Recently, some more ideas have appeared concerning the early origin and growth of the bourgeoisie mentality. I wrote some early thoughts in this article: “Thoughts on “bourgeois society” – its effects, problems, and reactions toward it“. Of course, its all speculation (as most historical interpretation is) but its how things appear to me at this time:
THE “CULTURE OF SYCOPHANT’S”
There is something which I call the “culture of sycophant’s”. It is a mentality that is very prevalent in Western Europe society. The bourgeoisie were really nothing but sycophant’s, people “sucking up” to the powers-that-be (usually the nobility initially) and trying to imitate them and be them. They made a way of life out of it that persists to this day.
I should point out that, a sycophant, as I use it here, could be described as a person who has little or no power and, because of this, has to “suck up” to the powers-that-be, or the person in power, in order to gain some form of favor, advantage, prestige, power, or influence. By “suck up” I mean that you do “whatever it takes”. Usually it means that a person somehow deliberately degrades or belittle themselves. This includes things such as:
- Blindly agreeing
- Acting as if they believe something when they don’t . . . in some cases, a person will begin to believe something they normally wouldn’t if it gets favor
- Saying or doing things that the powers-that-be admire in order to get their favor
- Catering to the powers-that-be by being overly polite, nice, or courteous
I saw a good example with lawyers when I was on jury duty. Every time you turned around you’d hear “yes, your Honor”, “if the court pleases”, “I beg the courts indulgence”, and so on. It was almost comical. In many ways, the whole profession of lawyers is one of a sycophant . . . endlessly catering to the powers-that-be (the law, the courts, the Judge) to gain favor from them. In some respects, a sycophant is a person who is much like a puppy dog, begging for food from their master.
The condition that creates the “culture of sycophant’s” describes a situation with qualities such as these:
- A hierarchical society. There are the people in power and the people not in power. This situation, of course, sets the stage for “sucking up”.
- A society of lacking – many are seeking what there is little of. This can create a “rat race” environment, a bunch of people scrambling for what there is little of. This condition makes the need to “suck up” more prevalent.
- The idea that there is a “someone”, a person or organization, to give what is needed or lacking. This would be something like a King or a profession, for example. In many ways, the “culture of sycophant’s” is based on the idea that there is a “someone” that will give what is needed. That is to say, a person does not gain it by individual action. As a result, a person “sucks up” to that “someone” by doing what it requires, trying to impress, seeking approval, etc.
The Stages of Sycophants Through History
It seems that are various stages that led up to the creation of the “culture of sycophant’s”:
- The warrior era
- The titled era
- The rigid era and suck up to power
- The purchase era
- The French sycophant era
- The British Victorian era
- The American Achievement era
- The modern drone era
1 – The Warrior Era
I tend to view the “culture of sycophant’s” as having origins in warring Germanic society. This would be the era before the Middle Ages (about 1000 AD). A great warrior could get great power and wealth given to them by the King or some Lord in power. As a result, they had to “impress” the King (or whoever was in power) often by displaying great prowess in battle. In this way, it created a group of men – warriors – who were trying to do just that. In this way, the “culture of sycophant’s” really began with the Germanic warrior trying to “impress” the King in order to gain favors. In the early period what was sought could be wealth, prestige, a position, and possibly land.
2 – The Titled Era
During the Middle Ages warriors could even have actual titles of nobility or could gain it over time. Much of this was helped by the need and conflict caused by the Crusades. The warriors who went to fight had to be paid. Often, they were given land which could even include a village, for example. Over time, a person could become a lord, marry into the nobility, and so on. As a result, many warriors would find themselves (or their descendants) become part of the aristocracy.
In addition, the new “legalism” that began to appear (the tendency to make everything legal, with contract and signed) sealed much of these agreements as if in stone and practically unalterable – the aristocratic dynasties were born. Some of these contracts, for example, stated that they, and their descendants, would own the land, as well as the revenue from the land, until the end of time. This became so rigid that no one could alter these contracts. It also made it practically impossible to enter into that class. This era lasted from the middle part of the Middle Ages (say 1100 AD) to the 1500’s probably.
