The Indian Economy Blog

July 15, 2008

Caste And The Gentleman Class

Filed under: Human Capital,Miscellaneous — Karthik @ 8:28 pm

Writing in his latest book A Farewell To Alms UC Davis Professor Gregory Clark provides insight into the possible reasons why the English (and Europeans in general)  are on the whole considered “gentlemanly” and more “polished” (except while watching football, of course). Clark’s reasoning can also be extended to explain why India didn’t develop in the same fashion.

Clark writes:

 

The Darwinian struggle that shaped human nature did not end with the Neolithic Revolution but continued right up until the Industrial Revolution.

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… economic success translated powerfully into reproductive success. The richest men had twice as many surviving children at death as the poorest. The poorest individuals in Malthusian England had so few surviving children that their families were dying out. Preindustrial England was thus a world of constant downward mobility. Given the static nature of the Malthusian economy, the superabundant children of the rich had to, on average, move down the social hierarchy in order to find work. Craftsmen’s sons became laborers, merchants’ sons petty traders, large landowners’ sons smallholders.

This framework possibly explains the classification of the English as “gentlemanly”. An extremely high proportion of the population in England has its backgrounds in “gentlemanly” famlies. Over the generations, their professions may have changed but they still retained their basic cultural traits – which were once gentlemanly.

On the same lines, one wonders why this kind of development didn’t happen in India, and the answer lies in the caste system. Given the rigid caste system here, it wasn’t possible for people to “downshift”. Given its tight linkage with profession, what the caste system did was to freeze the proportion of various castes in the total workforce.

Hence, even if the upper caste/class people managed to produce more surviving offspring, these offspring weren’t able to migrate to other “lesser” professions.  In other words, the survival of the fittest happened within castes. It was not until much after the industrial revolution and urbanization and the development of modern medicine, that people of different castes started professionallly competing with each other.

30 Comments »

  1. Could one of the reasons be the climate. It can be argued that in western Europe, the poor due lack of resources had lesser survivors than the rich. In India, as in the tropics where the climate is more forgiving, more children from the poorer background survived.

    Comment by Krish — July 16, 2008 @ 1:13 am

  2. The struggle didn’t end with the Industrial Revolution either.

    Comment by Sridhar — July 16, 2008 @ 9:58 am

  3. quite an interesting perspective..even now I think Indian society is very rigid

    Comment by rahul — July 16, 2008 @ 10:34 am

  4. You are kidding right? First off, “gentlemanliness” is not a genetic or
    biologically inheritable trait. This assertion that “they retained their
    basic cultural traits” is completely unsupported speculation, and a rather
    daring leap of inference. This issue of “polish” vs boorish indians is
    a very colonial stereotype, and Mr. Clark’s argument is a nicely circular
    one-it begins with an undefined concept of “gentlemanliness” then proceeds
    to throw in some malthusian arguments about populations, and ends with
    an unsupported inference.

    Comment by krishna — July 19, 2008 @ 2:22 am

  5. i agree with krishna that the view is a colonial stereotype. The concept of gentlemanliness is cultural & changes with culture.

    Comment by sameer — July 19, 2008 @ 11:03 am

  6. Looks like you swallowed the whole racist/colonial stereotype hook, line and sinker, “boy”!

    As “gentlemanly” European people (particularly British) were in 1920′s, everyone had to carry an umbrella (particularly cities like Edinburgh) – gives you that rather august look. Unfortunately, that was not because of the weather. It was because people used to throw shit out their windows on to the side streets.

    @Rahul: Spend sometime in these societies and you will realize how rigid they are and how pig-headed they can be.

    Germany and Switzerland are classic examples. You don’t get much respect or get very far even if you are one of the blond, blue-eyed white, christians, that is, unless your last name ends with a “von”.

    Agreeing to the view that Europeans have the stranglehold on “gentlemanliness” is subscribing to slave mentality.
    Karthik stop flagellating yourself

    Comment by GS — July 20, 2008 @ 12:21 am

  7. Is it the greatest joke of the year???

    Or is some election manifesto???

    In India, the politics have made it reverse of the Darwin’s theory.
    Here, there are caste-based reservations (seats for people having certain particular surnames, irrespective of their financial conditions) for those who are far from being “fittest”.
    The fittest are denied rights to education, rights to have a job, etc. and are forced to do jobs that are much less “gentlemanly” than what he/she deserves…for being the “fittest” in merit (by Nature).

    Instead of the “Natural Selection”, the “Political Selection” is what I feel, is responsible for the extreme retardation in the progress of India.

