I know we're not supposed to mention the subject of class in our oh-so-equal society. But no society can exist without a hierarchy. Indeed, that's just about the definition of a society.
Even a system that claims to be egalitarian requires leaders though they may deny they are. "I stand here as a servant of the people," as Juan Peron sings in Evita. And anyone who doubted it, at least out loud, could always be shot.
Whether an elite is chosen on the basis of merit or on less appealing grounds, like wealth or family or the sheer ability to terrorize a whole nation, an elite will always exist. Call it what you will: The Party, old money, or a Nomenklatura, as they used to say in the now defunct Soviet Union. Or the Establishment, as we still say here.
For a rough idea of the establishment's composition in this country, just look over any list of a presidential campaign's advisers either Barack Obama's or John McCain's, it doesn't matter.
To govern there must be a governors. At least as long as we live in an organized society. Rather than a Hobbesian state of nature in which life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."
On balance, I'd prefer structure. Anarchy can be dangerous to your health.
Besides, a society without distinctions would be one without distinction. To quote William S. Gilbert, he of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, if everybody has to be somebody, nobody can be anybody.
It's always been a myth that America is a classless society, though it's a popular one. A classless society would actually be one in which there was only one class: the poor and downtrodden. For egalitarianism tends to level in only one direction: downward.
But who dares say such things, especially at election time? Politicians must be especially wary of such candor. Their role is to pander, not point out things as they are and must be.
There are some things everyone senses but no one must say. Certainly you must not say them if you're in politics or otherwise a public figure. Our leaders must be careful lest they offend the great god Demos, the ruling deity of this once aristocratic republic that has morphed into a mass democracy.
Nowadays we're all expected not only to be equal but the same. Diversity is constantly being preached, but its advocates seem unable to deal with the kind of diversity that's more than skin deep. The existence of genuine, deep-rooted, intractable differences over ideas and ideals must somehow be denied or elided.
The differences between us that can't be bridged by a round of kumbaya around the campfire need to be acknowledged and tolerated, but that kind of real diversity upsets the merchandisers of purely cosmetic, capital-D Diversity. So they pretend such differences don't exist.
Hey, we're all really just the same, aren't we?
Like hell we are. Which is why tolerance, the rule of law and the Bill of Rights are so important, so we can be our different selves without bullying others or being bullied by them.
So save your smothering love, true believers who would make us all the same. I'll take tolerance any time. And be happy to extend it, too.
If class is one of the continuing themes of American society, it's also a subject fraught with taboos. Much like that other underlying theme of our culture, ethnicity. Such subjects may be raised only with the greatest care. Which may be why we tend to discuss the influence of class in American society only with members of our own.