william hogarth, heads of six of hogarth's servants (circa 1750-5)
democracy, by definition, tore down every barrier to expectation. all members of a democratic society perceived themselves as being theoretically equal, even where the means was lacking to achieve material equality. "in america," wrote tocqueville, "i never met a citizen too poor to cast a glance of hope and envy towards the pleasures of the rich." the poor citizens observed rich ones at close quarters and trusted that they too would one day follow in their footsteps. they were not always wrong. a number of fortunes were made by people from humble beginnings. exceptions did not, however, make a rule. america still had an underclass. it was just that, unlike the poor of aristocratic societies, poor americans could no longer see their condition as anything other than a betrayal of their expectations.
(from status anxiety by alain de botton)