The old order fared much worse than did the nobility. In fact, Spengler refers to the bourgeoisie in the middle of the nineteenth century as having the ambition "to vie with the nobility in its mode of life and if possible to be merged with it." 74 From this it must be inferred hat the old blood was standing up fairly well against the "new" competition.Next Page
In outline, it must be asked: what was taking place among the nobility, the businessmen, the agriculturalists, and the workers in the new manufactories and in commerce?
Sorokin makes the assertion: 75
At the end of the eighteenth century the aristocracy of the Middle Ages was almost burned out. What remained was exterminated during the wave of revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century. After that time, the upper strata, with very few exceptions, began to be filled by new people; by new rural migrants, and by the offspring of previous rural migrants.
The French Revolution did not exterminate the nobility even in France, and documented history contains few, if any, references to "rural migrants" who made up the upper strata of European societies. Instead, the nobility persisted, and the urban commercial aristocracies, long established, were well situated to enlarge their activities when the hour of increased trade and mass production appeared.
The failure of many writers to note the dates at which things are "old" and "new" has caused great confusion. Old families, now in the nobility, are referred to as "new." The nobility of eighteenth century France was not made up of new families (entrance into the nobility practically ceased one hundred years earlier), nor were the commercial aristocrats of that same period upstarts or "new" even though their emergence into official political control was sudden, in France.. "It is a mistake to believe that at the end of the eighteenth century the nobility and the clergy were the only owning classes in France. The slow process of evolution, which brought into the hands of the bourgeoisie not only movable (personal) property, but also land, began long before 1789." 76
Even among the nobles there was social class rigidity. Schumpeter notes that there were early two classes of noblemen, princes and "blosse ritterlichen Burgherren." Between these two classes there "was not only differences in rank, but also of legal rights, types of life, power, and no connubium." 77
Conclusion. It is obvious that the capitalist era did not burst suddenly upon the world, that it was introduced by business groups of long standing, especially by the merchants. The producing gilds were outflanked by the domestic system and left by the wayside or converted into wage-earners under the factory system.
Which groups, then, rose and which declined? Land-owning burghers had become master merchants and had in very early times entrenched themselves against newcomers. These groups rose from their strong beginnings. The master craftsmen, after an early rise and long stabilization, lost their political protection and their craft monopolies -- they then slowly declined in relative importance. The journeymen, on a lower level, followed the same curve as the master craftsmen. Likewise, the poor nobility suffered a slow decline in status, since they remained, generally, in agriculture and faced the loss of their serfs through commutation. They also had to meet the competition of the rising yeoman class of peasants.
There was more social mobility in agriculture and much less in commercial pursuits during the centuries from the tenth to the eighteenth that schoolbooks have usually acknowledged. The records of carefully documented history have been of value in lining up the theories of social class trends with the realities of the age between the establishment of feudalism and the mass production age of factory production.
The following chapter will be given over to a review of social class trends in the period between Napoleon and the First World War.
74. Loc. cit.
75. Pitirim Sorokin, Social Mobility (New York, 1927) p. 495.
76. Maxime Kavalewsky, La France economique et sociale à la veille de la revolution, vol. I (Paris, 1909) p. 1; translation ours.
77. Joseph Schumpeter, "Die Sozialen Klassen in Ethnischhomogenen Milieu," in the Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik (Tübingen, 1927) pp. 13 - 14; translation ours.