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Is snobbery as bad as racism? The British are so sensitive about it — but not the inequities of class that it's based on

Emily Thornberry took this picture in Rochester. Credit: Twitter

Emily Thornberry took this picture in Rochester. Credit: Twitter


August 18, 2020   6 mins

In the press and on social-media, one constantly reads indignant denunciations of every variety of snobbery imaginable: “class snobbery”, “Remainer snobbery”, “educational snobbery”, “literary snobbery”, “beer snobbery”, “salt snobbery”, “wine snobbery”, “music snobbery” and even, “audio-book snobbery”.

Why have we become so obsessed with snobbery — or the snobbery of other people, at least? You might think: has it not ever been thus? “Snobbery is the religion of England,” wrote Frank Harris in the 1920s. And it was Orwell who claimed that nobody was as snobbish as the English.

But it’s worth remembering that in the 1960s, with the celebration of youth and the new classlessness, snobbery seemed old-fashioned and foolish. It was seen as the social vice of suburban social climbers and downwardly mobile toffs. Snobbery was doomed because it had no place in a modern, meritocratic Britain — or so its critics assumed.

We would laugh at snobbery and the Great British Snobs of TV sit-coms such as Hyancith Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances, Margo Leadbetter in The Good Life and Cyril Blamire in Last of the Summer Wine. But now snobbery is no laughing matter.

It has even undergone a kind of conceptual make-over. For social scientists and public intellectuals, snobbery as a concept once lacked substance — at least when it came to the analysis of serious issues like class conflict or capitalism. But since Brexit and the victory of Trump, snobbery — along with elitism — dominates much of our serious political and cultural analysis both in the UK and the USA.  For many it’s a way of understanding the world and what’s gone wrong with it.

For the Right, snobbery plays the same role as racism does for the woke Left: an ugly social evil that must be exposed and expunged from society. And in the same way that the woke-Left sees institutional racism everywhere, so the Right sees institutional snobbery everywhere too — in the BBC, The Guardian, academia and the arts.

Anti-racists believe that along with explicit racism there’s a hidden implicit racism at work: a whole substratum of assumptions and codes that needs to be teased out to reveal the truth of what white people are really saying. For anti-snobbists too, snobbery exists in a series of codes and assumptions. They hear the dog-whistles of snobbery everywhere.

You may think that you don’t like reality TV because it’s mindless rubbish, but anti-snobbists claim the real reason is that you don’t like the spectacle of working-class people — and you don’t like the sort of people who watch reality TV, either! And so you’re a double snob!

And you may think that a holiday in France, a night at the opera or drinking wine from Tuscany are just the innocent pleasures of life: wrong! According to a New Statesman columnist, these are the “culture tokens” by which the snobbish middle-class, “state and restate their presumed superiority over the common masses”.

In snob-sensitive Britain, not only do you have to be careful about appearing to criticise other people’s taste, but declaring your own. The writer Candia McWilliam was once labelled a “super-snob” for saying she loved ”reading Villiers de L’Isle Adam while eating a pomelo”. OK, it’s a touch pretentious, but snobbish? I don’t think so.

If all this talk of snobbery were just so much social-media banter without any wider consequences it wouldn’t matter. But in the same way that racism or transphobia can cost you your job, so can snobbery, as the MP Andrew Mitchell discovered in 2012 when he was alleged to have called a policeman “a fucking pleb”. Two years later Labour’s Emily Thornberry, then the Shadow Attorney General, tweeted a photo of a house in her constituency in Kent with three flags of St. George and a white van in the front of it. Whatever her intentions were — her tweet carried no comment — the mere whiff of snobbery cost Thornberry her job too.

Politicians and public-figures now show off their man-of-the-people credentials by displaying their love of football, pop music or the latest Netflix series everyone is watching. If you’re an old Etonian in public life with a passion for the works of Seneca, best keep it to yourself. And that’s exactly what the Latin-loving Boris Johnson has done ever since his Brexit rebranding as a man of the people. During the run-up to his 2019 victory Johnson was asked how he liked to relax and told his talkRADIO audience he likes to make “models of buses” and “paint passengers.” Clearly his days of quoting Virgil and wearing a toga are over.

Snobbery in our post-Brexit era has become something more associated with the liberal-Left than the conservative Right. It wasn’t always so. Snobbery used to be most visible among the Right — unapologetic snobs included Evelyn Waugh, Auberon Waugh, Kingsley Amis, Anthony Powell and the Oxford don A.L. Rowse.

