Revolution and Counterrevolution: Change and Persistence in Social Structures

By Seymour Lipset Martin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Issues in Social Class Analysis

Concern with social class and social stratification is as old as social thought. The ancient Greek philosophers were extremely conscious of the effects of stratification, and propositions about stratification may be found throughout many of the writings of Aristotle and Plato. Thus Aristotle, in discussing the conditions for different types of political organization, suggested in essence that constitutional government -- limitation on the powers of the political elite -- is most likely to be found in societies with large middle classes, while city-states characterized by large lower classes and small middle and upper classes would be more likely to be governed as dictatorships based on mass support, or as oligarchies. This general approach has been elaborated in contemporary studies of the social requisites of democracy. Plato, in the Republic, discussed the conditions for a genuine equalitarian communist society and suggested that the family is the key support of inequality -- that is, of social stratification. His argument, which is still followed by many contemporary sociologists, was that individuals are motivated to secure for other family members, for whom they feel affection, any privileges that they themselves enjoy. Hence, in every society there is a built-in pressure to institutionalize inequality by making it hereditary. Plato argued that the only way to create a communist society would be to take children away from their parents and to have the state raise them, so as to eliminate the tendency toward inherited social privilege.

Most of contemporary sociological theory and research on social

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Reprinted with the permission of the Publisher from Social Class in David Sills (ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences ( New York: The Macmillan Company & The Free Press, 1968), XV, 296-316. Copyright © 1968 by Crowell Collier and Macmillan, Inc.

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