an insular class subject to country with powerful fogs

I’m trying to tally the uses of the phrase “middle class” in Britain. So far, I’ve come up with:

Synonym for “bourgeois” – which is problematic, because almost as soon as Marxism was invented, the idea that the bourgeoisie *owned* industry rather than managing it became obsolete. The middle class owns houses, it doesn’t own industry, except in the highly abstract sense of insurance or pension fund shareholdings.

And it certainly doesn’t own land. That’s the upper class; look at the circle around the princes, who mostly aren’t aristocratic or even very rich, but they are all landowners. There are as few Vodafone executives as there are asylum seekers. Ah, surely we’re getting somewhere? But isn’t that just a cheap version of the old distinction between the plutocracy and the aristocracy, the iron boss trying to ape the duke, a cliche of 19th century books? However, the top end of the middle class stereotypically buys property in the country as soon as they can afford to.

OK, the reductive sense; they are not the upper class, they are not the rich, they are not the working class. What is left between these lines must be the middle. But then, things that are described as “middle class” (estate cars, detached houses, Sainsburys) overlap the skilled working class and quite a bit at the top too. Politicians and advertisers draw a careful distinction between the C2s and the ABs.

Further, the suburbs are middle class, but so is London; most of the London so described is actually quite poor. The middle class is supposedly worried about private school fees and always votes Conservative, but statistically neither of these statements can possibly be true.

The middle class is sometimes used as a derisive term for what other European countries call the intelligentsia. At the same time, it supposedly doesn’t care what the intellectuals think. It is a national cliche that the middle class is a fearsome lobby, but also that it is incredibly surprising, faintly comic, and rather touching when its members are moved to protest.

My conclusion is that the phrase means everything and therefore nothing and should be decommissioned in an orderly fashion.


  1. Well I certainly agree with that.

    But what exactly defines “the working class” in your opinion?

    I mean, if “the middle class” no longer means anything does “the working class” mean anything?

    Also I wrote (alright, I emailed) my MP (John Maples, Cons) about that Freedom of Information Order thing: I’ll be interested to see what he has to say on the matter.

  2. Richard J

    In the broadsheets, ‘middle class’ always seems to be what the marketing team say the target demographic of the paper is, while in the tabloids, it seems to be a euphemism for ‘your boss, and anybody in the state sector’…

  3. Luis Enrique

    I am always amazed at how often middle class people use the phrase in a pejorative sense. I mean it’s still fucking stupid when working class people use it as an insult, but at least it’s not quite so screwed up self-hating.

  4. Richard J

    Of course, the pragmatic definition is (my salary)*.75<middle class< 2*(my salary)[1].

    [1] Or, if higher, "what my friend makes."

  5. Igor Belanov

    The problem is that it all depends whether you’re looking at class in an economic, social or cultural form. A self-employed tradesman is certainly middle-class in the economic sense, but not usually in the other categories. The media discusses class merely in cultural terms, so anyone who drinks wine is middle-class, university graduates are middle-class, and David Beckham is still working-class.

    To avoid any stupidities you probably have to take a pragmatic point of view. From my point of view middle-class would include the following:

    i) The high salariat, managers earning over £40,000 (outside London);
    ii) The traditional professions, ie. doctor, solicitor, vet, university professor;
    iii) The ‘petty bourgeoisie’ and all those owning their own businesses;
    iv) ALL those who pay for private education.

    Feel free to ridicule me…

  6. guthrie

    Cultural and aspirational I think. Certainly, a well trained tradesman from the rough parts of North Lanarkshire can earn multiples of what nice middle class university educated people like me earn, and never be middle class by the usual cultural measure. Perhaps their children will be after being brought up in a big house and going to a decent school.




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