That is not to say that the Left was never snobbish. But as the self-appointed champions of the working-class they saved their snobbish comments for the middle-class, or the “bourgeoisie” as they were contemptuously called. Looking down on Suburban Man, his subservient Stepford-Wife and 2.4 kids — with his ghastly taste in decor, his middlebrow music and books — was perfectly acceptable and even admired, as the success of Mike Leigh’s 1977 BBC television drama Abigail’s Party showed.

In those days though, that was called social satire. Snobbery is when you laugh at the working-class; satire is laughing at the middle-class. And we’re still mocking and laughing at the middle-class, only we’re too worried about snobbery towards the working-class to notice or care. Owen Jones in his book Chavs (2011) claimed that prejudice towards the working-class was the only socially acceptable form of prejudice; now when it comes to snobbery it’s the only form of prejudice that causes concern.

I accept that no one is going to take a stand against being snobby about us poor maligned middle-class folks with our much-mocked “first-world problems” and our curated coffee fixations. I get it. But if anti-snobbists really believe that snobbery is wrong — and they do — then why not?

Britain really became snob-sensitive in the wake of the EU referendum of 2016. Many commentators claimed that a new wave of snobbery had been unleashed by Remainers. And that’s partly true. Too often I have heard my Remainer friends bemoan those “ghastly” Brexiteers. That said, over 16 million people voted to remain in the EU — they can’t all be snobs, can they?

We all agree that snobbery is wrong. The question is: how wrong? How terrible a social problem is it? Considering the fury it provokes, you’d think snobbery were on par with racism, anti-Semitism or sexism. And for the anti-snob, it is. Bryan Appleyard in the Spectator magazine argues that “snobbery is exactly like racism” and that while it may be occasionally funny, snobbery is always, writes Appleyard, “evil”.   

Is it really evil or something merely offensive?  It’s true that like racism or anti-Semitism, snobbery is rooted in prejudice. But there is a prejudice that causes real harm — physical injury and emotional damage — and prejudice that is shallow and does no real serious and lasting damage.

We make a big fuss about snobbery but I suspect that its actual presence on people’s daily lives is minimal. You don’t find YouTube videos of passengers on public transport being subjected to vicious tirades about their cheap Primark clothes, vulgar jewellery or their dropped ‘h’s by a drunken snob, clutching a vintage bottle of Chateau Du Ponce.

And what of the serious damage caused by snobbery? Are mosques fire bombed and Jews attacked on the street because of snobbery? (The snob raises their nose, not their fists.) Does snobbery create poor health, homelessness, family breakdown, mental illness, suicide or drug addiction the way poverty can? I don’t think so. Does anyone really believe that if snobbery totally disappeared that it would make a substantial difference to the quality of everyday life of ordinary people?

Anti-snobbists complain when the working-class are shamed on social media — but do they really feel ashamed? Maybe it’s — dare I say it — a bit snobbish to assume that working-class people are so fragile they’d be hurt by some ephemeral tweet from some snobbish twat?

The Right is always complaining that people — particularly the young — lack any kind of resilience or fortitude when faced with words or ideas that make them uncomfortable or hurt their feelings. Such people are usually dismissed as “snowflakes” — unless they are working-class people who allegedly have been a victim of middle-class liberal snobbery.

The idea that working-class people across the land are sitting at home and in pubs seething with indignation at the snobbery of middle-class people at north London dinner parties is absurd. Of course if you ask such people they will criticise the more blatant forms of snobbery. But most of the time, I suspect, they don’t even think about these matters. Why should they care what such people think?

And there’s some academic evidence that they don’t. In Reacting to Reality Television the sociologists Bev Skeggs and Helen Wood examined the hostile and often snobbish attitudes towards working-class women who appeared in reality TV shows. These women were criticised for being too fat, for drinking too much, smoking too much and having too many children — all the clichés about “chavs” rolled into one.

But how did these women react to such snobbish attacks? Were they angry or hurt? Did they feel ashamed? No, they responded with admirable indifference. Professor Skeggs said on a BBC Radio 4 programme on snobbery, that these women who had been subjected to such abuse didn’t “care about a lot of these middle-class judgments being imposed on them. They just didn’t notice it.”

By defending the white working-class from middle-class snobbery it allows one to appear a true egalitarian — without having to believe in equality. It’s curious that people are so angry about snobbery, but not the inequities of class or the inequalities of capitalism that snobbery is based on.

