. Is not this, in fact, exactly what is wrong with that country, that the class which once sustained her intellectual life, which was informed, cultivated, humane, has been depressed, deprived of its influence, and rendered incapable of making its voice heard? Is not this part of the disaster of Germany, that her more naturally gifted, spirited and ambitious youth have no promising occupation open to them in the activities of a cultivated middle-class, and there- fore fall an easy prey to Nazi propaganda, with the result that the best become the worst? Germany has been moving towards barbarism because she has no intelligent middle- classes to keep her civilised.

That is something which our own Chancellor of the Exchequer might remember when he is tempted with a splendid gesture to tax them out of existence ; and altruists, when they call for the vicarious sacrifice of exposing middle-class wives and children to the privations which the wives and children of still poorer classes have always suffered. There was no middle-class in the dark ages, nor, properly speaking, in mediaeval England. It was only with the rise of the middle-classes in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that the Revival of Learning becanie possible, that secular education spread, that science and philosophy quickly ad- vanced, that tyranny was seriously challenged, and that Shakespeare wrote and was admired. Western democracy was the invention of the middle-classes, and it was through their sentiment and humanism in the nineteenth century that the pressure of the employed on the employing . class was followed by reforms without revolution. It seems, then, that there need be no shame in claiming that extra modicum of comfort which at present is denied to the manual workers. It is bad that society should be so organised that a majority of the people are without it, but it would be worse still if none had it. Without some leisure, without easy access to the sources of learning and art, without opportunities of travel and social intercourse, without reason- able freedom from anxiety, there can be no atmosphere in which ideas about life flourish, or in which the amenities can be created. If there was no class which to this modest extent was privileged, there would be no science, no culture, no force trained to promote a healthier environment or a better social organisation. Civilisation itself depends on the existence of such a class, into which even the leaders and spokesmen of the manual workers have generally forced themselves before they made their influence fully felt.

This is not to say that its members are justified in smug complaisance about the enjoyment of advantages denied to others. Their attitude is reasonable not on the grounds of their own superiority, but on the grounds that the advantages they enjoy are the least that are compatible with human self-respect, and that it is not really tolerable that any human beings should have less. They will cling tenaciously to them because it is essential that at least some human beings should have the indispensables of reasonable development, and because they are unwilling to be dragged down to a lower level from which others have not yet been, but ought to be, raised. They simply resist economic conditions which spell deteribration. If the State, acting through the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or any other economic instrument, seriously reduces the strength of this class it is cutting at the roots of progress, fineness, resilience—it is assisting the forces of decay and degeneracy. If this country is to avoid the fate of Germany and the conditions which have always afflicted Russia it must watch the interests of its middle-classes and refrain from legislation which would destroy them. Surely a sound democracy will seek equality not through levelling downwards, but upwards.