    Comment by Kushal — July 20, 2008 @ 8:22 pm

  8. Okay, I refuse to take part in this war of inflating egoistic [nay patriotic] opinions… but will somebody be kind enough to explain to me, WHAT EXACTLY HAS ‘GENTLEMANLINESS’ OF EUROPEANS HAS TO DO WITH INDIAN ECONOMY?

    Comment by Soham Das — July 20, 2008 @ 9:00 pm

  9. To start off, Clark by genealogy means:(Origin Scottish) Clerk, a clergyman, a scholar, one who can read and write. Now, it is very natural for “anybody” to induce pomp and grandeur for especially their ancestral lineage. And in this case Prof. Clark who has English blood in him just conformed to “anybody”.

    Just see the weakness in the argument he made: The richest men had twice as many surviving children at death as the poorest. The poorest individuals in Malthusian England had so few surviving children that their families were dying out. Preindustrial England was thus a world of constant downward mobility.

    The above lines indicate to me that there was a crunch in population numbers in England due to which all aspects of society were not fully covered. For example: Lord Mountbatten who was born into a royal lineage was asked to be part of the war in jungles of Burma and this happened because the rich/royal wanted to keep grip on the army otherwise the army would have chopped the heads of the royal dynasty just like in mainland Europe.So there was a downward mobility because the rich wanted to protect their interests in the long run.

    In India it did not happen because every man irrespective of caste had a decent standard of living until the invaders pillaged us and pushed the country backwards. Although the caste system was exploited by various people at various times, not to forget the current politicians but the actual intent of it was to ensure different aspects of society like administration, defense, education, trade and services were streamlined that way we can build vertical competency centers that were held horizontally integrated by the rulers. Unfortunately our indigenous rulers forgot the rule #1;”integrate” and fell to the trap of rule#1 of invaders: “divide” and thus we had to let invaders let us rule.

    We cannot change past; but now is the time again to integrate and show the real power of India with it’s rich culture, heritage and diversity. Remember “Global” means capitalizing on diversity.

    Regards
    Dubagunta

    Comment by Venu Madhav Dubagunta — July 21, 2008 @ 12:52 am

  10. On the same lines, one wonders why this kind of development didn’t happen in India, and the answer lies in the caste system. Given the rigid caste system here, it wasn’t possible for people to “downshift”. Given its tight linkage with profession, what the caste system did was to freeze the proportion of various castes in the total workforce.

    Not true. The linkage of caste with profession has rarely held strongly. Take the Kshatriya caste, for example. The caste system dictates that they be rulers and fighters.

    Given that rulers will tend to have too many children, what would happen to their great^n grandchildren n generations later? What would happen when the dynasties fall? We’d expect to see most of them to be lowly soldiers many generations later. But then, the standing army is a modern concept. Most soldiers at that time were only wartime soldiers. At other times they were farmers. Likewise, even among brahmins, there was a range of occupations (from Royal priest to a flunkey at a temple or a cook) sufficient to ensure to economic mobility was possible even while staying within a caste.

    Comment by Ravikiran — July 21, 2008 @ 11:09 am

  11. Clearly the writer doesn’t know the English people well and his premise that Indians are not gentlemanly probably reflects the nature of his company. I’d advice him to go to England or any other place where he considers people are more ‘gentlemanly’ and get a first hand taste of it. Also it’d be wise for the author to find new Indian friends because obviously his Indian friends are not ‘gentlemanly’ enough for him. Also Karthik , what is your opinion of the Germans , the French and Americans : do you think not having a caste system has helped them evolve into a ‘Gentlemanly’ culture ? I await your expert opinion on it !!

    Comment by Rajoy — July 22, 2008 @ 3:32 pm

  12. Karthik:

    Ha!

    Interesting, the choice of the word ‘gentlemanly’. Is that your word or Clark’s?

    See, if this had been phrased in terms of something like the quality of blood circulation in the body or any other heritable trait, the argument that inbreeding and a hot environment made Indians less fit might have made sense. As far as I know, ‘gentlemanliness’ is not a genetic trait — or maybe I just missed the literature on that.

    You ask why Indians didn’t develop similar gentlemanly attitudes. I have a different theory: Maybe it’s the fact that for a couple of centuries, the entire Indian GDP was diverted for the enrichment of Britain. Sure, if you and a few generations of your ancestors have had the financial freedom to waste time developing “gentlemanly” tastes and attitudes, you’re more likely to be gentlemanly. Certainly more likely than those in the captive Indian slave population whom you denied the opportunity for even the most basic education for about 10 generations.

