Reflections on Inequality

Reflections on Inequality

Reflections on Inequality

Reflections on Inequality

Excerpt

As there are several good anthologies on social stratification in existence something ought, perhaps, to be said in justification for adding another. Luckily the answer is easy: namely, that the existing anthologies focus on contemporary cases and views, while neglecting the historical dimension, to which the present book is devoted. True, the well-known reader by Bendix and Lipset does contain extracts from older writers, but these constitute a small proportion of the whole and do not include some of the most interesting works. Often, moreover, the emphasis is on Marx, Veblen and Weber; which is understandable in view of the excellence and pertinence of these authors but none the less creates a need for a treatment which would amplify the historical view beyond the bounds of this trinity. The reason why no selections from them are included here is primarily to avoid duplication of easily accessible and well-known material. This applies above all to Marx, whose works are continually reprinted and often sold at subsidised prices. A number of cheap selections contain passages which are most relevant to the present theme. For the same reason I have left out Veblen, whose A Theory of the Leisure Class-the most relevant of his books to our topic-is widely known, easily and cheaply obtainable and often quoted.

The case of Weber is more complicated: his often quoted, fairly rounded-up but brief general formulations are not his strongest point. The greatness of Weber lies neither in methodology nor in explication and formulation of concepts, but in his unsurpassed skill in finding hidden connections and unravelling chains of historical causation through comparative analysis with the aid of casually sketched or implicit generalisations. Concern with class structure pervades all his works with the exception of the methodological and the few minor pieces such as a description of the stock exchange. In his Agrarian Relations in Antiquity, for instance, he tells us how the class structure in Greece and Rome affected and was affected by the changes in tactics and military organisation, how it was connected with the peculiarities of the economic system, the character of the cities; and how it contributed to the stultification of capitalism in the Ancient World. In his studies of China, India and Israel he shows the interplay between the structure of the economy, organisation of the state, the religion and the literary culture, in which stratification plays the key part. None the less, he produced no neat and well-rounded definitions or theorems about the nature and forms of stratification; and consequently it is difficult to find in his . . .

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