Aliens, in the sociological sense, are not a class, but their presence has a tendency, in the case of Mexicans, French Canadians, and some of the recent immigrants from Europe, to affect the class structure by encouraging exclusiveness, increasing land values, increasing markets, and adding to the labor supply. This has given some old Americans a better opportunity economically and professionally; others have been further depressed by the competition. In any case, the net result has been to intensify the social classes of this nation.Next Page
Priority. Tirelessly, priority functions to keep the newcomer from attaining social equality. Those who are established put those who have just arrived through a period of initiation.
A professor of solid family background and fine manners moved, not long ago, to a small old town on the Hudson. He relates that those in the town of long local ancestry and of upper middle class standing were aristocratically exclusive; whereas those with only a dozen years' priority assumed the less ripened aire of "owning the place."
The Mayflower emphasis, in so far as it bolsters class position, is essentially one of priority, and the prestige accruing to pioneers is of the same order. Priority is a part of the pattern of behavior in which older immigrants tend to look down upon newer ones. Among the civil servants of England who serve in India, even among all the English there, except for persons of formal rank, people take presedence at parties and have social standing according to the length of their residence in the several communities.
It was not the talented serf who made up the earliest gilds, but the local townsmen; they had priority. 53 Priority played a major part in the development of that system of protection and monopoly known as the gilds.
Persons with priority in many industries, notably banking, oil, automobiles, etc., have sometimes founded great fortunes. This illustrates the multiple forms which this mechanism can take.
The prestige of the Colony Club and Harvard University is in part linked to their time-rank -- they are associated with "firsts." The highest nobles of Arabia are those who can trace their descent from Patima, daughter of Mohammed. Families in America which first began to put Roman numerals after their surnames, through the device of priority, are now able to impress others with a bit more of social status than they would otherwise have.
Charisma and other personal qualities. It is commonly recognized, and probably too often acclaimed, that the class structure is formed according to the personal attributes of the persons who make up the society. The gracious charm and impressive intellectual leadership of the upper classes as over against the somber dullness of men who stand hours on end in cheap saloons seem to verify this oft-asserted hypothesis. But are not these differences the result of the class system, not the cause of it?
Two children are born on the same day. At the age of two, one plays in the street, learns early to dodge traffic, to avoid rough places in the sidewalk, to dig in garbage cans; he stays up till ten o'clock on summer nights. In the course of time, naturally, his bright eyes redden. Dust, adventure, stickball, hard labor, weeks of enforced idleness and job seeking, women, drink, bacteria, and vermin combine to make him a broken, weary, God-forsaken creature. When, at fifty, he shuffles a disease-ridden frame along the Bowery, he looks dull and stupid, almost like an "Unmensch."
Those who read these pages will know from experience or observation what happens to the child of an upper middle class home, and, by viewing him at the theatre, at least, they will know the majesty of high class dignity, age fifty.
It is this educated or socially transmitted poise and personal honor that helps greatly to perpetuate the social classes. It may truthfully be stated that for every leader who by means of personal qualities breaks through the class lines, there are manifold more who, possessing the kind of personal dignity and qualities which social class has cultivated and nurtured, retain status by means of these very personal qualities.
53. R. H. Gretton, The English Middle Class (London, 1917) pp. 19 - 20.