Sunday, August 29, 2010

Say "Cheerio" to Life Peerages

Hello again! If there are any of you out there still lamenting the switch from daily adventures to weekly adventures, I have another happy note about weekly blog posts. Namely, instead of picking the best adventure from the day, I pick the best adventure (and/or the best outfit) from a whole week! You're really dealing with the very best here - it's like I sorted through a box of Honey Bunches of Oats and sorted it into yummy bunches and boring flakes (only to realize that they now sell "Just Bunches," of course) so you wouldn't have to.

On Friday, I was in my Constitutional Law class, where we spent nearly the whole time discussing how the British class system was different from the American class system, and what the ramifications would be if we decided to start awarding titles of nobility. (Our professor asked us what you'd call it if you were the very first person in your family to receive a knighting - I answered "living the British Dream," but he was looking for "life peerage.") This was all to illustrate that in many ways the Supreme Court Justices are like knights with a life peerage - they earn the honor (pun very much intended), and don't lose it.

To begin our discussion, we watched the short comedic video "Class" with John Cleese, Ronnie Barker, and Ronnie Corbett as upper class, middle class, and lower class men respectively. One of the striking things about this is that in the British system, many who are considered "upper class" don't have much money, and envy those in the middle class because they are financially better off. This is because as the economic system in England changed, land quit being the greatest source of income, and the nobility were left behind as the middle class charged ahead in business. While it is certainly a noteworthy commentary on the importance of keeping up with the economic times, what was more interesting was how my class responded to the whole discussion.

The lower class man, played by Ronnie Corbett, repeatedly says he "knows his place," and thus admires the upper- and middle-class men. However, he is "industrious, honest, and trustworthy," while the other two had "innate breeding" and wealth to their names. For a group of American undergraduates, it was nearly inconceivable that someone willing to work hard wouldn't dream of advancing his social standing - or at least that of his children. The superficial stratification, based on ancestry dating back centuries, seemed to be an incredibly foolish way to determine social clout. However, our professor and a few other students who had spent time in England confirmed that in fact, it is a perfectly normal institution in Britain.

We are incredibly fortunate that America offers the chance not only at fortune, but at creating a name for oneself. In the movie A Knight's Tale, William Thatcher's father tells him that "A man can change his stars" - yet this idea is decidedly out of place in medieval England. In fact, it is a restatement of the American Dream, and is a rather striking idea, even in the postmodern western world. It is Americans' frontier spirit, attitude of equality, constitutional forbiddance of titles of nobility, disgust with snobbery, and (mostly) free market economic system that allows the social mobility enjoyed in the US.

So three cheers for living without knights - it gives us the ability to change our stars ... and ensures we never end up with Sir Michael Bolton (like our friends ended up with Sir Elton John).

I learned all this while in:
Brown sleeveless business dress with gold stud details, taupe and brown menswear-print fedora, teal and gold flower cuff, and brown peep-toe "almost-a-bootie-but-so-much-cuter" heels. .


  1. But what if life without knights means life without chivalry?

  2. Knights and chivalry are not mutually exclusive - I think it's a false dilemma. :)