The Middle-Class Mind: Insecurity and Self-Importance

A review of Paul Fussell's Class

by Tim Crews

The higher and lower classes, there's some good in them, but the middle classes are all affectation and conceit and pretense and concealment. -- Lord Melbourne

As a relatively new site, we at VNN spend a fair amount of time advertising. For example, as we track our daily circuit, scouring for news and commentary, we come across people who might be open to our way of thinking. These people we forward our address. Usually we get no response; either they check out the link, or they don't, no big deal. Sometimes we get emails thanking us. And sometimes we get something like this:

You really are a piece of work....whoever you are. First you - a total stranger -send me a link with NO MESSAGE WHATSOEVER, just a URL to some crackpot 'news' website. My first thought was that you were a Fed, alerted by my letter, trying to set me up. I don't trust cryptic messages, and I damn well don't need to be lured into some 'surveillance' sting. You obviously don't have much by way of brains, or you'd have realized that. [...]

For the record: I STILL don't know you. I STILL suspect you might be a fucking Fed, trying to provoke me. And if you're on the level with your line " just throw away junk mail when you get it, no need to bitch about it", then why do I have THREE FUCKING E-MAILS from you today?

Trust me, if I want the white supremacist worldview on life, I know how to do an AltaVista search and find William Pierce, David Irving, David Duke, etc, etc. Anybody with a computer who's so disposed can. Like I told you: I don't share your loathing of entire groups of people. And I DON'T need to be seeing any more emails from you. So whether you're wearing a wire for Reno or an armband for Adolf, DO NOT SEND ME ANY MORE E-MAIL!

This hysterical reaction was from a seemingly rational person who had written an online letter to a conservative online magazine opposing immigration. It reminds one of George Bush the elder denouncing David Duke, or his son relishing the impending execution of the Byrd-draggers.

The overweening self-importance, fearful insecurity, and obsession with etiquette exhibited in this paranoid response typifies a not-small segment of the middle-class minds that make up the the Republican Party -- the party which might be thought, by virtue of the interests and background of its members, to house pro-White opposition to the openly anti-White, demagogic politics of the Jew-led left. It is these people -- this type and mindset -- that forms a significant part of the subject matter of Paul Fussell's (pronounced like 'muscle') excellent 1983 book Class. More than any other book I've come across, his can explain you, the American, as a social abstract. Dress, dining, manners, ideas -- it all hangs together, and Fussell breaks it down in an extraordinarily entertaining and brilliantly brief taxonomy. More important, his interpretations of middle-class behaviors and thinking are very useful, if indirect, lessons for White nationalists seeking to build a movement.

Fussell breaks America into nine classes: two upper, four middle, and three lower, or prole. Most of the book concerns the middle, because that's where the action and the interest is. Our goal in this review is to see what Mr. Fussell has to offer to help us flesh out what we might as well call (without intending any Marxist overtones) bourgeois psychology, that we may better understand the motivations and workings of the Beanbag Right -- the remonstrating pseudo-opposition based in the Republican Party.

This short, 200-page book is worth reading if for no other reason than as a fascinating collection of tidbits about the different tastes, preferences, and ideas of the classes. I highly recommend it. I highly recommend anything Paul Fussell writes, as his works are always funny and learned.

But, to repeat, our concern here is understanding the "conservative" American mind, and its relation to the White nationalist cause. Can we draw from this class, or is there an insuperable mental barrier? The following extractions, lengthy quotations from Class, help us build a psychological profile of the middle-class Republican "conservative." (Note that a few comments about other classes are mixed in by way of providing contrast, or where their attitudes play into our discussion.) Our discussion picks up below. ( Colored highlights added by VNN.)

The middle class is distinguishable more by its earnestness and psychic insecurity than by its middle income. I have known some very rich people who remain stubbornly middle-class, which is to say they remain terrified at what others think of them, and to avoid criticism are obsessed with doing everything right. The middle class is the place where table manners assume an awful importance... The middle class, always anxious about offending, is the main market for "mouthwashes," and if it disappeared the whole "deodorant" business would fall to the ground.

Members of the middle class are not only the sort of people who buy their own heirlooms, silver, etc. They're also the people who do most of the moving long-distance (generally to very unstylish places), commanded every few years to pull up stakes by the corporations they're in bondage to. They are the geologist employed by the oil company, the computer programmer, the aeronautical engineer, the salesman assigned a new territory, and the "marketing" (formerly sales) manager deputed to keep an eye on him. These people and their families occupy the suburbs and developments. Their "Army and Navy" their corporate employer. IBM and Du Pont hire these people from second-rate colleges and teach them that they are nothing if not members of the team. Virtually no latitude is permitted to individuality or the milder forms of eccentricity, and these employees soon learn to avoid all ideological statements, notably, as we'll see, in the furnishing of their living rooms. Terrified of losing their jobs, these people grow passive, their humanity diminished as they perceive themselves mere parts of an infinitely larger structure. And interchangeable parts, too. "The training makes our men interchangeable," an IBM executive was once heard to say.

