Economics/Class Relations

Orwell and Dalrymple on English Class

By Laurie Wastel Quillette

Ever since Marx, the concept of class has been foundational to sociology—as well as to almost everything else. This would not have surprised the German economist, for class, as he saw it, determines all: one’s motivations, one’s social position, even one’s consciousness. Britain, where Marx’s Capital was written, has long been known for its intricate class system, and as such is the source of much writing on the subject. Two of the most acerbic English social critics of the past century, George Orwell and Theodore Dalrymple, take class as a central subject. Drawing on firsthand experience (Orwell as a journalist, Dalrymple as a prison doctor and psychiatrist), both document in detail the suffering and privations of the class below them. Both also contend that a central cause of this poverty is the indifference of the middle and upper classes, a conclusion Marx would surely have agreed with. Yet, despite this, their work stands in flat contradiction to Marx’s central dogma that the material conditions of a society determine everything about it, including class. In their literary journalism, the authors’ social commentaries and insights into the human condition far surpass Marx’s “scientific” analysis.

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