    Comment by Armchair Guy — July 23, 2008 @ 12:10 am

  13. The Darwinian struggle that shaped human nature did not end with the Neolithic Revolution but continued right up until the Industrial Revolution.On the same lines, one wonders why this kind of development didn’t happen in India, and the answer lies in the caste system. Given the rigid caste system here, it wasn’t possible for people to “downshift”

    Comment by vikash — July 24, 2008 @ 10:54 am

  14. I think that in America, we are moving down the scale. The upper class has 3-4 kids, the middle class has 1-2, and the underclass has many. We pay poor people to have more children than they can afford.

    Further, education and fecundity are negatively correlated.

    Comment by bristlecone — July 28, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

  15. This Karthik guy has reached a new low in selling himself out to the “white man = good” myth.

    Get over your ludicrous insecurities and get a life man. I’ve mixed with enough of Europe’s (sic) gentlemanly class to know how many fags, kids born out of wedlock, former jail terms they’ve served etc they cover up under the (sic) gentlmanliness.

    Shame on you Karthik for posting this.

    And shame on me for lowering myself to the level where I pay attention to your pathetic theory. My excuse if that it’s on the IE blog.

    Comment by Thoughtful Indian Guy — July 30, 2008 @ 8:17 am

  16. Interesting theory, I do think a part of it is true.

    While i agree to some extent that caste system in particular and Hinduism in general have caused deep damage to rational thinking in India, that does not mean Europe was in anyway better.

    You should read mode about medieval Europe etc; It was pretty brutual and crappy.

    Read Jane Austen’s works. I consider them to be mediocre, but they give you a good idea on how the socio economics of “gentlemanly”ness worked :) It was pretty bad and morally corrupt.

    And as others say, I would consider your article childish if you think Gentlemanliness means wearing a coat, suit and umbrella and hanging around or talking in a Grammatically impeccable language which is suited for a research publication. The stuff inside ur skull is more important than the color of your underwear :) or for that matter the color of your skin.. i request you to be comfortable with your own skin :) and believe me when you get comfortable, you will talk of evils like caste system in absolute terms rather than in relational terms with “gentlemanliness”.

    Don’t buy into that racist Kipling who wrote the “White Mans Burden”!

    The gentlemanly world bowed to the half naked fakir, Gandhi, in the end (i have my differences with Gandhi.. thats for another time). If they were Gentlemanly anyway… they would have left us alone and would have minded to their own business rather than raping and plundering India.

    Here is another aspect that I consider to be the root cause of Indian evil. Any culture has a large potion of irrational and stupid people, who differentiate on a lot of things and try to build communities and subgroups within those groups. I call them looking glassses. If you put on a racist looking glass, you will say “all brown men are my brothers”, or “all blacks are my brothers”, or “all yellow people are my bros”.

    If you have the caste looking glass, you might say “all people of my caste are are my bros”.

    As long as there are stupid people in the world (i.e. as long as people exist) there will be communal organizations and divisions. And racial inhomogenity in India makes it very easy to be communal and divide and ghetoize ourselves. And if the looking glass is caste+ language+race+religion, it becomes easy to maintain that ghetoized nature and it prevents rational economics to function, because we are not looking at a uniform society.

    I believe that this self Ghettoizing nature will cause the destruction of India. If Indians were not so meek(because of the value placed on the male child, which propagates into the children of the next generation) we would have destroyed India way back… but then if we were not meek the gentlemanly brits and the ruthless Mughals and Mongols would have run back with their balls in their hands.

    Comment by Lakshmikanth — August 4, 2008 @ 12:53 am

  17. Hi,

    According to me all the Indian reactions expressing their disappreciation for that “theory” about gentlemanliness are fully right. The reason for it is obvious:

    The concept of “gentlemanliness” cannot be defined outside the British (or by extension Anglo-Saxon) culture. And if someone wants to use this concept to compare two cultures on the basis of economy and social organisation, then it should be defined very precisely for the British culture, and at the same time tried to describe a similar concept of attitude according to the Indian culture. Though I’m still not long enough a participator in Indian culture, it is very clear to me that in Indian equally important rules of conduct are there, out of which some are called “mannered and stylish”, others “rude and not sophisticated”.
    And perhaps – or should I say probably – there are even more systems of rules of conduct in India than available in the Western countries.

    Comment by Tony Vangelabbeek — August 5, 2008 @ 12:40 am

  18. Speaking as an Englishmen I find it hard to reconcile this view of the “gentlemanly” nation with my actual experience of having lived there for most of my life. I suspect that the perception of being gentlemanly is something which was cultivated during past years and has largely disappeared (in England anyway).

