From Hobson's Choice
|"Man with a Hoe," Jean-François Millet|
Click for larger image
The existence of a large population in constant contact guarantees the existence of economic strata, or "layers." There will be those who are richer and some who are poorer; some who have been rich for generations, and those who recently became so; some who are engaged in honorable (if less remunerative) occupations, and those engaged in dishonorable (if lucrative) ones. The mere existence of these gradations is impossible to avoid when the population is so great that there is no clan tie between everyone, and urbanization has tended to consolidate income, "oldness of money," and occupational prestige into the same continuum of stratification.
However, this alone does not mean that classes have arisen. "Strata" merely means variation in altitude. "Class" implies the formation of cohesive social units of strata. Class, in other words, implies definite boundaries and some expression of solidarity within those boundaries.
With the development of professional associations (i.e., in the earliest urban economies), there emerged strata (estates) referring to the role that a professional class enjoyed. In many cases, such as the caste systems of the once-or-future Buddhist cultures, the estates included clergy at the top, warriors just beneath, craftsmen underneath them, and peasants on the bottom (in the Japanese caste system, the warriors occupied the top slot, and merchants were thrust into the bottom). In ancient Rome, the constitution varied over long periods of time, but certain aspects remained constant: a cadre of workers (including horsemen) held rights contingent on its usefulness to the state.
The estates of ancient Rome and northern European countries were intended to appease groups regarded as essential to the maintenance of the ruler's mastery over subjects or else the polity's mastery over subject peoples. As such, it tended to greatly expand the set of demands the elites could make on everybody else. The classes, therefore, were people excluded from the estates and obligated to organize to resit any fresh demand imposed by the estates.
In ancient Rome there appeared the term proletarian to refer to a class of unemployable citizens, driven off the land by the patricians, replaced by slaves, or else by imported wheat. Successful and ambitious politicians of the day would seek to win mastery over the streets by sponsoring large spectacles in the Colosseum where they fed the patrons; this strategy could be used to mobilize hordes of men during times of political crisis. Observers such as Petronius Arbiter noted that it was ironic that a nabob, having deprived tens of thousands of Roman citizens of their livelihood and dignity, could buy their fanatical devotion with a tiny fraction of the profits made through their dispossession.
In addition to the large class of aristocracy, bourgeois, middle class, and proletariat, there were many subgroupings based on profession. Professional subcategories were especially strong in the middle class, to a degree that the "middle class" is an historically nebulous grouping. For example, there has usually been mutual scorn among the classes of petty-bourgeois, medium-sized farmers, and bureaucrats. Technicians and designers, in more recent venues, tend to insist that they alone are the creative class, and administrators or regulators are merely a dead weight.
The middle class, in the time of the Roman Republic, consisted of either medium-sized landowners (who might have had tenants) or craftsmen who owned tools. These two classes were diametrically opposed as political units and nearly always rejected any claims of common ties between them.
In medieval Europe, the middle classes were entirely urban or suburban, with tiny market gardens yielding an handsome income. A specific class of moneychangers and goldsmiths arose, which was definitely set apart from the rest of the middle class (and later furnished the bourgeoisie). Typically, holders of articles in patent or monopolies could let out the privilege of production to especially talented craftsmen, which created an aristocracy of labor.
A special consideration needs to be paid to "expelled persons," consisting of B'nei Yisrael (Jews) and Rroma. These people are often likely to be identified as members of an ethnic group, a religion, or a national origin. However, they also may be described as constituting a race of subalterns and natives.
External Links & sources
- The Early History of Rome, Livy (59 BCE-17 CE); translated by Aubrey de Selincourt (Penguin Classics)
- Rome & the Mediterranean, Livy (59 BCE-17 CE); translated by Henry Bettenson (Penguin Classics)
- The Theory of the Leisure Class, Thorstein Veblen, 1899
- The Instinct of Worksmanship and the State of the Industrial Arts, Thorstein Veblen, 1914
- From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, H.H. Gerth & C. Wright Mills, editors, 1946
- A Concise Economic History of the World, Rondo Cameron, 1993
- Andrew Hacker, "The Rich and Everyone Else," New York Review of Books (26 May 2006)
James R MacLean (20:29, 2 October 2007 (PDT))