Partial Prognoses

Paul Fussell has written an interesting entertainment that examines the American class structure. It is basically descriptive and impressionistic and espouses no cause. It is filled with keen insights and amusing anecdotes and is consequently a relaxing, nontaxing book. In essence, it meshes with a vast Western literature—both scholarly and pedestrian—that enthrones class as the object of study.

Much of 20th-century scholarship involves a preoccupation with class. This is perhaps the legacy of Karl Marx, who viewed class as the Rosetta stone that enabled historical interpretation and prediction. Marxist ideology sees history as a panorama of class struggle. History unfolds in a progressive pattern through class conflict; there is movement from one dominating class to another until the chain is broken. The industrial proletariat is, of course, the messianic class that is destined to triumph. Hence, according to Marxists, to focus on class—class interests, class control, class exploitation, class conspiracy—is to focus on political reality. Other considerations involve the superficial or mere "superstructure." To concentrate primarily on nation or culture is but to demonstrate one's naivete. Paradoxically, once the Marxist­Leninists seize power in a state and consolidate their control, they seldom tolerate a class critique of the new establishment. How...

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