    In my experience the concept of being a gentleman today amounts to little more that conforming to cultural and social norms which exist everywhere they just appear different to the outsider.

    Comment by alex@moneyvidya.com — August 13, 2008 @ 11:11 pm

  19. The notion of a gentleman exists not only in Anglo Saxon cultures but in all aristocratic cultures. Now most people cater to the lowest common denominator in terms of culture these days. The gentleman type is in decline in all cultures that have contributed to civilization because it assumes several generations of culture and education in a family. Examples of gentleman were found amongst the scholars in Old China, Brahmins in India etc. in terms of non-Western cultures. In fact the old Chinese ideal was the gentleman-scholar. Now you have a business knighthood. How is that to produce a gentleman when the ideal is to become successful? Please understand what a gentleman is before you start discussing such things. There has to be at least a minimum of three generations of culture and education in a family to produce a gentleman. The exceptions are people like Abe Lincoln etc., etc, who were gentlemen in one generation.

    Comment by larissa — August 16, 2008 @ 7:27 pm

  20. To Tony Vangelabbeek
    ‘concept of “gentlemanliness” cannot be defined outside the British (or by extension Anglo-Saxon) culture.”
    On yeah? Me thinks you ought to study world history a bit. The old Chinese ideal was the production of the gentleman scholar, the Indian ideal was also the enlightened man. In fact, in India that is why the highest caste was supposed to devote itself to education, not material gain. Now the caste system became corrupted because it did not allow for social mobility–moreover HIndu culture became bastardized because of many foreign invasions starting from the Muslims. But it valued the man of education and culture more than a businessman whose ideal is money-making…It is easy for me to spot a gentlemen…they have culture and education and exist in all cultures that are intellectually active. If you are bought up in a family of culture for several generations and you have educational and cultural achievements, then is is easy for you to spot gentlemen. Western culture these days caters to the lowest common denominator in terms of culture. This is a simple reason why you do not see gentlemen these days. The gentlemen I have come across happen to be enlightened folk in the humanities and sciences.

    Comment by larissa — August 16, 2008 @ 7:46 pm

  21. “Writing in his latest book A Farewell To Alms UC Davis Professor Gregory Clark provides insight into the possible reasons why the English (and Europeans in general) are on the whole considered “gentlemanly” and more “polished” (except while watching football, of course).”
    Is this a joke? Europeans are considered more gentlemanly? No way. However, it is right to say that Anglo-Saxons have established good institutions. People in Western Europe are forced to follow laws regardless of inner development. This is why their societies run well like a well oiled machine.

    Comment by larissa — August 16, 2008 @ 8:20 pm

  22. This is a joke, right? Please tell me this is a joke.
    The notion that one should simply swallow the values and way of life of the upper class in order for society to become more ‘polished’ is disgusting to say the least.
    Moreover, this idea of gentlemanliness (which has no definition. It is assumed to be an end in itself. I suppose what all of India really wants is to be like the Europeans and live like them.) is elevated to something almost genetic. Its almost as if you are saying that good ideas and good modes of life are the domain of the upper classes only and they are the saviour of all humanity.
    And seriously, what do you mean by “polished”?
    This article smacks of a colonial hangover and slave mentality.

    Comment by Rahul Menon — August 19, 2008 @ 7:10 pm

  23. @Larissa,
    It is nonsense to use the word “gentlemanliness” for “social upperclass” behaviour in China and India which was rather a religious and ethical ideal based on a holistic approach to life. This is something entirely different from what is meant when we talk about “gentlemanliness”.
    I not only have read history, I also do understand (at least I try to) the essential differences in nature of various societies.
    And for your information: in England “gentlemanliness” was only a behaviour that you had to learn if you were born in a rich family. It helped those English aristocrats to distinct themselves from the lower classes.
    I guess because they had no other ways of defining themselves differently – if you don’t have to work for your money, then what else is there as a possible social identity than to define some behavioural rules ?
    I advise you to read Dickens.

    Comment by Tony Vangelabbeek — March 9, 2009 @ 1:24 pm

  24. @ Tony Vangelabbeek,
    So the British concept of gentleman is a very superficial concept is it not? That is what I am trying to get at. Wearing a starched collar and pronouncing your vowels a certain way? I think gentleman exist in all aristocratic cultures–they might not conform to what the British mean by “gentleman”. I recall in India money making was not considered “gentlemanly” amongst the upper castes until very recently now when the business knighthood are in control everywhere…Perhaps the concept of gentleman ought to be found on ethical ethical ideals as was the case in China and India where it was not necessarily associated with wealth and material possessions but intellectual and moral qualities….Actually in India behaviour was very much associated with lineage and family, so it’s not just in England, except what it meant to be a gentleman did not consist in dressing a certain way and having other superficial airs which is what you seem to associate with “gentleman”….I do not get what you are trying to say….