It's little wonder that, treated like slaves most of the time, the middle class lusts for the illusion of weight and consequence. One sign is their quest for heraldic validation ("This beautiful embossed certificate will show your family tree"). Another is their custom of issuing annual family newsletters announcing the most recent triumphs in the race to become "professional"...

"One who makes birth or wealth the sole criterion of worth": that's a conventional dictionary definition of a snob, and the place to look for the snob is in the middle class. Worried a lot about their own taste and about whether it's working for or against them, members of the middle class try to arrest their natural tendency to sink downward by associating themselves, if ever so tenuously, with the imagined possessors of money, power, and taste. "Correctness" and doing the right thing become obsessions, prompting middle-class people to write thank-you notes after the most ordinary dinner parties, give excessively expensive or correct presents, and never allude to any place -- Fort Smith, Arkansas, for example -- that lacks known class.

Oddity, introversion and the love of privacy are the big enemies, a total reversal of the values of the secure upper orders. Among the middles there's a convention that erecting a fence or even a tall hedge is an affront. . . . Being naturally innocent and well disposed and aboveboard, a member of the middle class finds it hard to believe that all are not. Being timid and conventional, no member of the middle class would expect that anyone is copulating in the afternoon instead of the evening, clearly, for busy and well-behaved corporate personnel, the correct time for it. . . .

If the women treasure "friendliness," the men treasure having a genteel occupation (usually more important than money), with emphasis on the word (if seldom the thing) executive. (As a matter of fact, an important class divide falls between those who feel veneration before the term executive and those who feel they want to throw up.) Having a telephone-answering machine at home is an easy way of simulating (at relatively low cost) high professional desirability, but here you wouldn't think of a facetious or eccentric text (delivered in French, for example, or in the voice of Donald Duck or Richard Nixon) asking the caller to speak his bit after the beeping sound. For the middle class man is scared. As C. Wright Mills notes, "He is always somebody's man, the corporation's, the government's, the army's...." One can't be too careful. One "management adviser" told Studs Terkel: "Your wife, your children have to behave properly. You've got to fit in the mold. You've got to be on guard." . . .

A final stigma of the middle class, an emanation of its social insecurity, is its habit of laughing at its own jests. Not entirely certain what effect he's transmitting, and yet obliged, by his role as "salesman," to promote goodwill and optimism, your middle-class man serves as his own enraptured audience.

By contrast, consider "high proles":

But high proles are quite smart, or at least shrewd. Because often their work is not closely supervised, they have pride and a conviction of independence... Since they're not consumed with worry about choosing the correct status emblems, these people can be remarkably relaxed and unself-conscious. They can do, say, wear, and look like pretty much anything they want without undue feelings of shame, which belong to their betters, the middle class, shame being largely a bourgeois feeling.

There are psychological resaons why proles feel a need to wear legible clothing, and they are more touching than ridiculous. By wearing a garment reading SPORTS ILLUSTRATED or GATORADE...the prole associates himself with an enterprise the world judges successful, and thus, for the moment, he achieves some importance. ... Brand names today possess a totemistic power to confer distinction on those who wear them. By donning legible clothing you fuse your private identity with external commercial success, redeeming your insignificance and becoming, for the moment, somebody. ... And this need is not the proles' alone. Witness the T-shirts and carryalls stamped with the logo of
The New York Times Review of Books, which convey the points "I read hard books," or printed with portraits of Mozart and Haydn and Beethoven, which assure the world, "I am civilized."

Back to middle-class: [T]he most notable characteristic of middle-class decor is the flight from any sort of statement that might be interpreted as " controversial" or ideologically pointed. One can't be too careful. Pictures, for example: safe are sailing vessels, small children and animals, and pastoral scenes, unlike images that hint any ideological import, like "France," "Civil War," "New York City," or "East European Immigration." Argument or even disagreement must be avoided at all costs. In aid of this high-minded end, benign mottos and signs are useful, like the favorite which reads,

Great Spirit, grant that I may not criticize my neighbor until I have walked a mile in his moccasins.

Audubon prints on the wall are nicely nonideological, and "wall systems" are popular because they are more likely to contain stereos and TVs than bookshelves, always a danger because they may display books with controversial spines. In the same way your real middle class refuses to show any but the most bland books and magazines on its coffee tables: otherwise, expressions of opinions, awkward questions, or even ideas might result.

