The Last of the Best: The Aristocracy of Europe in the Twentieth Century

The Last of the Best: The Aristocracy of Europe in the Twentieth Century

The Last of the Best: The Aristocracy of Europe in the Twentieth Century

The Last of the Best: The Aristocracy of Europe in the Twentieth Century

Excerpt

'Are you born?'

Most human beings would reply that they were. Yet this question, still asked solemnly in some exclusive circles in Europe, means more than it states. It means, 'Are you born from a family which has a name that other aristocratic families recognize?' More precisely, it means, 'Is your family listed in the Almanach de Gotha or Burke's Peerage or their lesser imitators?' If so, you may consider yourself born. If not, you may not.

The mark of birth is the only one which enables the modern aristocrat to recognize his like. The true basis of aristocracy, as de Tocqueville pointed out, is land; but too many social revolutions in Eastern Europe and social reforms in Western Europe have forced aristocrats to concede the basis of their titles, leaving only their pedigrees to comfort them. The acquisition of land through wealth or of honours through politics still allows for a new aristocracy to join the thinning ranks of the old. But birth and family name still remain the final security for the last of the best in a modern world that increasingly finds less place for the pretensions of pedigree.

This book seeks to trace the history of the European aristocracy in this century from its Indian summer before the First World War through the depression and the Second World War to the present day. The book concentrates more on the history of a class or caste than on the particular definitions of the members of that class. In this way, it is more interested in generalities than genealogies.

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