As a devout anti-bourgeoisie socialist, I find myself horrified by how much I’ve been enjoying the hit BBC TV series Downton Abbey. I resolutely denounce monarchist regimes and elitist hereditary aristocracies with every fiber of my proletarian being, and yet I find myself deliciously enjoying Downton Abbey’s almost mawkish reminiscence of such a system.
I’m fascinated by how easily the show’s characters, who are living in the last years of the Ancien Régime class system, accepted their social status and the fact they were stuck with this accidence of birth as some divine placement system, and the mere idea of changing that social status, high or low, was absolutely absurd—sacrilegious!— to even consider.
This certainly explains why modern Brits still cling to their monarchy and refuse to make Britain a republic. I have always wondered why this was so. This show’s sentimental portrayal of the barbarically static class system of old certainly proves how embedded it still is in the Brit’s mind, even after nearly 100 years of socialist and egalitarian reform.
I think the way Downton Abbey’s servants all revere the rich, haughty, lazy fucks they serve, and accept them as higher beings, is what fascinates me. And the way the show makes the aristocrats appear so magnanimous despite the fact they are lazy and insipid, as if pretending to care for the lowly peasants is noblesse oblige in and of itself. The show depicts them as worthy of their status, regardless of the fact they were born into it and haven’t done an honest day’s work in their lives. That’s just how it was.
Centuries of social conditioning certainly beat down the proletarian class to accept their fate in Old Europe, and, as the show tries to depict, this all certainly changed after WW I when millions of low-born men died or were maimed fighting this utterly pointless war between European aristocratic houses (the German Kaiser was first cousin to Britain’s King!). Socialism was easier to digest after WW I. The show dances around this and hints at it, which is pretty cool, and the Irish chauffeur who marries Lady Sybil represents this modern, low-born socialist agitator who doesn’t accept his fate of birth in the class system.
All in all, I adore the show as well written and brilliantly acted. Americans should watch this show and celebrate the fact we fought a war in 1776 to break free from our bondage to these lazy and insipid aristocrats, princes, and kings who ruled us with their so-called “divine right.” Our forefathers scoffed at this barbaric system, and the first act they performed after we won our revolutionary war and established our republic was to abolish titles of nobility and the “lordly” class system.
That’s what we should celebrate as Americans when we watch Downton Abbey, that this was something we have never been, born to our fate and incapable of moving upwards merely because of the accidence of our birth. Maybe the climb upwards was difficult even in our society, but it was possible and many have done so over the last 200 years.
That brings us all hope.