3 – The Rigid Era
The Titled Era created an era where status, nobility, landed property, etc. were pretty much set in stone. You might want to say that the “favors were exhausted” when the land was exhausted. Because of this, no one could really enter the titled class nor were there a lot of prestige, wealth, and land given. Since all the titles had been given away, thing became static, rigid, and unchanging. In this way, the manner of sycophancy changed. Its as if two forms were created:
- The titled class which to “suck up” to their betters in order to maintain their position or gain additional favors.
- The non-titled class which “sucked up” to the titled class primarily as a matter of loyalty, in order to gain their support, protection, etc. and not to gain wealth, prestige, or land.
This era lasted from, probably, the 1200’s to the 1700’s.
4 – The Purchasing Era
Beginning in the 1600’s, as a result of the religious wars especially, people could literally “purchase” titles, positions, and status with money (which helped pay for the wars). With this, the common man – the non-titled class – could now seek to be titled or receive some favor. This created several qualities, such as:
- An opportunist quality where people were seeking this as an opportunity to “get ahead”.
- It created a tendency to blindly imitate which gives it a quality of imitation and play acting. Basically, the common people were now trying to “imitate” the already existing power system (the aristocracy). They began to act, dress, and behave just like them.
- In this way, they began to abandon who they were and try to be like someone else. This caused a tendency to alienation and “phoniness”.
5 – The French Sycophant Era
The “culture of sycophant’s”, as a distinct culture and way of life, seems to really began in France during the reign of King Louis XIV in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. Sycophancy became so big that it became more than just something someone did but became more of a “culture” or way of life. During this time, all the qualities and forms above as if combined together and a “culture” or way of life appeared that affected much of the population. In this way, the “culture of sycophant’s” really flowered as a “culture” in France. From there it spread across Europe and into England and other British lands. In so doing it helped to create the bourgeoisie mentality and laid the foundation of a lot of Victorian mentality. It then spread into the U.S. In doing all this, the “culture of sycophant’s” has had great impact on the modern world as well as current society.
This French phase began in the later 1600’s. King Louis XIV of France had to try to keep a country in order that was not only growing but had just come out of the crisis of religious wars. In addition, he had, as a result of problems in his youth, developed a great distrust of nobles, ministers, and courtiers. One of the ways he kept these people in control is by the creation of rituals, honors, and favoritisms. The net result of this is that it turned the court of Louis XIV into a court of people who are always vying for these honors and favoritisms and who must follow ritual to remain “accepted”. In short, it created a court of sycophant’s on a scale that was not seen before . . . a person had no choice but to be a sycophant to remain at court.
This new form of sycophancy seemed almost addictive and spread rapidly throughout French society. Because of this, it seems that the “culture of sycophant’s”, when it first appeared, had great effect and influence in France and, in some respects, altered French politics and had great impact on the society in the 1700’s. It caused things such as:
- It caused a unity and appears to of helped France “get its act together” and become a great power in the 1700’s.
- It catered to national pride and ideals.
- It allowed people to participate in the countries power structure, or at least to feel that they are.
- It allowed people to “get ahead” and move into areas they otherwise would not.
- Being a sycophant gave people a sense of belonging and place.
- It gave people hope and something to strive for.
- Having to follow these more strict sycophant ways seemed to create a contempt in the aristocracy making them more “loose”, immoral, and hedonistic in nature, almost like a “little rebellion”. This, of course, would become appalling to the common people and make the aristocracy look bad.
Ironically, many of these factors probably helped cause the coming French Revolution.
6 – The British Victorian Era
I tend to feel, at this time, that the English were not all that sycophantic in character but learned it primarily from the French, beginning in the late 1600’s.