If anyone is to be pitied it’s not the working-class person who is looked down upon, but the snob doing the looking. Believing in your own superiority — because of your birth or consumer choices — means that you are in the grips of a terrible and dangerous form of self-delusion. The snob is trapped in a self-fulfilling fallacy. Like the man who thinks he’s Napoleon or Jesus Christ, the snob needs our help to get back to reality, rather than our condemnation.


Cosmo Landesman is a journalist and editor.


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chrisjwmartin
chrisjwmartin
3 years ago

I think this article foundered before it was started because of two false premisses.

For the Right, snobbery plays the same role as racism does for the woke Left [“¦] You may think that you don’t like reality TV because it’s mindless rubbish

Since when have the Right been staunch defenders of reality TV? See, your entire article relies on the principle in that first statement: that anti-snobbery is as defining for the Right as anti-racism is for the Left. But as your own examples prove, anti-snobbery is not particular to the Right, and in many ways is more of a characteristic of the Left. And that is not praise for the Left:

We all agree that snobbery is wrong.

No we don’t, and why should we? Snobbery can be wrong, sure, like anything can be if wrongly targeted. But ultimately ‘snobbery’ is just the name that the ignorant and vapid use when they observe good taste.

Yes, I believe that some cultural objects are more valuable than others, and if that makes me a snob, so be it: better than being a ghastly relativist. Michaelangelo’s David is superior to Damien Hirst’s pickled cows. Beethoven is superior to Cardi B. Shakespeare is superior to Coronation Street. I am not ashamed of these preferences, and will not feel guilty about them just because some pleb wants to call me a snob.

Iain Muir
Iain Muir
3 years ago
Reply to  chrisjwmartin

Well said.

My own background is mixed. If I must describe it in class terms to save time, I’d say it’s lower middle/upper working class and, in some respects, it’s the centre of the battleground. It certainly feels that way because one of my main passions is opera.

In the UK, very few things bring out the worst in people more than opera, in spite of the fact that few of them could say where their nearest opera house is. And this is not confined to members of the working class. At worst, the word is toxic, appears to be a mainly British (or Anglophone) thing, and seems to have given rise to that strange and superfluous phenomenon, the ‘crossover’ singer – a sort of ‘opera without opera’. I’ve never been in the habit of proselytising about opera or making pretentious claims, but I’ve lost count of the number of abusive comments aimed in my direction, totally unprovoked. It always amazes me how people who have never been anywhere near a performance (or an opera house, we don’t have many) seem to know so much about the audience, what they wear, their background, how they speak, how much they earn, and their reasons for turning up at all. However, like you, I will never apologise, and the sillier jibes can be shot down with hard facts.

I’ve pondered the reasons for all this many times. In my case, in their eyes I’m not an obvious ‘opera type’ and some people find that unsettling; they have to recalibrate their concept of ‘normal’. However, there have been several occasions when I wished I had been born in Germany.

Katy Randle
Katy Randle
3 years ago
Reply to  Iain Muir

Yes! As someone who is (was?) in the business, it is infuriating how the mindset of “it’s just elitist” persists, despite EVERYTHING being done to open up access, make it more “relevant” (grr), etc. Thanks for sticking with it, and I hope that your obvious passion for opera and advocacy for it, whilst being “not an opera type”, persuades more people eventually.

It really is a different culture in Germany. Many, many more theatres / opera houses, a children’s production every Christmas and lots of access to rehearsals etc for schools, meaning that those children grow up thinking that a theatre is a perfectly normal place to go, if you fancy it. I wish it were easier to recalibrate a culture!

Iain Muir
Iain Muir
3 years ago
Reply to  Katy Randle

I’m not sure what the answer is for those in the business. I certainly don’t really understand this need for ‘relevance’, which seems to assume that people cannot appreciate something which does not reflect their lives in some way. Imagination must be on its way out.

I cling to the belief that opera, and orchestral concerts for that matter, need to be seen as relatively ‘normal’, like going to the cinema, but I think there is a limit to what ‘the business’ can do to bring this about. Decades ago, it was normal for opera singers and the occasional conductor to appear on a chat show, and ‘Andre Previn’s Music Night’ attracted decent viewing figures. Now, that type of content seems to have been relegated to the ghetto of the occasional music documentary, with nothing to attract people in the first instance.

