Retainers And Lackeys

The corporate suit’s delusion of being middle-class contrasts unfavourably with the realism of the butler, housekeeper and other ancient retainers who derived their personal dignity from the status and glory of the family they served. It may take a while for this arrangement to re-establish itself. . It may take a while for this arrangement to re-establish itself. In the meantime, we talk about the new servant class in terms of “help”, “maids”, “security” and “personal” this, that and the other.

It may be worth remembering that in the pre-modern era, the holders of offices of state used their own domestic servants to do the donkey-work, or hired new ones; the public salaried bureaucrat was a late innovation and after a short blossoming is even now being dis-invented. This is what the word “lackey” originally meant – a lord’s domestic servant performing what were once public functions.

The converse of this is that masters tend to think of all workers as being their own personal servants. Now, the average working week in the United Kingdom is now 45 hours and rising. In addition, various alarums and excursions regarding Facebook have demonstrated that an employee is henceforth to be regarded as his employer’s representative 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Since a mobile phone is actually a personal tracking device, we may soon expect the act of switching one off to be grounds for summary dismissal.

Conservative publications like The Economist regard this phenomenon with the greatest possible satisfaction and bewail the inability of the French to organise a similar increase in their own workload. Such publications are not much given to enquiring whether the British are working 45-hour weeks because they want to, or have nothing better to do with their lives; for it has always been self-evident, and will always be self-evident, to the master of the house that the servants belowstairs ought to work ever harder to ensure his comfort. The outlook is very much alive and well that was exhibited by Margaret Thatcher, who during a strike indignantly exclaimed, “These people are there to serve the public and they are not doing it!” The workers concerned might have been so foolish as to think they were “there” to do a job of work so as to feed their families, until the prime minister reminded them that they were not after all free men, but the indentured servants of their betters.

We talk about the “real economy” of manufacturing and so on contra the shenanigans of the financial sector. A similar but perhaps more accurate way of handling the veridical concept might be to contrast the “real” economy of resource extraction, mostly undertaken in poor and downtrodden countries, with the unreal economy of the rich countries, whose populations are essentially support staff to the people doing the extraction.

When a reader’s letter to The Economist takes “teachers, police and firemen” as emblematic of the middle class, it reveals a concept of the middle classes as low-level enforcers of higher authority, both protecting and instructing the industrial workers, in other words precisely the sort of people Marx denoted as “lackeys”.

Posted on May 2, 2012 at 09:30 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE ENSLAVING MAMMAL, The Lackey Society

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