The middle-class anxiety about ideology is strongly implied by a phrase popular among the middles, "good taste," which means, as Russell Lynes notes, the "entirely inoffensive and essentially characterless."

Purveyors of food to the middle class have learned from disillusioning but profitable experience that to designate anything to increase volume, while to say nothing or go so far as to label it STRONG or SPICY is risky. Spicy effects return near the bottom of the status ladder, where "ethnic" items begin to appear: Polish sausage, hot pickles, and the like. This is the main reason the middle class abjures such tastes, believing them associate with low people, non-Anglo-Saxon foreigners, recent immigrants, and such riff-raff, who can almost always be identified by their fondness for unambiguous and ungenteel flavors. Soon there will be a whole generation, sprung from middle-class loins and feeding largely out of freezers, which will assume that "fish" is white mushy stuff, very like "bread," and will turn to horse, coke, pot, hash, or Seagram's and Seven as more interesting.

Ice cream, at once sweet and soft, is the favorite middle-class treat.

[Eating out is a] fixation with both middles and proles, since it gives you a chance to play King and Queen for a Day, issuing orders, being waited on, affecting to be somebody. And by frequenting a restaurant said to put out "gourmet" food...the middle class can play the game it loves most, pretending to be in the class above, in restaurants especially inviting observers to identify it with traveled upper-middle-class people presumably of delicate and sophisticated tastes.

American are the only people in the world known to me whose status anxiety prompts them to advertise their college and university affiliations in the rear windows of their automobiles. You can drive all over Europe without once seeing a rear-window sticker reading CHRIST CHURCH or UNIVERSITE DE PARIS. A convention in the United States is that the higher learning is so serious a matter that joking or parody are wholly inappropriate. Actually, there's hardly an artifact more universally revered by Americans of all classes than the rear-window college sticker. One would sooner defile the flag than mock the sticker or what it represents by, say, putting it on upside down or slantwise, or scratching ironic quotation marks around "College" or "University." I have heard of one young person who cut apart and rearranged the letters of his STANFORD sticker so that his rear window said SNODFART. But the very rarity of so scandalous a performance is significant.

As readers, proles are honest, never trying to fake effects or simulate interest in higher things. It's among the middle class that tastes in reading get really interesting, because it's only here that pretense, fraud, and misrepresentation enter. The uppers don't care what you think about their reading, and neither do the proles. The poor anxious middle class is the one that wants you to believe it reads "the best literature," and condemnatory expressions like trash or rubbish are often on its lips. It is the natural audience for the unreadable second-rate pretentious, books by James Gould Cozzens, John Steinbeck, Pearl Buck...the mass merchandise of Herman Wouk, John Hersey, and Irvin Shaw, and the Durants' history of philosophy. . . .

Naturally the middle class is addicted to nonideological periodicals, nice ones like the
National Geographic, Smithsonian, and House & Garden...

We must not leave the topic of the reading of the middle class without noting the impact of its audienceship on American prose style. Its terror of ideology, opinion, and sharp meaning, which we've seen before in its visual tastes, are the main cause of the euphemism, jargon, gentility, and verbal slop that wash over us. The middle-class anxiety about the "controversial" is the reason
The New Yorker rarely runs unfavorable book reviews: too upsetting to the clientele, the way piquant, pointed prose might be. Better for language first to ingratiate and finally, by waffling, vagueness, and evasion, to stay out of trouble altogether. The prose demanded by the middle class is preeminently that of institutional advertising...

That last will remind us of the indispensability of cliche to middle-class understanding. Where the more fortunately educated read to be surprised, the middle class reads to have its notions confirmed, and deviations from customary verbal formulas disconcert and annoy it.

The middles cleave to euphemisms not just because they're an aid in avoiding facts. They like them also becacuse they assist their social yearnings toward pomposity. This is possible because most euphemisms permit the speaker to multiply syllables, and the middle class confuses sheer numerousness with weight and value.

Advertising diction feeds so smoothly into the middle-class psyche because of that class's bent toward rhetorical fake elegance. Aspiring to ascend, it imagines that verbal grandeur will forward the process. Thus enormity, salutory, duplicity -- and of course gourmet. "The theater still has a certain nicety to it," says an actor in a TV interview. He means delicacy, but he also means that he's middle-class and slavering to be upper. A fine example of middle-class bogus elegance is the language of a flyer circulated recently to advertise a new magazine aimed at a Northeastern suburb. The town was formerly a fairly classy venue, but it has inexorably been taken people who respond enthusiastically to rhetoric like this:

The greater (X) area represents a way of life. It is a life-style. It is fine living.... crystal for a special dinner...a gourmet restaurant...the joy of a well-written book...It is life at its best...quiet and grace... (X) Magazine will let you share in the dreams, talents, contributions and achievements of a community of people who stand apart from the crowd and set high standards for themselves... (X) Magazine is for intelligent, sensitive men, women and children --- (X) Magazine is you!