Where do negative impressions come from? Virtually anywhere, it seems. I’ve seen so many movies containing dialogue along the following lines:

A: Where are you off to?
B (in dinner jacket): My wife’s dragging me off to the opera.
A: Good, you can catch up on some sleep.

Several years ago, on the rare occasions that opera made the news, the BBC (I think it was) invariably rolled out a library clip of a gala night at the ROH. Hardly typical, but try convincing people otherwise. I’ve met people who simply refuse to accept that the ROH does not have a dress code.

On the surface this seems trivial, but it’s damaging nonetheless. On the positive side, there’s some good content on YouTube. That’s the way to go, IMO.

Katy Randle
Katy Randle
3 years ago
Reply to  Iain Muir

Indeed. It seems to be ingrained in the culture that opera is the epitome of snobby elitism. We do try to point out that it’s mostly about sex and violence . . .

As to imagination, well yes, that is indeed on the way out, sadly. Many directors evidently don’t trust the audience to relate to human emotions which vibrate through the centuries. Nope; if you’re not wearing jeans, you can’t be feeling jealousy, or fear, or love like we progressive modern people do. Argh.

chrisjwmartin
chrisjwmartin
3 years ago
Reply to  Iain Muir

However, like you, I will never apologise

Good for you. This is the most important thing. You have nothing to apologise for. The insistence that all cultural forms are equal is Sklavenmoral.

John Simpson
John Simpson
3 years ago
Reply to  Iain Muir

Isn’t the answer obvious? All that public money subsidising rich,
overdressed toffs listening to overweight singers from the lawn at Glyndebourne.

Snobs, the lot of you.

Iain Muir
Iain Muir
3 years ago
Reply to  John Simpson

The Glyndebourne Festival, which is indoors (Covid excepted), does not receive any public subsidy.

As for the rest, QED.

dan3099
dan3099
3 years ago
Reply to  chrisjwmartin

You are a snob. You call people with differing taste ignorant, vapid, and pleb.

chrisjwmartin
chrisjwmartin
3 years ago
Reply to  dan3099

You are a snob.

What makes you think that, the part where I disagree that snobbery is wrong, the part where I defend snobbery as good taste, or the part where I say I’m not ashamed to be a snob?

Lee Johnson
Lee Johnson
3 years ago
Reply to  chrisjwmartin

Why are you defending yourself if you are unashamed ?

chrisjwmartin
chrisjwmartin
3 years ago
Reply to  Lee Johnson

To be honest I am just bored on lockdown, and prone to replying to comments at far greater length and with far greater seriousness than they merit. As Plato had Socrates say in the Symposium“¦ [continues for ten paragraphs]

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
3 years ago
Reply to  chrisjwmartin

I wish it were possible to give you twenty upticks!

chrisjwmartin
chrisjwmartin
3 years ago
Reply to  Martin Adams

1. Open your browser’s Incognito Mode.
2. Create a new burner email account.
3. Sign up to Disqus with the new burner email account.
4. Upvote me.
5. Close Incognito Mode.
6. Increment var_count by 1.
7. If var_count = 20, stop, else go to 1.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago

“Does anyone really believe that if snobbery totally disappeared that it would make a substantial difference to the quality of everyday life of ordinary people?”

As a matter of fact, I do. It would make a substantial difference to the everyday lives of ordinary people if the old, the male, the white, the gender-sceptical and the Leave-voter were no longer excluded from cultural life.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Who is excluding the Leave voter from going to the Opera?

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

People like you.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

How am I doing that?

David J
David J
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

I score highly in your exclusion list.
Except that I’m not left out of cultural life in the slightest.
However, one does have to deal with snobs (eg. ex-gf) firmly, but with kindness and a degree of humour.

Alison Houston
Alison Houston
3 years ago

This seems to be a very confused piece of writing. Our prejudices are beneficial to us, that is why we indulge them. The attempts of some to keep up with the Jones, including the most ridiculous outbursts from Owen, are signs of frailty and neurosis which are nevertheless just a kind of herd safety mechanism. It is dangerous to throw off one’s instinctive prejudices, God or nature made us ‘snobs’.

