Traditional Elites in the Upper Class

September 6, 2012

Painting by John Singer Sargent

Violet Hammersley, wife of Hugh Hammersley.

It is these “old families” that, principally, determine the character of the most refined sectors of the upper class, infusing them with wholesome traditions. The inter-relationship between the upper class and the traditional elites in contemporary society is also affirmed by Lucy Kavaler, who quotes a gentleman bearing “one of New York’s oldest names” as saying that “a real social register would have to be compiled from the membership lists of the hereditary organizations.”(1)

On the other hand, students of the upper class in American society show that the present-day criteria used to acknowledge someone as a member of the upper class coincide, to a great extent, with traditional standards used to determine membership in an aristocratic elite. [G. William] Domhoff, for example, considers the upper class as constituting a group of families of high social position, great fortune, and unique lifestyle, whose members socialize and marry among themselves. He says further: “The social upper class can be defined as people who are listed in certain social registers and blue books, people who attend certain private schools, and people who belong to certain exclusive social clubs.”(2)

 Painting Henri Alexandre Gervex

A social evening in 1909 at the restaurant "Le Pré Catalan".

(1) Lucy Kavaler, The Private World of High Society (New York: David McKay Co., 1960), p. 7.

(2) G. William Domhoff, The Higher Circles: The Governing Class in America (New York: Random House, 1970), p. 32.


Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII: A Theme Illuminating American Social History (York, Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, 1993), Appendix I, pp. 315-316. Editorial comment: —

America is an aristocratic nation within a democratic State. We have traditional elites and we have aristocratic ones too. Throughout our history these elites have worked to build America.
Today, however, as the country faces tribulations and threats as seldom before, our traditional elites have a special responsibility to bring effective leadership to the country at every level: local, regional, state, national and international. Our nation’s future demands this sacrifice once more.



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