The ancient patriarchs were men of high status; they were also the conductors of worship. They and the priests, per se, were originally and everywhere the caretakers of tradition, 9 itself the handmaiden of the social class system.Next Page
According to the definition of social class formulated in Chapter I, priests do not constitute a social class as such. They, with their wives and offspring, if any, are usually too few in any one community to form a clique of associative families. They are functionaries of enormous power, however, and this power is used to the advantage of the whole social class they serve, if it be middle or upper. That section of clergy that ministers to the lower and lowest classes usually renders a service of rationalization and comfort. Priests and other clergymen often belong to the class they serve, and in no appreciable manner do they engage vigorously in activities which promote social class mobility.
Of all the examples of actual social classes that monopolized religious powers, antiquity offers the best. Only grudgingly did the patricians give way to the demand for public gods and public ceremonies. By holding fast to religious practices, the patricians had been able to levy special taxes on the clients, plebs, and aliens. 10
Later, when this control over religion was broken, the plebs, as a whole, did not or could not free themselves from the limitations of lower status. Except for a few plebeian aristocrats, the plebs lived as they had lived before, a plain and neglected mass, the growing proletariat of Rome. Neither the franchise nor public religion spared them from the ignominy of low status.
Insignia. The uses to which insignia may be put, directly or indirectly affecting social class, are multitudinous. In modern America regalia is not as common as in many foreign lands. For instance, unless this war has changed the custom, in Germany children attending Gymnasia wear caps that ostensibly designate their academic grade. But these caps signify much more: they indicate to the passerby, to store clerks, to neighbors, that the bearer belongs to the middle class, at least. To him who wears an academic cap all pay more attention; they approach him differently; they expect him to have more dignity and honor. He has.
Similar is the influence of fraternity pins, college pennants, even steamship and hotel labels (some more than others). The title of Lord, Doctor, Professor, or Honorable is a part of this same system of distinctions. 11 Noble titles, of course, are more significant because of their social class connotations and hereditary nature. One form of insignia is called fashion: clothes so worn as to make one a "gentleman" or a "lady."
Nowadays, however, some carefully coached and highly disciplined salesmen who have acquired their polish away from home are nevertheless able to dress like fashion plates. And, too, the brass buttons of his coat have more than once cursed a bureaucrat with a false sense of his own superiority. These are exceptions to the rule.
Insignia do not divide the classes of society, but they do heighten social class consciousness. They invite and attract esteem. 12
Enslavement. Nothing jells a social class hierarchy more rapidly than the widespread introduction of slavery. It divides the people into the slave and free; it also divides the free into slave owners and those without slaves; it introduces the spirit of aristocracy even among the slaves. Never are the free one class, the slaves another; but the whole society is stratified socially. Slavery fits into aristocratic mores as a hand into a glove. It is a means of putting down the "surplus" people in the population. They cannot even possibly elope with daughters of higher standing; they cannot compete for status. Slavery is a legal means of buttressing the kind of social distance always associated with social class.
9. Pontus H. Fahlbeck, Die Klassen und die Gesellschaft (Jena, 1922) p. 36.
10. Fustel de Coulagne, op. cit., p. 303. Also: pp. 262 ff., p. 313, pp. 384 ff., p387.
11. Leopold von Wiese, Systematic Sociology, translated and adapted by Howard Becker (New York, 1932) p. 314.
12. G. L. Duprat, "La sociologie des hierarchies sociales," in Annals de l'Institut International de Sociologie, Tome XV, 1927 (Paris, 1928) pp. 184 - 185.