But what happened over Brexit is not merely snobbery, it was an explicit attempt by the powerful to overturn the result of a democratic vote. Democracy is the one equalising moment that occurs every four or five years, in which snobbishness must never be allowed to play any part.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Yes, I really don’t know what he’s trying to say here, and I must have read countless articles similar to this over the years. Moreover, these people always seem to assume that everyone is part of a monolithic group with immutable and unchanging tastes and characteristics. Today, as part of the globalised ‘knowledge economy’ I will work online for a client in the Netherlands via an intermediary in Australia. I will then read a biography of William Morris by a Guardian writer (who has a home in Tuscany, needless to say) before going to the pub to watch the Champions League while drinking beer. This places me in thee different social groups in the course of one day. Namely, ‘person of anywhere’, cultural snob from QuIslington, and football-watching pub geezer. On another day my activities could place me into a number of other groups.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Yes, thank you for saying this. I think the greatest social skill one could have these days is the ability to skillfully adapt to whatever environment they are in.

I grew up almost destitute, became rich, then poor again, before managing to acquire a stable lifestyle. The ability to transcend social groups certainly helped me. I think that may also be the reason why I fear becoming too comfortable as well, in case I lose those skills.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I agree with you; don’t know what it is but in the Continent it is perfectly acceptable for the PM to go to Opera. Merkel regularly goes to Bayeruth.
Daily Mail, Sun, Express would go nuts if the British PM goes to RO regularly.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I won’t be watching any sport until they stop “taking a knee”.

Geoff Cox
Geoff Cox
3 years ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Ditto – I’ve boycotted cricket and Premiership football. Will the Premiership reappear in September with BLM on their shirts. I rather think they won’t, but who knows in these ridiculous times. As for cricket, have they stopped taking the knee?

Geoff Cox
Geoff Cox
3 years ago
Reply to  Geoff Cox

To answer my own question – England Cricket is no longer taking the knee (and nor is Pakistan).

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  Geoff Cox

No, I’m afraid not. A number of rugger players have though: firstly Israel Folau, and then three Saracens players in the Bristol game a few days ago.

Incidentally, would you mind in future putting quote marks around “taking a knee”.

Anna Tanneberger
Anna Tanneberger
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

For some reason I can only post as a reply. But I agree with you Alison Houston. Both that the author is confused and that snobbery is harmless.

What is the point that this author is making? One moment he seems to be saying that snobbery is harmless? Or is racism harmless when you merely sneer at other races?

Appreciating culture is not snobbery. Believing you are superior to others for no reason other than an accident of birth is snobbery (and racism, etc.).

As a “colonial hick” I could never understand that the Brits distinguish between snobbery and racism.

My father did me the doubtful favour of sending me to elocution classes as a child, so that I speak proper English. As a result, over decades I regularly found myself in the company of people who think I am one of them, while they slag off the people and place I belong. They are slagging off — me, but I am here in disguise. And then you don’t want to embarrass them by mentioning some way into the conversation that you are one of “those people.” You just squirm and try to change the subject.

Snobbery, racism, anti-semitism, classism, language-ism, are all one and the same thing. The worst genocide, in recent times, happened in Rwanda – and it was between people of the same race. Racism was not a factor. Only snobbery: all the ways in which “we” are better than “them”. One faction was the ruling class, the educated, while the other was the stupid, uneducated working class.

The ultimate hypocrisy of sneering at people, because “those people” are racists, is so bizarre as to be hilarious.

We colonial hicks have always looked up to the Brits, taking their peculiarities in our stride. Their snootiness is hurtful only if you happen to be within earshot. But for all that I spent 65 years admiring the British culture, literature and dreamt of one day going to all these places I had read about. I love the English language and it pains me when people abuse it. It pains me to know that the Britain of my imagination no longer exists and the last remnants of what is so familiar in my imagination are being torn down. As these snobs are trying to out-humble each other. “I can kneel more deeply than you. So that makes me a better person than you, so there!”

I still love and admire the Brits and the British culture. The cultural (woke) snobs are not representative. They are just the loudest; the empty and hollow vessels are always the loudest.

David Waring
David Waring
3 years ago

Snobbery and Brexit?
It was generally agreed that the English were hacked off with being branded racist while being pushed to the back of the queue for jobs, education, holidays and decent housing by liberal elitist snobs.

Chinese Bear
Chinese Bear
3 years ago
Reply to  David Waring

If only it was as simple as that. When my other half was in hospital with a serious illness, I knew that he was in good hands when he was being looked after either by foreign health care assistants (East European, Filipino/a, Indian, African) or by Black British or British Asians. All of these, individually and collectively, were caring, kind and attentive both to him and to me, even when there were language barriers or possibly cultural barriers because they were less used to same sex marriages. The only negative experiences he and I had was when the ward was run by English ‘white working class’, who were loudmouthed (including swearing), shrill, uncaring and negligent, placing food and hot drinks out of reach of the oldest patients. I know this is anecdotal evidence but it is part of a larger pattern, not only in health care but in service industries and many areas of life.
I should add that the more senior and middle rank staff, whatever their nationality or class, were all absolutely first rate.

