THE MIDDLE CLASS
The importance of the middle classes in society has been generally recognized. They are frequently referred to in terms of "the backbone of society, the custodian of virtues." Mosca, for instance, states: 1Next Page
Historians so far -- following an opinion prevailing in the public at large -- have especially stressed the achievements of the supreme heads of states . . . and occasionally, too, the merits of the lower strata in the pyramid, of the masses, who in their toil and often their blood have supplied the supreme heads with the material means required for accomplishing the things they accomplished. If this new perception of the importance of the ruling class is to gain a hold, we must, without denying the great importance of what has been done at the vertex and at the base of the pyramid, show that, except for the influence of the intermediate social strata, neither of the others could have accomplished very much of any significance and permanence . . . .
This paper is chiefly concerned, not with the value of the middle class to society, but with the question of the extent to which they serve or act as a hindrance to social mobility.
The barriers between the middle class and their superiors and inferiors. Sometimes the upward mobility of families is described, in theory, from proletarian levels into the middle classes, thence upward into the higher classes. This "constant flow of social percolation" is more hypothetical than real. The theory upon which descriptions of this kind are based does not take sufficient cognizance of the types and size of barriers between the middle classes and those above and below them. Although Sorokin in several places refers to the manner in which modern societies "dig" to the bottom of the social pyramid for their leaders, when thinking more specifically of the lower strata, he says that "the sterility of the proletariat is witnessed also by the fact that its leaders even in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as a general rule, have been the individuals from the upper and middle classes." 8
Many writers are exceedingly sensitive to the differences between the middle classes and the aristocracy. Even the highest bourgeoisie elements are contrasted with the nobility as if the former were pedlars and the latter cousins of the king. This distinction has been emphasized to the point where the "lower and middle" classes are frequently thrown together into one category, as if they belonged together in contrast to the upper classes. Now it so happens that in the modern western world there always and everywhere has been a close affinity between the upper middle and the highest class; and far beyond the extent to which it has been commonly recognized, the middle classes are to be clearly distinguished from the lower, proletarianized sections of the population. Family habits and attitudes toward careers differ from class to class, as has been noted, but the differences are greater between the lower and the middle classes than between the latter and the upper classes. This has been true since the establishment of the rich and powerful merchant gilds, and especially true since the coming of colonialism and commercialism.
Divergence in habit patterns is illustrated in the following, written about the early immigrants to Texas: 3
A large portion of the settlers at this time was composed of illiterate men, drawn from the class in industrious husbandmen whose tastes and avocations precluded the acquirement of an education. But, nevertheless, among the early immigrants into Texas were many highly cultured persons.
1. Gaetano Mosca, The Ruling Class, ed. and rev. by Arthur Livingston (New York, 1939) p. 337.
2. Pitirim Sorokin, Social Mobility (New York, 1926) p. 291.
3. H. H. Bancroft, The Works of, vol. XVI (San Francisco, 1889) p. 393.