If it is true, as it was among the Greeks and Romans, that that which is ancient can be seen to rest securely upon at least one solid rock: it is old and entrenched. Its age makes for its solidity, its stiffness, and its rigidity. Radical indeed is the notion that the social class structure should be undermined or destroyed. The thought of such an eventuality is itself a threat to society's existence, as it knows itself to be. Probable is the hypothesis that the confusion is politico-industrial leadership now said to reign in the Soviet Union (June 1, 1941) may well rest upon the absence of customary forms of deference, prestige, honor, and pride. Political leadership is having difficulty supplanting social class institutions.Next Page
Soll und Haben. The poor borrow; the rich lend. This tends to keep the poor poor and to make the rich richer. Of course, not all the poor borrow, nor only the poor; and all who lend are neither rich nor high class. But the lender-borrower relationship is nonetheless a social as well as an economic reality, and so long as credit is in private hands, this device will probably function in favor of the favored.
In Rome money was lent at forty per cent per annum, and much of the increase went to the very gentlemen who kept up the pose of not engaging in commercial pursuits. They were ostensibly above such activities.
The effect of the debtor-creditor mechanism on a social class system is graphically described by Bury, 49 and the ideas developed concerning Greece would apply universally wherever the mechanism is in operation.
The oppression of debt is found in lost farms, homes, and even personal liberty. The course of debt through human history is a trail of ruin for the many and power, opulence, and luxury for the few. All the way up and down the social scale it has added its influence to others in keeping the social pyramid broad at the base and pointed at the top.
The enemy alien. Ancient as the class structure and a factor in its rigidity is the custom of distrusting and socially restricting strangers. Its bearing upon the social classes is this: the more numerous the lines which can be drawn to disqualify others from moving into any particular group, the smaller it is and therefore the more exclusive. If half the population can be arbitrarily disqualified from the social class struggle by slavery, race, or nationality, then social class competition takes place only within the other half. If these latter can again be divided by such devices as land ownership and tenantry, the number of persons who could possibly aspire to high status is again reduced. In all this the out-group concept "alien" plays its part.
If the number of aliens is small and dispersed or if they are quite heterogeneous, the aliens do not have a chance to segregate themselves and form a class hierarchy of their own and are therefore likely to be disqualified from all social class competition of significance. If, on the other hand, they have their own social ladder, they still do not compete in the social affairs of the citizens or natives.
Rome used aliens as a source of private income for higher class citizens, and in England in earlier centuries the conditions under which strangers and foreigners were allowed to carry on trade in the towns were deliberately complicated. 50 "The attitude of Englishmen towards aliens in the later Middle Ages was one of hostility . . . . At times the lives of aliens were not safe." 51
The story is told by a reputable sociologist of a German school teacher from a not distant town, whose wife was a native of the place itself; he was always referred to as "the foreigner." This type of social distance does not disappear with the death of the first generation; it remains, even though always weakening "Kind und Kindeskind gegenüber." 52
49. J. B. Bury, A History of Greece (London, 1920) pp. 180 - 181.
50. W. J. Ashley, An Introduction to English Economic History and Theory, Part II (New York, 1914) p. 13.
51. Abram, op. cit., p. 103.
52. Leopold von Wiese, ed., "Das Dorf also Soziale Gebilde," in Ergänzungshefte zu den Kölner Heften für Soziologie, Heft I (Munich, 1928) p. 39. Also see John Drinkwater, Cotswold Characters, Yale Review, vol. 10, July 1921, pp. 839 - 843.