If a lower class persons fails to pay deference in this regard, but instead sets himself up to talk as "man to man," he may feel the atmosphere chill, as a child does when he has spoken out of turn. Higher classes do not wish to meet idea with idea; disdain is a more powerful weapon. It denies the arguer his audience; refusal to discuss implies greater understanding, surpassing the comprehension of the other party.Next Page
By these means the members of the lower classes are flustered, upset, and embarrassed. Their moment of weakness is a moment of strength for the upper classes. These take advantage of it by assuming a superior pose. This inscrutable aloofness acts as a barrier to informality, intimacy, or social equity. This "beneath my dignity" attitude, says, von Wiese, 31 is what infuriates the self-made man.
Regard for genealogy. The highest class in every society has a system of pedigrees, and lineage tends to make the class structure rigid down to the amorphous dregs upon which it rests. Only the lowest slave has to face the ignominy of not knowing or caring who his parents were.
It is exceedingly difficult for a person, even of only middle class standing, to fall into the gutter and stay there. It is even harder for a person born in the gutter, and dragged through it in childhood, to rise very far above it. This is not altogether because of property considerations or even training. To a large extent the fact that other people know the parents from whom one has sprung either gives one a great boost or hangs as a millstone around one's neck.
To argue that in large cities other people do not know a person's parents presumes that the person concerned lives in a different city from that of his parents, that he never describes his family background, and that he has changed the habits acquired at home. Only a minute portion of the population meets these conditions. It is folly to try to crash higher circles by pretending "orphan birth."
It is commonly assumed that only old aunts and genealogical fanatics are concerned with lineage in this country. But is not the genealogical room at the New York Public Library as large as that given over to American history? Furthermore, lineage has a broader and deeper meaning: every neighborhood is constantly evaluating children according to their parents, and vice versa; and since there is an overlapping generation, this applies also to grandchildren. Low class standing places a heavy mark upon the children and children's children. To this day, twelve centuries after the occurrence, a peasantry of Asturias are "derived between the descendants of those who aided the patriot Pelayo against the Moors, and those who did not -- so strong is the influence of tradition and dead ancestry." 32
It is difficult to overrate this custom of paying honor to family background; it is found too frequently and too significantly. "Some of the Dutch settlers who came to New Amsterdam and founded important families there naturally brought their coats-of-arms with them as part of their worldly gear." 33
If a family is proud of its name, it is most likely paying attention to matters of social class. If it is not lineage conscious, it is probably careless about other matters that make for the retention or achievement of respectable social class standing.
Conquest and war. There is a popular, or once popular, theory that the social class hierarchy is composed of layers of "races" who once stood in the relationship of conquerors and conquered. True it is that there have been instances in which this theory has had validity. However, the generalization that classes arise through war and are finally fixed by conquest is too sweeping to be of value. (Instances of conquests that did not greatly affect the social class system, as has been asserted, will be taken up in later chapters. Also it must be repeated, wars unmake social classes.) Here it is possible to discuss only the extent to which these two devices have contributed toward making social class structures rigid.
31. von Wiese, op. cit., p. 297.
32. Bancroft, op. cit., vol. VI, p. 23.
33. Anne Hollingsworth Wharton, English Ancestral Homes of Noted Americans (Philadelphia, 1915) p. 299.