In 1688 England had what is often called the “Glorious Revolution”. Basically, the British monarch loses control to Parliament. In some sense, the British monarch become nothing but a “figure head” (which they still are). In this way, the monarchy basically become “useless”. This, it seems to me, created something like a power vacuum in the British monarchy, aristocracy, and existing power structure. But in the late 1600’s, when all this was happening, French culture starts to dominate Europe. As a result, it comes to England. The effect of this, it seems to me, is that the French “culture of sycophant’s”, with its illusionary sense of importance, seems to fill the power vacuum caused by the “useless” British monarchy. Because of this, the monarchy and aristocracy begin to adopt many popular French sycophant ways including mannerisms, attitudes, dress, and behavior. In addition, the British also become “loose”, immoral, and hedonistic much like the French sycophant culture. Along with this they become particularly attached to things like honors and favoritism. This seems to be the basis of the bourgeoisie mentality. In other words, the bourgeoisie mentality has origin in France in the “culture of sycophant’s” that the English adopted as a result of their “useless” monarchy.
But it took more than that to create the bourgeoisie mentality:
- During the French Revolution (late 1700’s) many French, fleeing the problems of the Revolution, come over to England and spread the “culture of sycophant’s” ways even further.
- In addition, during the Napoleonic Wars, which followed the French Revolution, the “culture of sycophant’s” illusionary sense of importance seemed to cater to a growing sense of British patriotism, making it grow even further.
The result of this is that after the Napoleonic Wars (early 1800’s) the ways of the French “culture of sycophant’s” becomes blended with several qualities that are unique to England:
- English Royal Emulation. The English tend to emulate the royalty, it seems, ever since Anglo-Saxon days. In this way, the English often put the royalty on something like a pedestal. If they’re not doing this then they are usually doing the opposite: condemning them. In this way, English Royal Emulation tends to go to extremes, they love or hate the Royalty. Keep in mind, though, that Royal Emulation is not the same as sycophancy. Royal Emulation has more the character of an honoring or a worshipping. Despite this, it is similar in quality and, it seems, became confused with it. Because of this, English Royal Emulation predisposed many English people to the French “culture of sycophancy”.
- The Chivalric Revival. The patriotism caused by the Napoleonic Wars seemed to cause a great revival of chivalry and its ideals in the early 1800’s. Images of the Knight, the worship of the Lady, damsels in distress, and other chivalric ideals begin to become very popular and influential. This created a tendency to become sycophantic in character.
In addition, the coming of Queen Victoria also made a great impact and seemed to help blend it all together. It did this in ways such as this:
- She was an “innocent youth”. This contrasted with the “loose” French “culture of sycophant’s” hedonistic ways of her predecessor’s. This gave everything a more unique and “proper” patriotic British flavor . . . it no longer looked French but British!
- Since she was female it catered ideals of the Chivalric Revival. She became, in a sense, the Great Lady of the country inspiring a knightly devotion which became a form of sycophancy.
The effect of all this is that it created a unique mentality that began with the French, and was very French in the 1700’s, but then began to merge with British attitudes during the Napoleonic Wars giving it a very British and un-French quality in the early 1800’s. This mentality, of course, is what I call the Bourgeoisie Mentality which is primarily a mentality of imitating the nobility. This imitation, really, is nothing but a form of sycophancy.
This mentality spread like wildfire throughout the common people in England in the early-mid 1800’s. It turned common people into a noble imitating bourgeoisie sycophantic society. It would eventually play a big role in the creation of “Victorianism”.
Victorianism created gave the sycophant a quality of a performance, almost as if it were a theatre. In this way, much of Victorian bourgeoisie mentality has a quality of theatre, something “put on” for other people.
7 – The American Achievement Era
The U.S. took the British noble imitating bourgeoisie mentality and merged it with American ideals. So we see that the French “culture of sycophant’s” was merged with British ideals creating a unique form (the British noble imitating bourgeoisie and Victorian mentality) and then the U.S. imitated the British and took their mentality and merged it with theirs creating yet another unique form.
In general, the Americans took the British imitation of the nobility and replaced it with American ideals. These ideals include:
- The worship of the individual
- The worship of achievement
This became the basis of the “American aristocrat”, so to speak, that is based in American ideals. Following the manner of the “culture of sycophant’s” many people became sycophants to these American ideals, “sucking up” to them and pursuing them relentlessly. So we see that, in the U.S., there developed a quality of slavishly following ideals as a unique form of American sycophancy. At this time, this is quite extensive in the U.S. I would almost say that it has become an obsession for many people.
