One thing that I have found to be very influential is the theme of imitation of nobility by the common people. This seemed to have great impact on the mentality and behaviour of the common people in western Europe. It seemed most prevalent in England and the US. Being brought up in the US I’m mostly familiar with the American version.
At one time, the image of nobility represented society. They represented authority, importance, and the ‘highest’ of people. They had the quality of a ‘parent’ or a ‘father’ who disciplined, punished, and rewarded children (the people). They gave direction and guidance. Their presence was what held things together. There was also an association of nobility with Divinity which made them appear beyond human, almost ‘superhuman’.
The common people, on the other hand, were like children, the people who had to follow, the people who needed the ’parents’, the nobility, to look after them. They were the ‘dependents’. As such, they tended to feel inferior and low in comparison to the nobility.
It appears that with the rise of the middle class and the slow deterioration of the nobility in society as a result of overpopulation (which the social structure of the nobility could not handle) the common people gained in prominence and importance. People that were almost insignificant for centuries could become important and influential. Many became powerful. This seemed to be quite prevalent after the Napoleanic wars.
Because of this situation many of the common people jumped to the situation. Being the lower inferior common people, they naturally saw the image of ‘nobility’ as the ‘better’ way to be. The image of the nobility has existed in the culture for centuries. It was only natural for them to try to emulate this type of person.
What the common people did, then, is to begin a whole new culture and society based on imitating the nobility. This new culture has existed, really, for about 200 years now. Its influence can be seen in a lot of things.
Some traits of the ‘imitation of nobility culture’:
– A hypocrisy. The whole ‘imitation of nobility’ attitude is really a hypocrisy, of trying to be something you’re not.
– A false sense of importance. They seem to over valuate themselves and what they can do.
– They have an attitude of a ‘want-to-be’. Many times they have a quality of an endless social climber. They climb and climb but never seem to reach the top.
– There’s a quality of artificiality or lack of genuineness in them. Sometimes their mannerisms seem like a put-on or a show.
– A tendency to feel alienated. I’ve often felt that, since this culture is so based in being something they’re not that it has a tendency to make people feel alienated. In fact, if you look at a lot of western society these past 200 years the theme of alienation is a common one, influencing art, philosophy, literature, movies, and even politics (such as communism, which was trying to prevent the alienation of the common worker).
– A selfishness or always being concerned about themselves.
– A snobbishness and a tendency to downgrade people.
– A tendency to worship success and achievement.
– An endless competition with everyone else. They must ‘keep up with the Jones’.
– Often there’s a feeling that they don’t have to follow things like rules or morality.
– A hidden sense of inferiority. Though they may act big they often feel inferior deep down inside.
– Because the nobility played the ‘parent’ there is oftentimes a tendency for some people in this new culture to emulate that quality. As a result, there is a tendency for aspects of the society to take an attitude of ‘taking care of the people’. In the US, they ascribe this to democracy but I feel it originates, in actuality, with the noble tradition. This attitude has made the ‘imitation of nobility cultures’ a society that tends to look after its people well.
– Oddly, this culture seems to lack an authority image. In fact, there is often no image of authority at all. I always thought that was unusual, considering they all trying to pretend they are noble. One reason for this, I feel, is because deep down we are all just common everyday people. We do not have the cultural tradition of authority to support us, nor a historic tradition, nor the Divine support the nobility had. As a result, any image of authority we produce never seems to be quite enough nor is it satisfactory. It just doesn’t have the ‘sanction’ the nobility had. This makes this culture always lacking in something.
You can see that a lot of this culture is based in ‘over extending’ yourself and being something you’re not. But, deep down, they’re just common people coming from a common people background (which usually isn’t all that spectacular). This creates an attitude of ‘think-your-great-but-deep-down-you’re-nothing’. This creates in many people a tendency of a hidden inferiority complex. To me, this is a distinguishing trait of this culture.
Because of the religious problems, overpopulation, and other problems that developed in the 1600-1700’s there developed a hatred and blaming of the nobility. This shows how prominent the nobility were as they were blamed for all of societies problems. This has created a myth, oddly enough, in the ‘imitation of nobility culture’ that the nobility were bad people. They ended up trying to be like the very people they condemned. As a result of this, there are many strange qualities of irony within this culture. They, for example, condemn any government control but then they want it intensified in other ways. They spit on the image of authority but seem to emulate being in a position of authority.
The success of commercialism and technology has greatly impacted this culture as it is often viewed as proving this mentality is ‘right’. This viewpoint is especially seen in the US, where the ‘commercial and technological dream’ was most realized. It practically justified people to imitate the nobility even more. The rise of commercialism and the ability to buy things made many people ‘play act’ the nobleman with fancy homes and such. Many of the rich in this country are doing nothing but emulating the noble image and lifestyle.
I always found it interesting how, in the US, there is no nobility but yet there is an extensive ‘imitation of nobility culture’ here. In some ways, it seems worse than in England (though I’m not sure of that for sure). In reality, the shadow of the image of the nobility is cast over the whole US culture, social structure, and even government. Its effects and influence is everywhere. In reality, the US is still a noble-based culture. The nobleman has just been replaced by other things.