[I refer to health care assistants because they do much of the practical work of day to day patient care in hospitals these days.]

John John
John John
3 years ago

Liberals are the biggest snobs and racists we have in our country and they really need to step back and take a moral inventory of their lives.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  John John

It’s the snobbery of having the correct attitude rather than the pride of actually contributing anything useful to society.

Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
3 years ago

This is an interesting topic, but the essay seems to have circled around it without really figuring out what snobbery is, and conflating things that I suspect may be different. And it was a third longer than it needed to be.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
3 years ago

Why are we so obsessed with either? People are different, have different circumstances and there are always people who take out their crap on others or who like to feel powerful by bullying others. We always knew it was wrong but in our civilisation we developed something called the rule of law which has replaced the less structured rule of mob justice which gives us recourse when someone attacks us or nicks our stuff. I honestly don’t know why picking on someone because of their skin colour is any worse than picking on someone for any other reason. Someone beaten up because they looked at a bullying ***hole the wrong way, or because they’re short, spotty, ugly, ginger, support the wrong football team etc etc etc is not going to feel better when they’re lying in hospital because they weren’t picked on for being gay or Asian. And minorities are also just as capable of being violent and nasty bullies but their ‘victim status’ appears to give them a pass that is not given to everyone else. Bullies are bullies. I would never dream of picking on someone or beating someone up for any reason because I’m not a bully. If I were a bully I’m pretty sure any reason would do. This obsession with identities and hierarchies of oppression I personally find extremely tedious and entirely unnecessary. Human beings are hardwired to be tribal, the best we can do as a society is to rub the hard-edges off of that which is why manners and treating people as individuals are such important cultural memes. We’re losing our manners, identity groups have become the new tribes and the rule of law is becoming ineffectual at exacting justice Justice is different from ‘the law’ – we know the difference in the way we instinctively react to the pathetic punishments dished out to scumbags nowadays and how protecting the public seems to be lower on the list than not being called racist, or dancing at Pride parades. If the law won’t protect you then vigilantism and mob rule will fill the void, which we’re seeing already.
Classism, racism, sexism, these terms are just ways to ‘classify’ large swathes of people as oppressors or oppressed, it’s the language of Marxism and it’s the language of eugenics. And it’s tribalism.

Barry Wetherilt
Barry Wetherilt
3 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

On the nail!

John Broomfield
John Broomfield
3 years ago

If you must judge us, then judge us by the content of our character not by our origins.

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago

Yes I always wanted to be ”Top of the Class” I come from Old Working class. ”New Snobbery” seems to be illiberal liberals on furloughs thinking Working from home is Superior,to be in An office,Bus driver,Cleaner,Security guard,Sports Steward etc.. Thankfully Overseas Call centres will Cut a Swathe through these ‘Remain/ers at home” Karma.. thank goodness Ive retired….No doubt bonkers Boris, Smarmy Ed davey,Captain Hindsight Starmer,Jimmy Sturgeon think they are indespensible as well.??…Off with their heads…

Lou Campbell
Lou Campbell
3 years ago

You quote Brian Appleyard as “Snobbery is exactly like racism” and argue that it’s not.
I thought, that’s shocking, yet On reading it….the quote at the end of a long article actually is; “Snobbery is exactly like racism in that it judges us not for what we say or do but for what we most unalterably are.”
Taking the quote in part to mean what you need it for, rather than what It says is disappointing and not what is expected from UnHerd.

Cho Jinn
Cho Jinn
3 years ago

“But there is a prejudice that causes real harm ” physical injury and emotional damage ” and prejudice that is shallow and does no real serious and lasting damage.”

Author fails to understand that, in 2020, words are violence and violence is, in fact, speech, at least when expressed in Portland, Seattle, and Chicago.

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
3 years ago

I find it hard to nail down exactly which of this article’s many weaknesses I should highlight. So I shall merely observe that the author’s tendency to classify everything and everyone into simple categories ” almost always around binary oppositions ” gets annoying. And it’s fruitless, because so many of the categories are either irrelevant to the main question the article seeks to answer, or obsolete. And it’s intellectually lazy.