    Comment by larissa — June 4, 2009 @ 9:07 pm

  25. And I have read a lot of Dickens…

    Comment by larissa — June 4, 2009 @ 9:09 pm

  26. Also muchy of the Brisith concept of gentleman in the sense of not being the chivalry found in the middle ages (which could be seen among the Rajputs in India (Count Keyseling on his travels to India in the 20′s) seems to be a result of their “trading culture”. And much of the superficiality of British of culture or what appears superficial and nonsensical to non-Brits comes from their being a “nation of traders”…In other respects, I do not see how the moral and ethical qualities of being a “gentleman” are different from those found in the East…

    Comment by larissa — June 4, 2009 @ 9:17 pm

  27. Also much of the British concept of gentleman in the sense of not being the chivalry found in the middle ages (which could be seen among the Rajputs in India (Count Keyseling on his travels to India in the 20’s) )seems to be a result of their “trading culture”. Much of the superficiality of British of culture or what appears superficial and nonsensical to non-Brits comes from their being a “nation of traders”…In other respects, I do not see how the moral and ethical qualities of being a “gentleman” are different from those found in the East…So how is “gentleman” to be only associated with only the British and not those of other aristocratic cultures? Please explain. If it just consists in dressing a certain way and speaking English a certain way, it appears very superficial to me….

    Comment by larissa — June 4, 2009 @ 9:24 pm

  28. “social upperclass” behaviour in China and India which was rather a religious and ethical ideal based on a holistic approach to life.

    And one last thing, upper class behavior in India did not consist in having a holistic approach to life–this is a superficial understanding of someone not part of the culture…In India your behavior was very much determined by your lineage and blood…this was very important until recently when people have begun to inter-marry across castes…The royalty behaved like royals and other upper castes like Brahmins behaved like Brahmins who were different from royals but higher on the caste scale…In India caste is not based on wealth, but on something different like blood and lineage which is why a poor Brahmin was higher on the caste scale than a royal…this is indeed very different from European aristocracy which was based mostly on wealth…The British upper classes as I understand did not hesitate to marry those with money and very often married Jewish folk…this could never happen in India and often the millionaire businessmen were not high on the caste scale but quite low…so it is hard for Europeans to understand class in India….

    Comment by larissa — June 4, 2009 @ 9:45 pm

  29. “Writing in his latest book A Farewell To Alms UC Davis Professor Gregory Clark provides insight into the possible reasons why the English (and Europeans in general) are on the whole considered “gentlemanly” and more “polished” (except while watching football, of course).”

    Where is the polish left? One has to look at the pop culture in Britain–as I recall the popular shows are ones such as “skin” about teenagers having sex produced by the BBC (not sure)? Another show was calleed “mistress” and highly popular. America is far more conservative in this respect. Perhaps with no more colonies and no more wealth the “real” culture comes out which was covered by a veneer of weath and power–the so called ‘gentlemanly’ culture? Which is not to say I do not respect the great people Britian has produced in the course of its history…but I did not like the pop culture I saw among young folk there….

    Comment by larissa — June 4, 2009 @ 10:07 pm

  30. Larissa, only thing I want to say is that the concept of “gentleman” describes something British or European at most. If it’s superfluous or not, I don’t know.
    You cannot just apply that concept to the aristocratic Brahman caste in India. It has just nothing to do with it. Especially because of the connotations it has with a certain British era.

    In the same way the concept of Indian “untouchability” could never be applied to the low social classes in Europe.

    They are just concepts which have a meaning within a certain society. I really don’t think India and China can be described thàt easy with concepts having only sense in Europe.
    If you force the use of such concept to describe f.i. India, then you have to know that WITHIN each Indian caste there was certainly a separation between gentlemanlike behaviour and other behaviour. Like is in every group. Only in India there are much more valuesystems crossing the society. That makes the country so diverse and multicultural also. In my eyes entirely different from Europe.

    Stating that “gentlemaniness” is not there in India because it could not evolve throughout the whole population (because of “Darwinistic” reasons) has the same value as “A cat cannot bark”. In India they say: “White peope work hard, but they’re just so stupid that they don’t understand anything about the Indian society”. I think they’re right.

    Comment by Tony Vangelabbeek — August 12, 2009 @ 1:05 pm

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