As I mentioned in my blog post from yesterday, my favorite Joseph Epstein book is Snobbery: The American Version.

Just for fun, here is a sampling of some of my favorite quotes from that book:

“But snobbery, like bacteria, is found everywhere.” (Preface)

“Behind all acts of snobbery is, somehow or other, a false or irrelevant valuation.” (p.10)

“In the United States, contempt for social inferiors more than anything else marked the snob.” (p.14)

“By way of preliminary definition: a snob is someone who practices, lives by, exults in the system of distinctions, discriminations, and social distractions that make up the field play for snobbery.”  (p.15)

“The essence of snobbery, I should say, is arranging to make yourself feel superior at the expense of other people.” (p. 15)

“Snobbery often entails taking a petty, superficial, or irrelevant distinction and, so to say, running with it.” (p. 15)

“There is something deeply antisocial about the snob.  He is, in a profound sense, in business for himself.” (p. 17)

“I take the snob as someone out to impress his betters or out to depress those he takes to be his inferiors, and sometimes both; someone with an exaggerated respect for social position, wealth, and all the accouterments of status; someone who accepts what he reckons to be the world’s valuation on people and things, and acts – sometimes cruelly, sometimes ridiculously – on that reckoning; someone, finally, whose pride and accomplishment never come from within but always await the approving judgment of others.  People not content with their place in the world, not reconciled with themselves, are especially susceptible to snobbery.” (pp. 18-19)

“Snobbery, like religion, works through hope and fear.  The snob hopes to position himself securely among those whom he takes to be the best, most elegant, virtuous, fashionable, or exciting people.  He also fears contamination from those he deems beneath him.” (p. 20)

“To be one up, someone else must be pushed one down, and so there has always been the element of one-upmanship about snobbery.” (p. 24)

“Yet the real snobbery question is whether one is taking pleasure in a thing or activity for itself or because the pleasure is that other people – most people, in fact – are for one reason or another excluded from it.” (p. 24)

“Delight in excellence is easily confused with snobbery by the ignorant.” (p. 27)

“The pressing question for the snob, as for the snobographer, is to find out who just now is on top and how social gradations are worked out from there down.  Inquiring snobs want – make that need – to know.” (p. 62)

“…dispute can be endless about what constitutes correct taste, and in the hands of a snob taste can be wielded as a cruelly effective weapon, used to keep all sorts of people outside the gates.” (p.76)

“The snob’s error is to put good taste before a good heart – to put good taste before almost everything else.” (p.81)

‘A snob, in one common definition, is anyone who thinks himself superior in a way that demands recognition.” (p. 91)

“The snob requires prestige, cannot get along without it, thinks possession of it will eliminate his greatest of all fears – that of being nobody.” (p.95)

“What he (the snob) fails to comprehend is that neither can be obtained, at least not successfully, as an end in itself.  Prestige accompanies high achievement, is an accouterment of solid accomplishment.  At the banquet of life, status is a side dish, never a main course.  Prestige and status come by the way; they are not, in themselves, the way.” (p.99)

“Clubs are as much about keeping people out as joining them together, which is why they have always had a central place in the history of snobbery.” (p. 133)

“Even with the best intentions and histories of good works behind them, clubs are snobbery organized.” (p.134)

“…to present oneself as a victim allows one to cut the ground out from others who make an appeal on the basis of their own victimhood.”  “…if one carefully sets oneself up as a victim, one is in a position of moral superiority to anyone who cannot make the same claim.” (p. 155)

“But politics nowadays tends to be less about reason than ever; it is much more about making us feel good at the expense of those who aren’t as kind, generous and sensitive as we.” (p.161)

“The snob’s problem is that he allows himself to make judgments based on fashion, to let the competitive edge that lurks about fashion gain sway, to find being out of fashion veritable hell.  For the snob, fashion becomes a standard of judgment, a means of gratification, a method of acquiring self-esteem, an ethics, something akin to a religion, and of course a stick with which to beat on those who fall behind or get it wrong.” (pp. 176-177)

“Name-dropping is also a form of social climbing – social climbing on the cheap.  It’s social climbing because it suggests to people on whom one uses it that you are in a higher, more exciting world than you probably really are.” (p. 192)

“It is one thing to be distinguished from the ordinary.  But people who worry a good deal about celebrity – about not having it, or about not having enough of it, or about losing it – are contending with essentially snobbish emotions.” (p.198)

“Every act of snobbery is at bottom an act of weakness.  Often it is weakness striking out, showing its cruel side.  Sometimes it shows this by condescension, sometimes by pretension, sometimes by unconscious vulgarity.” (p. 247)

And finally the conclusion,

“Snobbery will die on the day when none of us needs reassurance of his or her worth, when society is so well balanced as to eliminate every variety of injustice, when fairness rules, and kindness and generosity, courage and honor are all rightly revered.  But until that precise day arrives – please, don’t mark your calendars yet – snobbery appears here to stay.” (p.251)


2 thoughts on “Snobbery

  1. fortybooksite September 30, 2018 / 8:43 pm

    Thanks, Ryan!

    I would be interested to know what you have been reading lately.

    Have a great week!


  2. Ryan Wolf September 30, 2018 / 11:40 am

    Thanks, Chris. This is really good…and biting…ouch.


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