Judge Hooper on the Middle Classes
by Ellis Parker Butler
Court Officer Durfey approached our eminent jurist, Justice of the Peace Lem Hooper, with a newspaper in his hand.
"Judge," he asked, "who are these Fascisti folks that are paradin' around Italy these days and tellin' the king where he gets off at?"
"You mean the 'black-shirts,' Durfey?" queried Judge Hooper. "They are you and me, Durfey, and Mr. Higgins that runs the grocery store down at the corner. Parabolically speaking, Durfey, the black-shirts are the white-collars of the land of the olive and the home of the limber but edible spaghetti. In a way of speaking, Durfey, the black shirt is the pair of old jeans pants you and I put on some Saturday afternoon when patience has ceased to be a virtue and we know that our friend Mr. Diggs has lied eighty-seven times out of eighty-seven when he said he would come and clean the rubbish out of the woodshed. When we take off the white collar and put on the old jeans pants, Durfey, the wife knows we're mad and will stand no more woodshed nonsense. The rubbish is going to depart from the sacred precincts of that woodshed ere set of sun, and don't you forget it!
"The black shirt on the chest of the white-collar man is the symbol of 'too much is plenty,' Durfey. 'Look, now!' says the white collar lad, I'm a plain citizen and busy most of the time, and my occupation of doing most of the world's work is so important that I have little time to worry if you but wave a red flag over my head, but, by dang, if you flap it in my eyes you'll learn I can peel off the stiff bosom and don the shirt of the hard fist and give a terrible wallop in the eye.' And he would have done so, Durfey, in Italy, if the red eye had not most wisely held its mouth.
"The Fascisti, Durfey, is the fist of the Middle Classes showing the Italian woodshed that it has muscles like other folks, and that it is not afraid to put on a working shirt and use them if need be. And a fine thing for the world, Durfey, at this day and moment, when the middle class has been so often told that it is a pickled jelly-fish that it has begun to believe it.
"For, mind you, Durfey, there's no doubt that red is the noisiest color in the world, bar none, which is no more than saying that one frog in a puddle can make more noise than the puddle and eighteen surrounding acres of good farm land. But which, Durfey, is not saying the frog is worth much or is more than a nuisance at best.
"The fact is, Durfey, that this is a middle class world and becoming more so every day, and it is high time the mind-our-own-business folks hither and yon should mention it. Someone does well to peel off the white collar and relieve the thorax and shout the truth in a loud voice.
"The middle classes, Durfey, became the vast majority when the hut became a home and the aristocracy ceased to be the whole cheese and became as useless as the gilt label on the outside of the package. In this blessed land of ours everybody is the middle class except the tramp and the agitator, and both of them could be if they wanted to be. This is a middle-class nation, Durfey, and the middle class is the salt of the earth, and the best job yet produced by the Creator. He is not a slave and he is not an autocrat; he is you and me and the folks.
"And it is the same elsewhere, Durfey. There are one or two places, like Russia, maybe, where the middle class is scarce and few and, as I may say, can be put into a teaspoon and lost, but we don't want that fact to fool us, Durfey. We don't want to get the idea that what can happen in a land where there have been naught but autocrats and serfs can also happen in a land where pa and ma and the family have not been scared of a policeman for a hundred years. The trouble with Russia was that it was kicked out of autocracy into the middle of a middle-class world and it had no middle class whatever. But be not afraid; it will grow one; it is full of sprouts already. The dire fate of the whole world, Durfey, is to become middle class and proud of it.
"The trouble with the middle class, Durfey, is that once on a time some smart guy called it 'bourgeois' and it thought that meant 'He Who Gets Kicked' in a free translation, and nobody has bothered to tell it otherwise. It has thought 'God forgive me; I have a good pair of shoes and a dollar more than I need to pay the grocer -- I wonder if I have a right to live, or should I go and drown myself for shame?' It has what this Freud man would call an inferiority complex, Durfey, left over from the days when the man that had a turnip patch was the first man the robber baron soaked or the robber tramp took a whack at. The middle class was the goat, Durfey -- everybody's goat. Now he is everybody. Almost."
"Then what has he to be scared of, judge?" asked Durfey.
"If the news from Italy is authentic," said Judge Hooper, "the answer to your query, Durfey, is -- not a blame thing!"