Consensus and Conflict

With the importance of class in relation to economics, government, and the overall organization of society, one must consider the basic nature of class relations and class structure. In turn, the very basic nature of class relations and class structure can be based on one of either two conditions or situations. On one hand, there is the possibility of ‘consensus’ which can shape class relations and class structure. And on the other hand, class relations and class structure can be shaped by ‘conflict.’ The prevalent view amongst historians, philosophers, as well as famous leaders and prophets both past and present is that ‘conflict’ shapes class relations and class structure more than anything else, given the abuse, extraction, and exploitation behind class relations and class structure. 

And while the popular and working class is now largely fostering a ‘synchronicity’ of ideas and movement as a result of globalization and technology, the corporate class or the ‘Liberal Northeastern Class’ in the United States is largely disunited and largely in a state of disarray. And the irony and hilarity of it all is that the Republican party is using ‘class warfare’ as a strategy heading into midterm elections this year and will most likely use the strategy for the general election which is scheduled in about two years’ time. Although the concepts and the semantics behind the Republican party’s ‘class warfare’ strategy are a variation of the ones used in traditional Marxist discourse, the strategy is nonetheless the same, even though Republicans were once vehemently opposed to both Marxism as well as anything that had to do with Marx. In turn, the Republicans have chipped away at the minority vote in many states by employing this new strategy.

“Class warfare” or “class conflict” is also at the heart of perhaps the most contentious and important philosophical debate of the Western world in the modern age, namely the “Weber-Marx Debate.” Essentially, the two sides of the debate can be summarized into four major points for each side. Weber’s main points were:

  1. Class does not determine one’s character or worthiness for holding a position of power
  2. Money is not the most important determinant of social reality despite Marx’s contention that economics is the most important determinant of social reality
  3. “Success” is a mark of God’s favor and capitalism is compatible with religious values and virtues
  4. ‘Ideas’ shape material conditions, and the best ideas and brains belong to the capitalist class

On the other hand, Marx argued:

  1. The popular class and working class outnumber the bourgeoisie liberal elite
  2. You need worker buy-in for capitalism to survive
  3. Capitalism will produce the technology that will enable a popular and working-class revolution
  4. The environment cannot sustain uninhibited accumulation and extraction of capital on the part of the bourgeoisie liberal elite

But in the overall scheme of things, class is part of something more basic and essential, namely, one’s personal identity. In turn, one’s class does not necessarily determine one’s character or personality. Various levels of intellect exist in both classes, and as Schopenhauer argued, the people with the highest intellect tend to be the most anti-social. And with the centrality of identity in economic, political, and social life comes the task of “managing” one’s identity. And as Erving Goffman argued, one’s identity is determined by the “group” to which the individual belongs. It is worth noting that Goffman belonged to a family of Ukrainian Jews who emigrated to Canada in the early 20th century. And while Goffman was highly influential and transformative amongst American and Canadian intellectuals and scholars due to his personality and writing style, Goffman was neither associated nor in contact with the major intellectuals and scholars of his time, nor did he belong to any single group or school of thought. His thoughts and writings are thought of by some folks as constituting an entirely independent school of thought that is known as the “Goffman School.”

Goffman argued that on one hand, there is the ego of the “political” identity that comes with being part of a group, and on the other hand there is the stigma of the psychiatric identity that is individualistic and solitary, according to Goffman. Also, Goffman argued that even individuals with a “stigmatized” identity cannot escape the official “line” of the broader group to which the individual ultimately belongs. Although the “stigmatized” individual is pushed and pulled into several different directions throughout his or her life, the option of “advocating for all” is ultimately denied to the “stigmatized” individual more often than not. 

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