I’ll pick just one. The polarities of left and right are increasingly useless because the political categories to which they used to apply have changed so much. Rather than handy labels that apply with some accuracy to whole patterns of contrasted beliefs and practices, they have become generalised, quasi-tribal descriptions that carry moral implications all too evident from the way they tend to be used. When the current “left” says something is “right”, they almost invariably mean the “right” is wrong, even evil. In that light, I find it hard to understand what Mr Landesman means when he uses the terms.

Robin P
Robin P
3 years ago
Reply to  Martin Adams

Well said. The thing you need to understand is that politics is weirdly different from other subjects. The people most involved in politics and in writing about it are actually those with the least understanding of it. That is because they tend to be those with the stronger attitudes and thus most lacking in dispassionate objectivity. They get stuck in their us/them categorisations long after they have ceased to have anything to do with reality. Cheers.

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
3 years ago
Reply to  Robin P

Thank you. I had never considered it in that way. There’s plenty of food for thought in what you say; and it strikes me as fitting rather well with the tendency towards black-and-white, either/or categorisation.
Cheers!

chris carr
chris carr
3 years ago

My grandmother polished the steps to the house she lived in. It was a cramped terrace house on a street leading to slums. She polished the steps, washed clothes, worked and worked to keep her children out of the slums. She did not give up. Did not give in. She would not surrender.
She was a snob.
She was not cruel, she would help wherever she could, but she would not surrender to let her home and children decay in the endless work against dirt. So the children went to school in decent clothes and studied hard. Got better lives than she and her husband, and that pleased her.
She was a snob and therefore would not surrender to decay.

Nunya Bizniss
Nunya Bizniss
3 years ago
Reply to  chris carr

My grandfathers were both raised in conditions that would give “Oxfam” and “Save the Children” campaigners nightmares. One picked peas aged 3, with nothing but rags or newspapers on his feet. Then he worked in an abattoir aged 8. Before school, he and his little pals held the beast on a rope while the slaughterman did his job. This is in pre-welfare Britain. He went on to fight for his country, learn a trade, earn a living and raise a family (without ever raising a fist; unlike his own father). Those clamouring to provide for the “underprivileged” (whether at home or overseas) might take a moment to consider how people like my grandparents had nothing at all only a few generations ago. What people believe they are “entitled” to now is incredible.

Chinese Bear
Chinese Bear
3 years ago

I very much associate the cult of ‘The People’ and the idea that it was ‘elitist’ or ‘snobbish’ to criticise ‘popular’ culture or taste with the early years of the Blair regime, most notably the Cool Britannia phase. Chris Smith, New Labour’s first Culture Commissar, I mean Secretary, wrote a book in which he claimed that the Beatles were ‘as good as Mozart’ and it was all just a matter of ‘personal taste’! There was a rich vein of ‘anti-elitism’ on the left since the 1960 and especially the 1970s, when the idea that ‘all accents are equal’ and social skills are ‘bourgeois’ gained currency, especially in educationalist circles.
Since then – and especially since the Brexit referendum, although it was already gathering pace – ‘anti-elitism’ has moved both right and white, with the ‘white working class’ as the new objects of adulation, mythologised and placed above criticism.

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Chinese Bear

Yes!
Weatherspoon = Real People
Gastropub = snobs

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smith
3 years ago

Let’s be honest!
Thornberry was right about the van man. One flag would suffice.
As an American I find it absurd that every politicians and TV presenter MUST have the American flag lapel pin.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Smith

You’re confused between “must” and “may”.

Robin P
Robin P
3 years ago

This article seems to assume as an established fact that “racism is bad”. I appear to have missed the class in primary or grammar school when we would presumably have learned that. Could anyone please elaborate on that notion of “racism is bad”? Some people in some other times and places seem to have thought otherwise. So why is it recognised as bad here and now?

Lee Johnson
Lee Johnson
3 years ago
Reply to  Robin P

Because its bad for your career ?

Anna Tanneberger
Anna Tanneberger
3 years ago
Reply to  Robin P

Indeed. The Rwandan genocide was not a result of racism; they were all the same race. It was a result of classism, or snobbery. The one lot was more educated and sophisticated, the ruling class in fact. The other lot was the plebs.

