Revolution and Counterrevolution: Change and Persistence in Social Structures

By Seymour Lipset Martin | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Class, Politics, and Religion in Modern Society: The Dilemma of the Conservatives

If class remains one of the main sources of party division, and if the lower strata back parties that advocate greater equality -- parties that oppose the privileged elites -- how can conservative parties compete in democratic elections? Concern with this problem led conservatives the world over to oppose universal suffrage in the nineteenth century. Many explicitly argued that the extension of the suffrage would result in the end of private property rights. As T. H. Marshall and others have pointed out, these conservatives were, to a certain extent, correct. There has been an inherent bias in favor of the extension of equality in all democratic societies. Parties dominated by the privileged classes have had to make constant concessions to equalize opportunity and reward. Measures that a previous generation of conservatives objected to as radical or socialist are accepted by the next one.1

However, even though democratic societies do move to the left, there still remains the question of how conservatives retain enough strength to compete successfully with leftists; the leftists should be able to draw on the majority of "poor" workers or rural groups that exist in almost every nation. A number of answers have been suggested to account for the ability of conservative political groupings to win significant lower-class support. This support is a requirement for political stability. For the legitimacy of a democratic polity rests on the opportunity for all significant actors to have access to power. If the

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1
T. H. Marshall, Class, Citizenship and Social Development ( Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1964), pp. 65-122.

-159-

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