The British government is planning to nationalize social mobility as part of something involving “fairness” and government programs. This is sinister because “social mobility,” or “getting on in the world” as we ordinary folk call it, always depended on the intelligence and work of those who were getting on. It was a game played within rules—some admirable, some possibly deplorable. The mobile individual “stood out from the crowd” partly by exhibiting striking qualities not found among others. Intelligence was important, but being engaging (or perhaps “sucking up”) may also have played some part. We do not live in a perfect world, and getting on may require the odd vice as well as conspicuous virtues.
Further, getting on was competitive. One’s mobility could go up or down. The successful benefited at the expense of those who had to settle for something less than power and prestige. It is important to keep these “losers” in view, because one theory of why England pioneered the industrial revolution points to the likelihood that eighteenth-century England had higher rates of literacy than elsewhere. This apparently happened because the better-off had more children than the lower classes, and some of them were thus necessarily “downwardly mobile.” In this lower station, they raised the tone throughout society.
The nationalization of social mobility is sinister because top-down power is invading a whole new sphere of individual endeavor. It is one new push of welfarist regulation into the ever-diminishing area of individual moral agency in our society. The state has already taken over responsibility for paying our medical bills, educating our children, keeping our money in reserve for a rainy day (unemployment, disability, single pregnancy, etc.) when we may need it. All of these moves are a sinister attack on basic virtues, especially those of responsibility, endurance, and thrift. The state is telling us that it wants to determine exactly who should get on. It is unavoidable to include some from good schools and “privileged” backgrounds, but also a certain fixed proportion of those from lower social classes, as measured by the take-up of school meals, will be enabled to get on as well. Individual moral vitality is thus further being subsumed into the world of quotas and targets.
Such a plan destroys one basic character that the upwardly mobile had in the past: a certain rejection of the moral standards of their peers, the world in which, as Allison Pearson put it in the Daily Telegraph of April 6, “to hand in homework is social death.” Modern teaching ideologies and the increasingly powerful diffusion of peer-group attitudes (facilitated by technologies such as computers and cell phones) have long combined to turn some state schools into caricatures of educational institutions. Many are merely inefficient devices for keeping the young off the streets. In past times, however, the upwardly mobile were not only smart, but independent. The new respectable “Cleggies” who will be fed social mobility on a plate will be toadies. And what could be more pleasing to governments?
The new rhetoric proposes an imagined social harmony artificially compelled under the name of “fairness.” Ideally, a society is harmonious when individuals live in a world that corresponds both to their talents and aspirations. Even to articulate this criterion is to recognize that it is impossible. But a substitute form of social harmony can be created.
This manufactured harmony demands that society must be reengineered so that the most desirable positions do not go to the most capable; rather, they are doled out proportionally according to one’s statistical representation among all social groups. This includes the most vulnerable, who are presumed to suffer discrimination from which a considerate government saves them. The vulnerable include the poor, the aged, women, the disabled, ethnic minorities (themselves divided into smaller groups), transsexuals, gays, and many others. The key to social harmony thus consists in being able to convince all members of society that it is enough that they share in the advantages appropriate to the abstract class of vulnerability to which they belong. If this cast of mind can be diffused among the population, then individual discontent about some supposed individual injustice will at least be greatly diminished.
Once such an ideal condition has been reached, we will have reached the end of history. You cannot logically change an ideal condition without making it worse. And it is this condition of things that the ruling elite, not only of Britain but of the whole world, is seeking to achieve: a changeless perfection resulting from actualizing the one right order of things in this and every other society. Every other world culture usually had just such a “right ordering of social things” until Western individualism came along to disrupt the order. And now the aim is to get back to such a static harmony by creating a kind of worldwide perfection.
That such an aspiration is destructive of Western modernity is the reason why the whole project of nationalizing social mobility must be derided as entirely sinister. Beyond that, the entire premise upon which the idea is based—that Britain lacks social mobility—is a falsehood. As Professor Peter Saunders demonstrated in a brilliant 2010 pamphlet for Civitas—Social Mobility Myths—Britain is in fact a socially mobile society. The commonest crucial factor in getting on turns out to be not one’s inherited social class, but the individual’s level of ability.
Copyright 2013 TakiMag.com and the author. This copy is for your personal, noncommercial use only. You can order reprints for distribution by contacting us at email@example.com.