Andrew Best
Andrew Best
3 years ago

Modern Anti racists and just racists want to the divide the world into colours and separate us up.
Snobbery hates us no matter what colour we are just because of who we are.
I am working class and i hate reality tv because it takes the biggest loud mouths puts then on tv and says roll up, roll up look at the scum working class, expect they are not working class they are the great unwashed, a caricature of a Disney world ride called unwashed of Britain.
But then as it has been drummed into me for 47 years and screamed at me for the last 4 years shut up and listen to your betters

Jimmy Edwards
Jimmy Edwards
3 years ago

I just think that perhaps we all have too much time on our hands. Ok, back to chopping wood for the winter months.

Karen Jemmett
Karen Jemmett
3 years ago

I think the arguments in this article are somewhat dated. We’re not living in the 1960s anymore when counter-cultural forms of self-assertion and expression were necessary to tackle class ‘discrimination’ (let’s give it it’s proper title, hey?). Who could fail to be snobbish to some degree today, given the extent of the dumming down in the arts and society we’re now witnessing of late? Interestingly, I take encouragement from the Black Lives Matter crowd, who are showing us all how to be respectable and middle-classed again, lol.

Ken aldri49
Ken aldri49
2 years ago

The snobs laughed at the middle class because they had aspirations of becoming members of the snob class themselves and failed (So, you laughed at their failures). You didn’t laugh at the working class because they had no such aspirations, had their own culture, and just snickered at the snobs. Plus if you laughed at the working class, they would probably deck you in two minutes flat.
This brings me to Hollywood. Hollywood is the champion of the working class due to its being largely populated by its most creative members. Now, in America, the working class/middle class dividing line is generally obscure and so the two are best separated on the basis of whether you are “suburban” or more inner city. So in general, once you moved to the suburbs, you became a middle class suburbanite, and hence a member of a group that it was acceptable to mock. Hollywood really lead the way in defining what our attitudes were to be here, and their ubiquitous programming around these themes probably laid the seed for the lefts mocking attitude towards a more conservative middle class today. Case in point: Frank Burns of M.A.S.H, the ultimate suburbanite, and one of the most mocked TV sitcom stars in history. Frank was not just a suburbanite, but a flag waving one as well, and so the right got involved at that point and have never let it go. To put it simply, this is probably why they tend to see this Hollywood attitude as nothing short of its own brand of racism.
But how much of this has been intentionally political though is hard to say. I mean, to be middle class just tends to earn you scorn regardless of your politics because of what I said above about striving vs succeeding. You have money but don’t really know how to spend it right yet. You attend a symphony but don’t know the composers work. You buy books in the hopes of bettering yourself, but then mispronounce “Descartes” in casual conversation because you have never heard anyone actually say the name. Inevitably, there will be some snickering.
Class snobbery of course is also at the root of much of our Trump hate. But at least he never attempted to affect a more upper class sensibility, preferring to be proud of his tackiness (and the McDonalds Big Mac party he once threw at the White House was absolutely hilarious). Maybe this is because Trump grew up in working class Queens, NY, I dunno.
Anyway, but I do think today that in the US, our political dividing lines are very much an outgrowth of this antagonism between Hollywood and the middle class, traceable all the way back to the early 70’s. At some point, the targeting became political (like with Frank and possibly inadvertantly), because suburbanites often tend to veer right once they move out there. And this antagonism has just continued to grow over the decades. For the first time now, for example, there is a real chill in some creative quarters (CNN, Netflix, Disney, etc ) as a result of unrelenting conservative attacks. The working class by contrast, is firmly under Hollywoods wing and protected as it tends to be a minority class and because it is the class from which much of Hollywood’s elite sprang. I guess in conclusion, I think I would say though that this differential “snob treatment” in America is not a trivial matter – not when the middle class, left or right, is caught between a creative upper class and a radical left working class. And how snobbery and mocking attitudes came to target one group (the suburbanites) and not the other (the working class) 50 years ago is arguably having real world repercussions today. It seemed to have started innocently enough and was rooted in the early growth of suburbia. Over time though, and with the increased attention to “wokeness”, we have a lot of issues coming to a head. I know Hollywood is not synonymous in any way with upper class culture, but it is nonetheless its own aristocracy here.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ken aldri49
robert nicholas
robert nicholas
2 years ago

Snobs, are false jealous copyists who enjoy their time being petty towards other people who are from other countries while concealing their false appearance while thinking their middle class when there not the genuine middle classes ,snobs also envoy prejudging others and narking at people especially where I live the false sense of security goes within deeper petty prejudices towards anyone who sees logic like the real middle classes who the snobs imagine them selves to be