The Return of the Middle Class

by John Corbin. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons 1922. 12mo. viii + 358 pp. $2.50.
THERE has come into existence lately quite a library of anti-democratic literature, intended to sound the warning that our democratic theory of government depends upon sundry presuppositions concerning the moral and intellectual quality of the private citizen, and that where these presuppositions are wanting, Democracy becomes tyranny of the worst sort.
This book is a notable addition to this type of literature. Its aim is to show that the political subdivisions of our country are superceded by industrial subdivisions. We are no longer differentiated horizontally, spatially, geographically, but vertically, according to our status in a vast nation-wide industrial system.
Failure to recognize this change of direction in the grain of our life must result in the elimination of the great Middle Class as a factor in all efforts at adjustment, and may result in its total extinction as a class. This would be a calamity of the first order; for the Middle Class, the salaried brain-workers, professors, teachers, clergymen, ‘white-collar’ clerks and so on, always has been and still is the mainstay of any civilization worthy of the name. Something must be done to rescue that class.
In a wholesome way, this is a disturbing book. One may hate to think that our cherished political axioms— the equality of men, the essential trustworthiness of human nature, man’s native capacity for self-direction—are axiomatic only as they concern a certain type of humanity — the Nordic. One may hate to think that our ideal of a class-less civilization, in which merit wherever found faces its instant opportunity, must be replaced by a structure of social classes.
Yet here are the imperturbable facts. Our country swarms with South-European immigrants who neither possess nor acquire any sufficient conception of the responsibilities of citizenship, but under-live and out-vote us, degrade our culture and confuse our politics. And yet we cannot do without them. Modern industry demands a permanent supply of laborers.
It is all very well for Franklin K. Lane to complain that the laboring man is reprehensibly blind to the opportunities for self-improvement which American life affords, and is too ready to consider himself a laboring mail and nothing else; the fact remains that if the laboring man should refuse to stay put, one of two things must happen — either his place must be filled by others who will stay put, or the whole present industrial system must be jeopardized.
The author suggests one method of protection. Fire may be fought, with fire. Class must breed class. The Middle Class must come to itself and assert itself as a unit. Here is a tremendous opportunity for the newly enfranchised Woman. Our political method must readjust itself to the new industrial divisions that prevail. We may as well recognize the fact that we are a classified Society, and proceed accordingly.
One may agree with the author or not, but one cannot help being stimulated by the perfectly bold way which he grasps the net tle and faces the issue.