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Astral Codex Ten Podcast

Feb 25, 2021



Paul Fussell wants to talk about class.

(well, wanted, past tense, it's a 1983 book, we'll come back to that later)

He recognizes this might not be the most popular topic. When he tells people he's writing a book on class in America, "it is as if I had said I am working on a book urging the beating to death of baby whales using the dead bodies of baby seals." America likes to think of itself as a classless society. Sure, there may be vast wealth inequality, but at least there's no nobility; beggars and billionaires are the same type of citizen.

Paul Fussell will have none of it. He believes America has one of the most hypertrophied class systems in the world, that its formal equality has left a niche that an informal class system expanded to fill - and expanded, and expanded, until it surpassed the more-legible systems of Europe and became its own sort of homegrown monstrosity. He says he prefers the term "caste system" to "class system" when describing America, conveying as it does a more rigid and inescapable distinction, and that he uses "class" only out of respect for conventional usage.