ARE SOCIAL CLASSES A GOOD THING?
A social class structure, as over against a utopia of equals, would be an object of derision. But a social class system, as over against an atomized and centrally regimented society, would appear in a much more favorable light. The modern world does not face the first alternative. Speculation must be confined to the latter dilemma. However, even this is not a free choice. Destiny, i.e., historical trends, has indicated that the lot of modern man is and will be heavily loaded on the side of discipline, ruthlessness, and disrespect for old forms of status, prestige, and honor.Next Page
Many social scientists have expressed themselves for or against the idea of a social class hierarchy. Are hereditary social classes desirable?
Opinions in favor of a system of social classes. Lederer, whose long and illustrious career was devoted to this and allied studies, comes to the following conclusions in favor of the social classes. In one place he says: " . . . the social classes and their impact cannot be overlooked in the development of our civilization, be it in ethics, science or art." 37 More positively, he states that "stratification is necessary to the existence of society. An unstratified society would become either a religious community or emotionally driven masses . . . . The idea of classlessness or of an unstratified society is empty . . . . " 38
Lederer spent much of his life defending socialism, and at the very end he found a formula for socialism in respect to the social classes. He asks: "But again, what of socialism? Such a system, though leading to planned production, would not destroy the classes, would not merge them into a classless society." 39 The workers hold tenaciously to the ideal of a classless society, "but the workers also will realize sooner or later that to abolish the classes or social groups altogether means the destruction of society." 40
Decades before the present era of insecurity in personal and world affairs Cooley formulated a theory of the social values preserved in the class structure. He wrote at a time when many Americans were denying the existence of classes and dreading the thought of their possible establishment and at a time when many intellectual leaders in Europe were clamoring for the creation of a classless society. Cooley writes: 41
We may say of this differentiation, speaking generally, that it is useful. The various functions of life require special influences and organization, and without some class spirit, some specialty in traditions and standards, nothing is well performed . . . . I have already tried to show that our own society suffers considerably from a lack of adquate group differentiation in its higher mental activities.
After describing the manner in which regard for ancestry is growing in the settled parts of the United States, Cooley says: 42
In some ways this greater recognition of descent is wholesome. A sense of being part of a kindred, or bearing the honor of a continuing group as well as of a perishing individual, tends to make one a better man; and from this point of view our somewhat disintegrated society might well have more of it.
Cooley believes that if open opportunity leads to "confused competition" the result may be worse than that of "order, even if the latter rests upon artificial principle." This great sociologist then makes what might be considered an appeal for the existence of hereditary classes: 43
Thus it is said with some truth -- and this is perhaps the most considerable argument for caste in modern position, like the English aristocracy, makes a permanent vice, and that it is well to preserve such traditions even at the cost of a somewhat exclusive order to contain and cherish them. De Tocqueville, himself imbued with the best traditions of the old French aristocracy, held this view, and ascribed the lack of intellectual distinction in the America of his day largely to the fact that there was no class "in which the taste for intellectual fortune and leisure, and by which the labors of the intellect are held in honor."
37. Lederer, op. cit., p. 140.
38. Ibid., p. 142.
39. Ibid., p. 159.
40. Ibid., p. 212.
41. Cooley, op. cit., pp. 209 - 210.
42. Ibid., p. 232.
43. Ibid., pp. 234 - 235.