Any family whose history of achievement shows a consistent record of planning, of doing the most with all available means, of keeping up its morals, of being seen and heard at the right time and place, of teaching and preparing each generation for its tasks, of wasting little time and little money, of remaining relatively sober, and of watching for favorable connections -- that record would be recognized and would give the family at least middle-class status, quite apart from any temporary financial condition.Legal Classes and Social Classes
Keeping a family line consistent and intact is itself an achievement. Noble families 700 to 1000 years old win additional respect among aristocrats for this achievement. Craftsmen, in older countries, pride themselves on the consistency of their lines.
Tentatively, one may offer the following formula for dealing with achievement, notoriety, and leadership on the one hand, and social class on the other. The financial page of a large newspaper gives the names of business leaders. The regular news pages give the names of prominent politicians. Tabloids contain the photographs of all notorious persons, especially those of great popularity and those involved in scandals. But if one wishes to know the names of the socially most acceptable families, it is wise to watch news items pertaining to weddings, parties, and resorts. Here one does not find the complete social hierarchy, but the space given to such kinds of news, especially in a local paper, indicates how important certain families are considered to be, and (by omission) how unimportant others are. Society editors actually rank the people in their districts, in fact.
There are noblemen, slaves, freedmen, redemptionists, burghers, aliens, citizens, voters, and criminals: are these social classes?Next Page
A former president of France, presiding over a banquet of the Association for the Defense of the Middle Class, reproached the organization for its name, saying: "Depuis 1789, Dieu merci, il n'y a plus de classes en France..." 68
Because, under feudalism, there were once feudal status groups, fixed by law, are there now no status groups? And were those legal divisions social class divisions?
Perhaps it would be correct to perceive two kinds of status, one legal and one social. There is and was legal status; there is and was social status. Perhaps only occasionally in human history have these categories exactly coincided, more probably never. Social status, if defined in terms of mutually exclusive groups whose positions are fixed in normal social contacts by consensus, has always found ways of getting around legal restrictions. It is inconceivable that anywhere or at any time have all the families in any society had identical legal and social status. In fact, any large number of families within any legal category is likely to be divided into strata of a social class nature. This has always been true of noblemen, criminals, citizens, etc. Slaves, chained together in gangs, are slaves in the legal sense and lowest on the social scale in the class sense. But what of the slaves in the royal households (where slave pimps have been known to outrank free officials), slaves who were prominent physicians, slaves who sometimes acted as ghostwriters for Cicero and others?
Social ranks among criminals. There seems to be little reason today for confusing social classes with degrees of criminality, true as it is that the different social classes tend to be guilty in different degrees of the same crimes. The obvious fact remains that there are Whitneys, Hineses, and poor unfortunate Jackson whites in the state and federal prisons. Sutherland has described in detail the kinds of criminality more common to certain of the social classes, even by persons "socially accepted and approved, looked up to." 69
69. E.H. Sutherland, "White-Collar Criminality," in the American Sociological Review, vol. V, February, 1940, p. 2.