MECHANISMS TENDING TO MAINTAIN SOCIAL CLASS RIGIDITY
The preceding chapter illustrated relatively rigid social strata of many times and places. The present section will set down the chief mechanisms and devices used by families of social standing of every degree (above those of the lowest class) to maintain their positions and, sometimes, to improve their prestige or to keep from falling severely. Different devices have been used at different times; some are almost universal. Respect for genealogy, for instance, is a common source of prestige. It is a source of pride and a source of deference.Next Page
The list of mechanisms to be mentioned here is long. Nearly every important device used to stabilize the social class structure has received some attention, if it has not been thoroughly analyzed. After taking note of these many devices, one is not surprised to find that the classes (except the lowest, again, which has no choice) are able to hold their respective ranks relatively firm. Some of these devices shut out competition; some maintain the fiction of competition, giving the lower classes hope. However, all of the them together do not make the compartments of any social order water-tight; nor does the absence of some of the most effective of these instruments leave gaping holes in the walls of these compartments through which a rapidly flowing current passes.
Some of the more important mechanisms to be discussed here are: (1) setting up rules against inter-class marriage, (2) playing host to those seeking protection; (3) monopolizing religious functions, (4) wearing insignia, (5) enslavement, (6) entering clean occupations (7) monopolizing trade or business, (8) owning property, (9) monopolizing government or being close to the government, (10) mating favorably, (11) specializing in etiquette and fashion, (12) maintaining an atmosphere of secrecy, (13) leading wars and conquests, etc.
Ross, at the turn of the century, gave over one chapter of his Social Control to a discussion of prestige factors based on birth, wealth, education, militarism, and so forth. All of Ross's works, in fact, elaborate these more obvious devices for maintaining prestige and dominance. Dawson and Gettys list a few of the mechanisms used to maintain the social classes as constant entities. Their statement reads: 1
Not infrequently classes adopt some one or more mechanisms for the purpose of creating or fortifying the lines between them. These mechanisms may be the immaterial ones of hauteur, snobbishness, titles or rank, specialization in certain forms of etiquette, salutation, speech, and the like, or they may be visible marks of class differentiation in the form of uniforms, insignia, crests, exclusive societies and clubs, high church and low church, and so on. These and other distinctive evidences of class differences serve to "show a person his place" and to see that he stays there.
The intention here is to expand, better to illustrate, and more completely to analyze many of the devices which have played a significant part in the various class systems of human societies. If this chapter accomplishes its purpose, it will have added to the synthesis of human knowledge in the filed of status differentiation.
Retention of the gens. One of the first devices known to history and used to preserve class position, after the original grasping of control over the economic surplus and the monopolizing or controlling of the distribution of war booty, was that of attempting to maintain the aristocratic gens organization in a time when the state was already destined to adopt territorial and representative government. The patricians had, eventually, to share power with the more influential plebs, but for centuries 2
The gens . . . formed a body whose constitution was radically aristocratic. It was through their internal organization that the patricians of Rome and the Eupatrids of Athens were able to perpetuate their privileges for so long a time.
The Roman plebs and the Athenians demos broke through this form of organization and established the franchise system, but only after long effort; 3 even so, the results were of more political than social significance.
1. Carl. A. Dawson and Warner E. Gettys, An Introduction to Sociology (New York, 1929) p. 545.
2. N. D. Fustel de Coulagnes, The Ancient City, tr. Willard Small (Boston, 1901, tenth edition) p. 132.
3. Henry Sumner Maine, The Early History of Institutions (London, 1890) p. 76.