8 – The Modern Drone Era
With the coming of all the digital and technological things, particularly beginning in the 1980’s, the sycophant has taken on a new character . . . of a drone. The word “drone”, as I use it here, refers to a mentality that displays qualities such as:
- They are “mindless” and, in a way, have “given up their will”.
- They “do what is expected”.
- They act this way to gain favor or gain.
- There is usually very little, or no, personal feelings over their behavior.
This gives them a drone quality. A person with this quality could also be described as robotic, an automaton, a minion, or a puppet. Their life is as if being dictated, controlled, and determined from some other source (namely, technological society) and they, in actuality, have no control over their own life. More importantly, they don’t usually seem to care either. As long as they receive favor and gain they are willing drones.
In addition, its almost as if they have “given up their life” to technology, attaching themselves to it much like a parasite. They life off of technological society, relying and expecting it to give them everything. In some cases, it can resemble something like a regression to an infantile state. They will use it to as if retreat back into the crib where they can suck their thumb and be happy.
FORMS OF SYCHOPHANCY
What we see, then, is that there have developed various forms of sycophancy through the years:
- The seeking of some form of favor or gain
- The seeking of social position and status
- The maintaining of position and status
- As a matter of loyalty
- As a matter of opportunism
- A form of imitation
- A form of play acting
- A form of abandoning of who one is – alienation
- A trying to be like someone else . . . phoniness
- A form of performance . . . theatre
- Slavishly following ideals
- A drone-like quality
- A parasite-like quality
- A form of regression to an infantile state
All these are forms of sycophancy, of people “sucking up” to authority, in order to gain something. It shows that there are many forms and ways in how it appears.
OTHER INFLUENCES IN THE CREATION OF THE “CULTURE OF SYCOPHANT’S”
Other influences, that appeared as time progressed, have helped in the creation of the “culture of sycophant’s” such as:
- The increased government system and power structure. As a result, the government and power structure was more able to give favors. At the same time, though, it created a situation of more rigid control and exclusiveness.
- The growing sense of “those in power” and “those not in power”. This made it so that “those not in power” were willing to “suck up” to “those in power”.
- The failure of Christianity causing a need to believe in something. I often feel the “culture of sycophant’s” somewhat replaced Christianity whose belief began to fall during the French sycophant era. This may of helped in making this period of time the flowering of the “culture of sycophant’s”. It gave people something to believe in and hope for.
- The growing sense of nationalism and national pride. This made people more willing to “suck up” to authority.
- The growing overpopulation which made people feel disconnected. It seems, to me, that sycophancy made many people feel “connected” with society that overpopulation was causing.
- A growing sense of competition and a growing “rat race” environment. This made many people willing to do whatever it took to “get ahead”.
- The purchase of titles allowing common people to enter the aristocracy. This made people more willing to be sycophant’s as well as gave a practical need for it.
- The growing merchant class allowing people to afford to “suck up” to the power structure. The had more money and means to gain favors from their “betters”.
DIFFERENT FORMS OF GAIN ACHIEVED BY SYCOPHANCY
There are various forms of gains a person could gain from being a sycophant, such as:
- Actual real power. This is power that they can actually use and wield. Interestingly, I’m under the impression that, of all the people who “sucked up” very few, in actuality, received any real actual power. If they received any power at all it was often minimal. In other words, I tend to feel that being a sycophant was largely a waste of time for most people . . . and still is.
- Personal gain. This would be things such as wealth and property that a person could use primarily for personal reasons. It doesn’t necessarily give you an actual real power but you can use if for yourself. For most sycophant’s, personal gain doesn’t mean that much unless it has the “approval of power”. As a result, this form isn’t quite as powerful as it may seem.
- Social prestige. This is basically when you have no real power but people think highly of you. I seem to think that this played a far greater role and influence than it may seem. In fact, I’d even venture to say that this is probably the most sought after thing with the sycophant’s.
- Illusionary power and importance. Here people just “think” they have power or are important. A person has no actual power, nor has any real personal gain, and people don’t really look highly at them. Basically, a person thinks that they are great but this is not confirmed by others or society. This is probably the most common effect of sycophancy.
