Ecological factors. Man's spatial relationships, the subject matter of ecology, always affect his institutions. In his search for a place to live, acceptable to his social class, one man competes with another, in the biotic sense. In large cities status expresses itself to a great extent both in the location and type of apartment in which a family lives.

Whenever man roams, he has no fixed social classes; wherever he lives in the congregation of community life he specializes in his occupational and social functions. 48 His class structure is much firmer. The concentration of the population makes for extremes in social standing because of the struggle for space.

City building also means, as a rule, the centralization of power, and this has more easily led to its restriction in fewer hands. Only as civilizations disintegrate, and sometimes not even then, are there signs of the weakening of power of the upper classes in highly concentrated areas.

On the other hand, when cities are in their high tide, they attain power over the hinterland of such magnitude that the effect has often been to give the city dwellers a false sense of permanent prosperity, while the rural classes from top to bottom have suffered from the despair of prolonged depression. The agonies of dislocation caused by flight from decaying cities come as an echo of the miseries of agrarian populations during the preceding period.

Serfdom and peonage. There is a theory, and it sounds plausible, that in the early days of the Temple Towns man had not developed government to the point where control over individuals could be trusted to the general law-enforcement agencies and that the device of possession, of which serfdom is a form, in which regulations and controls were enforced by the owners, produced law and order without a highly developed governmental system. The patron controlled his clients, called helots in Sparta. Roman and medieval history is filled with accounts of serfs and other privately supervised human groups of many kinds; in South America the same system has taken the special form of peonage. The United States in the twentieth century has not been altogether free from this device. "The Immigration Commission made a thorough investigation of this subject, and found evidences of peonage in every state in the Union, except Oklahoma and Connecticut." 49

The effects of serfdom upon flexibility in the social class system are immediately perceivable. Japan's famous five centuries of stability and balanced social life rested upon bondsmen: its economic and social base. So perfect was the pattern in many places, so dependable, so simple in organization, that many modern thinkers look back with nostalgia upon that age when each man stood in his place secure. (The modern counterpart of a rigid socio-legal scheme is military organization, where each man is told when to do as well as where to stay.)

Prestige of all things old. The social class structure is ancient. It is a system of human relations so old and customary as to make the theory of a classless society or the theory of utter loyalty to the state (the military scheme referred to above, characteristic of National Socialism) look infantile indeed. Social class exclusiveness and prestige (like religion, war, and government) are the children of the customs and mores and are among their first-born.

Sociologists often refer to the traditions, folkways, and mores as socially significant with respect to innumerable phases of human life; yet sometimes they infer that the social classes are determined by quite contemporary factors in economic, political, and social life. Actually, in regard to social class especially, because of its intimate relation to family life, the power of tradition is strongest. Recognition of socially superior and inferior families is one of the most entrenched of human habits.

Next Page


48. M. C. Burkitt, Our Early Ancestors (Cambridge, 1926) p. 51.
49. Henry Pratt Fairchild, Immigration (New York, 1925) p. 279.