One could search widely without locating a more exemplary fusion of insecurity and snobbery, the one propping up the other to produce that delicate equilibrium which sustains the middle class.

So there we have it: the middle class is timid, and conventional, and its life is built around whichever corporation its breadwinners are slave to. It is opposed to anything strong -- whether food or ideas. It is accustomed to taking orders from the top, and really doesn't seem to have a mind to contradict those orders, even if it had the will. Essentially, the middle class is feminized. It values security and conformity above risk-taking and freedom. It is inordinately suspicious of anything new, bold, striking, daring or original, and there is nothing in its makeup that can even understand or appreciate these things. It is a woman's mindset writ large: valuing physical security and orderliness and predictability at the expense of noble virtues. It is almost entirely urge-free, again consistent with the mentality of the average woman, whose main ambition is to rise in class, which means rising in the opinion of her friends and others who think like she does. Other-centeredness, even the radical feminists admit, is characteristic of the female.

The middle class, thus, is the neutered class. Everyone is looking around to see how others are acting or reacting so that he knows what to do. The conclusion that the middle-class mind is that of a herd animal (lemming is also accurate, but its connotations are perhaps too disrespectful) is inescapable. We are talking about the bloated belly of the Bell curve, and most of its inhabitants are not capable of speculative thought and don't like it. People who read books and think about the ideas they contain are a weird and none-too-respectable minority to these people. Non-money ambitions are inherently incomprehensible to philistines. The chatter of the day about where they ate, and who they saw, and what they did is enough and will suffice for them. A truly new thought or phrase is, as Fussell says, "disconcerting" to the middle-classer; as irritating to his mind as a weed scratching over his skin. The customary, the predictable, the usual -- these are the desirable. There is a "correct" way to do everything -- think, speak, dress, act, talk, drive -- and the middle-class mind taxes itself only to the point of figuring out what that is -- and doing it. And then looking around to censure those deviating from this norm. And that makes it happy, and it can't understand why it wouldn't make everyone else the same.

The truth is that originality and boldness are wholly a male province, excepting an occasional Earhart. Except at the extremes (the geniuses and the superdolts), women are as intelligent as men. But they aren't as original. Women's intelligence reveals itself, generally, as superior ability to guess and repeat what the teacher wants to hear. Indeed, most superior intelligence consists of just this, but the handful of truly unusual and groundbreaking minds, while recognizing what is sought by the teacher, will preserve their independence and develop their own theories, even fight for them. Originality is male. Reproduction is female. The female is -- the male becomes. Dissatisfaction is the root of progress (and other, undesirable things), but non-trivial dissatisfaction and questing are something women instinctively do not understand. Those who predicted the future would be a jackboot stomping on the human face forever were wrong. It has become a big fat teat smashed into our nose and mouth until we strangle for lack of breath.

The implication of Fussell's findings is that we cannot expect great numbers of middle-class men to rally to the White nationalist cause. By their nature and mentality, these people are built to respond to the overseer's whip and whistle. The email we started off with shows the great fear they have that they will be "caught" reading or doing something that isn't Officially Approved. But this is a sword with two edges: the minute we are in charge, all these mental tendencies that work against us today will work in our favor. Don't kid yourself for a minute that the middle-class housewife mind Fussell describes has any inherent problem with racialism. No, its problem is with the disrespectability of racialism. Fifty years ago, the reverse was the case. And fifty years hence it may be again, too. The minute superior forces supervene and redirect the media (and corporate culture), these feminized minds, male and female, will begin spouting racialist cliches as Pavlovically as they now spout diversity mantras. And -- the deep meaning here -- they won't even understand why. The mediocre middle-class are the stuff of society; neither "change agents" nor radicals, but respecters of authority as valid by virtue of its power. In this way the masses, whether male or female, exhibit an essentially female tropism, unthinkingly and instinctively gravitating towards the light of power/wealth/prestige for that reason alone. It is left to the weird, bold few to come up with the new modes and ideas and causes, and once these are legitimated as Authority, the masses in the middle will be only too happy to accept them. Few think, many obey. It was always thus, and will always thus be. What matters is that, though they may reproach us for our "bad table manners," the middle-classers won't fight us, too happy and quivering with pleasure in driving their "Grand Marquis" to the mailbox to pick up the Republicans' junk mail offering them the exaltated status of membership in this or the other Exclusive Executive Committee of Insiders. All for a not-so-modest donation.

Back to VNN Main Page

Click Here!