The effect of these was something like a drug for some people. Many people sought it and would sacrifice everything for it. Even here in the U.S. I’ve seen people whose whole life is dominated by the “gains” of sycophancy. My observation is that the U.S. has a very strong sycophancy streak and it seems to be growing.
These gains tend to cause a number of attitudes sycophant’s which include:
- There is a preoccupation with “becoming important”
- There is preoccupation with seeking honors
- There is a preoccupation with status
- There is a preoccupation with social esteem
- There is a preoccupation with materialism
- There is a preoccupation with money
- There is a tendency to hedonism
- There is a tendency to superficiality
- There is a great empty desperation
For many people one, or several, of these become life’s reason for living and dominates their whole life, dreams, and hopes. Truly, a person like that is living the “culture of sycophant’s”.
AN INFECTIOUS QUALITY
The “culture of sycophants”, and bourgeoisie mentality in general, seems to spread rapidly like a virus. It was very prevalent primarily in the aristocracy before the late 1600’s. It spread rapidly in much of France in the late 1700’s. It spread rapidly in the British aristocracy in the 1700’s. It spread rapidly in the common people of England in the 1800’s. It also spread rapidly in in Europe and the U.S. in the 1800’s as well. It is still going strong today!
But why? What makes sycophancy so appealing and infectious?
Here are some thoughts:
- I often think that, for one, it gives a hope. In particular, its a hope of “becoming important” in society. And “becoming important” means security. In this way, in sycophancy people are really seeking a security. I believe this is true even in the early warrior society it originated from.
- I’ve also felt that we all have a tendency to sycophancy because, when we’re young, we depend on our parents. We “suck up” to them for the security they offer. In this way, aren’t we all sycophant’s as children? I don’t find it all that surprising that a situation that replicates the parent/child relationship becomes some infectious.
- To go even further, much of this sycophancy is based on warrior-based Germanic culture that has ingrained attitudes, manners, and ways in our culture that have been here for centuries. In this way, the sycophancy is infectious because it reflects a form of security that fits established cultural ways.
- For some people, sycophancy reflects a blind or desperate want. For these people, its the “want” that becomes infectious. They want and want. In this way, the “culture of sycophant’s” becomes a “culture of desperation”. It creates a mentality much like a pack of wolves.
- In some cases, the want becomes a matter of desperation. In this case, the desperation give it an infectious quality.
SOME PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF THE “CULTURE OF SYCOPHANT’S”
The “Two Selves”
The “culture of sycophant’s” creates a condition where people develop what can be described as “two selves”:
- A social self. This is the self that “sucks up”. It is the sycophant who has the attitude of “sucking up” and does everything “properly”.
- The private self. It can often conflict with the “socially accepted persona” almost like a separate personality.
The effect of this is that sycophants often become “two-faced”, almost to the point of a dual personality. In some cases, the “social self” will appear pleasant and agreeable with people but their “private self” will plot and scheme against those same people.
Some good qualities that the “two selves” create include:
- People are often “pleasant”, charming, and agreeable.
- People tend to work together more easily (I would even venture to say that its possible that the sycophant attitude unified Europe and eventually the U.S.).
Some bad qualities of the “two selves” include:
- It creates a condition where people are not “genuine” and are “phony”.
- It creates a selfish tendency in the “personal self”.
- It creates a desperation.
- I often feel that the tension between the two self’s created something like a “stress” in the society that made people “loose”, immoral, and hedonistic (which became very prevalent in the 1700’s).
- This “two-faced” quality often turns into a contempt. That is to say, the “private self” feels that “I didn’t get my share”.
- The conflict of self’s creates something like a neurosis. I tend to feel that the neurosis of the Victorian era were largely caused by the “culture of sycophant’s” and the conflict of self’s it created.
- Oftentimes the “private self” is not really “monitored” by the person. As a result, it is not really controlled by the person. As a result, it can often get “carried away” and do a lot of bad things.
- Since there is a tendency to cater to the “social self” the “private self” can become unhappy and depressed.
