The English class system historically reeked of a caste system, due to the fact that individuals were strongly encouraged to marry within their social class. Caste systems are difficult to perpetuate without a threat of violence, because as civilization becomes more technologically advanced and efficient, and the population increases and spreads out, people are provided more of the same, if not similar, opportunities to feed themselves, choose vocations, clothe themselves, etc. All in all, overall quality of life improves, and this is exactly what the English experienced over the past few hundred years.
There were three main English classes: the Bourgeoisie, whom are the upper class, the Petite Bourgeoisie, whom are the middle class, and the Proletariat, whom are the lower class. Karl Marx developed a fourth European class named the Lumpenproletariat, but that mainly applied to the French, so we're left with three English classes in modern history.
The Bourgeoisie were those born into money, and were thus the strongest and longest proponents of a caste system because it guaranteed their wealth, property and family name were always attached to social prestige. Their identity was tied up in their capacity for feudal land ownership. "This widespread day-dream is undoubtedly snobbish, it has tended to stabilise class distinctions and has helped to prevent the modernisation of English agriculture: but it is mixed up with a kind of idealism, a feeling that style and tradition are more important than money." This upper-class narcissism encouraged an addiction for social prestige (rather than actual economics) was wildly outdated and ineffective, because when technology and economics finally allowed products to be produced more cheaply and thus more accessibly, the pedestal they stood on was shortened. The Bourgeoisie didn't have a very practical social function, nor did they progress society much. Hence, the middle class drove the system forward.
The Petite-Bourgeosie was the largest of the three class systems, though not unified. Some aspired for aristocracy, hence emulated the upper class, and some dismissed the haughty bullshit and worked, worked, worked. Since the Bourgeoisie had ego, toys, and a history of being coveted, those who emulated them through acquiring fancy titles were rewarded more than even those who had more wealth, but were untitled. If it sounds sad and vain, then ask yourself why you see the American culture in a better light. The Petite-Bourgeosie's intra-friction was "not a distinction of income but of accent, manners and, to some extent, outlook." (p. 628) WW2 and the vast entailments it presented changed the fabric of English society because industrialization and massive production turned lower-middle class young men into upper-middle class men, because Industrial Technicians were more upper-middle class. WW2 was their ticket to a higher class, and since so many men were needed as airplane technicians, then the Petite-Bourgeosie became much more intermarried than before the war. I look at it in terms of incentives. The lower-class man didn't merely work because he was incentivized to up his class, but he worked because he had a steady job in which he improved due to constant repetition. It's easy to overlook the self-worth and confidence all these lower-middle class men developed, plus this arduous work produced things they could see, which changed their outlooks as men, reorienting them toward work and production and away from the myth of social prestige. So although they raised their class, they drew further away from the true upper class, who existed simply on the myth of gentility.
The Proletariat are the lowest class, whom often live in slums or communal living facilities, comprised of imported laborers, drifters, and individuals who allow a severely low standard of living. Keep in mind that it's a class system, not a strict caste system, so people can, with great effort, move up. Moving up in English class did require a certain decency though, a certain bundle of manners that lubricated relations with others. To be a proletariat thus meant a few things: A belief that they will never jump classes, to accept the minimal standard of living, and to not play the social game. I haven't spoken much of "the social game," but it's not a concept I pulled out of thin air, it's simply a mixture of politics and relativism and materialism. The Proletariat's depravity made the class system a caste system, which is the inverse of social progress.
Industrialization allowed the blurring of the top two classes. (The proletariat remained the proletariat, as a certain minority do in every organized country.) Orwell lists a few characteristics of this blurring: 1) The overall improvement in industrial technique. Large, more efficient machines allowed humans to lifter lighter loads and use their fingers, rather than their biceps. 2) Improvements in housing allowed the middle class' structures to have similar amenities as the upper class', such as an indoor toilet. 3) The mass production of furniture allowed people to pay on installments, creating the first instance of English consumer debt. No longer did people have to buy what they could afford, but they could buy what they wanted! And lastly, 4) clothing was produced more cheaply and efficiently, allowing the middle class to resemble the upper class, affordably. Before that, the middle class dressed in clothes that didn't fit, and were years out of fashion. When the clothing production boomed, one could barely tell the difference between the aristocrats and the middle class. This no doubt affected aristocratic bloodlines because middle class women now appeared on upper class men's radar.
Improvements in industrial technology increased radio's audience, as well as literature's. Reading became more commonplace because books were produced more inexpensively and prolifically, and lending-libraries allowed people to not buy, but still read. All this adds up to the culture moving forward on equal terms, which up to that point, hadn't happened in England due to the economic and social disparity. Moving forward on equal terms doesn't mean the class system was abolished, it simply means that the archaic feudal system that England latched onto, progressed quickly once the industrial production came along. Not that industrial production is the universal solvent to humanity's problems--due to pollution, wage slavery, and unnatural power politics which it breeds--but that's an argument for another day.
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