The Public Interest

On class in America

Christopher Jencks & David Riesman

Winter 1968

Until relatively recently, most Americans were allergic to discussions of social class in this country. In part, this was because they assumed social classes were by definition hereditary. Admitting their existence, would, therefore, undermine the idea that America rewarded diligence and competence no matter what their ancestry. But the desire to believe that America was a classless society had other roots, too. The New World’s great achievement was said to be its respect for regional, religious, and ethnic variety, as well as for groups that the Old World looked upon as less equal than others: for women as well as men, for the young as well as the old, for manual as well as cerebral work, for the culture of the populace as well as of the palace. Diversity was thus portrayed as the product of egalitarian pluralism rather than of invidious hierarchies. Talk of social classes seemed to deny this. 

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