A Tendency to Regression
As described above, sycophancy is something like a recreation of a parent/child relationship. Because of this, sycophancy can cause a tendency to regression. This can make people do things such as:
- Abandon the world
- Become abnormally dependent
- Become mindless
- Become narcissistic and self-pleasing
- Seek petty pleasures
- A tendency to disregard other people
As long as the regressive condition persists there usually develops a shallow form of “happiness” or contentment. When it is disrupted in some way, problems often appear, as well as mental problems. In this way, we can see that sycophancy often hides a mental problem. It becomes something like a “cover” or wall for people to hide behind.
A Loss of Identity
One of the effects of “sucking up” is that it makes one devalue ones self to the point that one can actually lose hold of ones identity of who one is. This is because one is as if “caught in a void” between two opposing elements: the powerless person one is and the person one is “sucking up” to (who has power). A sycophant does not want to be who one is (powerless) and a sycophant is not the person who has the power. As a result, they are as if caught in a “limbo state”, as if in between two states, one of which they don’t want to be and one they want to be but aren’t. As a result, “sucking up” tends to cause a tendency to lose ones identity even to the point of creating a false identity. It causes many sycophants to create false images of themselves, of “fabricated importance”, of “false esteem”, of “thinking the are important”, and so on. For some people, this can reach the point of a “false world” or “false reality” that they live in.
THE CREATION OF AN OBSESSIVE LIFESTYLE
It seems that the “culture of sycophant’s” often dominates a persons life making it very obsessive. This isn’t that surprising as the “culture of sycophant’s” is a way of life where the goal of life is nothing but seeking social honors and favoritisms. In a sense, it creates something like a “rat race” for everyone is bucking for those honors and favoritisms. In a way, it creates a lifestyle that entails qualities such as:
- A continual endless striving or desperation
- A willingness to “grab for things”
- A feeling of threat
- A tendency to do whatever is required
- A willingness to “climb over other people” if needed
We must remember that even if a person gains honors and favoritism they still have to maintain it. To fall into disgrace after being honored and favored is a great fall. In this way, the “culture of sycophants” is a culture of empty desperation that never ends.
THE UNDERMINING OF THE PERSON
Since the “culture of sycophant’s” is based in “sucking up” and imitation it has a tendency to create what can be described as a society that undermines the person. Life becomes a matter of “trying to be” and not in “being”. Another way to look at it is that it becomes a society of “trying to fit an image of what you’d like to be” and not a society of “being who you are”. The effect of this is that it causes a society where the individual person is absent or lacking. Its not the person that counts . . . its the image! A person is “measured” by how well they fit the image. In this way, the person is undermined and devalued. In some ways, the person is destroyed by this type of society as I, myself, have seen and felt.
But because this image is what is sought for it is idealized, regardless of what it does to the person. In the U.S., this seeking after an image is often glorified in ways such as “seeking your dreams”, “shooting for the stars”, or such. A person is considered “successful” if they are able to live up to this image that everyone is “sucking up” to. But that image is empty as a person usually has to sacrifice themselves for it and give up who they are. Despite this, people who find this image are usually somewhat content, mainly in the fact that they have achieved that image. Once they begin to fail the image the lack of integrity as a person surfaces and a person can be thrown into great crisis. People can fall into despair, depression, become alcoholics, and so on. In a way, it shows how shallow this lifestyle is.
THE EMPTY SOCIETY
Because the image is based in “sucking up”, imitation, and trying to fit an image there is a tendency for the society tends to be empty . . . without depth, without belief, without authority. Its god and authority, really, is the “image that is sucked up to”. It becomes what society, and life, is all about. The main action of a person is that one pursues (or, rather, “sucks up”) to that image. That is the motive for living. A person only strives for that image. As a result, there tends to be little emphasis on anything else that a person does. The “other things” that is involved with life, such as having insight into life, finding meaning in life, etc. are given a back seat place. Its almost as if the gazing at the image that is sought for makes us forget what is happening around us. In a way, there is a tendency to “forget life and what it contains”. As a result, a common complaint in the “culture of sycophant’s” is that life seems empty and meaningless.
Copyright by Mike Michelsen