“the fact of stratification is universal”

 

Any organized social group is always a stratified social body. There has not been and does not exist any permanent social group which is “flat,” and in which all members are equal. Unstratified society, with a real equality of its members, is a myth which has never been realized in the history of mankind. …

Except, perhaps, the few cases where the members of a population are leading an isolated life, where no permanent social life and interaction exist, where, therefore, we do not have a social organization in the proper sense of the word, as soon as organization begins primitive social groups exhibit the trait of stratification. … Traditional opinion about primitive groups as communistic societies which do not have any commerce or private property, or economic inequality, or inheritance of fortune, are far from being correct. …

If we cannot find a non-stratified society among the most primitive groups, it is useless to try to find it among more advanced, larger and compound societies. Here, without any single exception, the fact of stratification is universal. … Among all agricultural and, especially, industrial societies social stratification has been conspicuous and clear. The modern democracies also do not present any exception to the rule. Though in their constitutions it is said that “all men are equal,” only a quite naive person may infer from this a non-existence of social stratification within these societies. It is enough to mention the gradations: from Henry Ford to a beggar; from the President of the United States to a policeman; from a foreman to the most subordinate worker; from the president of a university to a janitor; from an “LL.D.” or “Ph.D.” to a “B.A.”; from a “leading authority” to an average man; from a commander-in-chief of an army to a soldier; from a president of a board of directors of a corporation to its common laborer; from an editor-in-chief of a newspaper to a simple reporter; it is enough to mention these various ranks and social gradations to see that the best democracies have social stratification scarcely less than the non-democratic societies. …

Family, church, sect, political party, faction, business organization, gang of brigands, labor union, scientific society—in brief, any organized social group is stratified at the price of its permanency and organization. The organization even of groups of ardent levelers, and the permanent failure of all attempts to build a non-stratified group, testify to the imminency and unavoidability of stratification in an organized social group. This remark may appear somewhat strange to many people who, under the influence of high-sounding phraseology, may believe that, at least, the societies of the levelers themselves are non-stratified. This belief, as many another one, is utterly wrong. Different attempts to exterminate social feudalism have been successful, in the best cases, only in ameliorating some of the inequalities, and in changing the concrete forms of stratification. They have never succeeded in annihilating stratification itself. … all attempts of the most ardent levelers in the history of all countries have had the same fate. They could not avoid it even when the faction of the levelers has been victorious. The failure of the Russian Communism is only an additional example in a long series of similar experiments performed on small and large scale, sometimes peacefully, as in many religious sects, sometimes violently, as in social revolutions of the past and present. If many forms of stratification were destroyed for a moment, they regularly reappeared again in the old or in a modified form, often being built by the hands of the levelers themselves.

Present democracies and Socialist, Communist, Syndicalist, and other organizations, with their slogan of “equality” do not present any exception to the rule. In regard to democracies this has been shown above. … The enormous potential taste for inequality of numerous “levelers” becomes at once conspicuous, as soon, indeed, as they happen to be victorious. In such cases they often exhibit a greater cruelty and contempt toward the masses than former kings and rulers. This has been repeated regularly in victorious revolutions where the levelers become dictators. …

Social stratification is a permanent characteristic of any organized society.

Pitirim A. Sorokin, Social Mobility (1927). Chapter II

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

       January 2022

Sorokin, “Opinions are not the rules for actions.”

 

See my post

“Opinions are not the rules for actions.”

at

“Opinions are not the rules for actions.”

Roger W. Smith

Preface, etc. – Sorokin, “Social Mobility” (1927)

 

Preface, etc. – ‘Social Mobility’

See downloadable PDF file, above.

 

I have obtained a rare copy of Sorokin’s groundbreaking work Social Mobility (1927), which was later republished as  Social and Cultural Mobility.

The characteristic vigorous Sorokin style is already on display here.

I was struck by the following passage from Sorokin’s  preface:

Speculative sociology is passing over. An objective, factual, behavioristic, and quantitative sociology is successfully superseding it. This explains why I have tried to avoid basing my statements on the data of “speech reactions” only; why in the book there is not much of speculative psychologizing and philosophizing; why, wherever it has been possible to obtain reliable quantitative data, I have preferred to use them instead of purely qualitative description. For the same reason I have tried to avoid an “illustrative” method, consisting in confirmation of a statement by one or two illustrative facts. Still used extensively in sociology this “method” has been responsible for many fallacious theories it the field of social sciences. It is time to declare a real war on this “plague of sociology.” Trying to avoid it I have endeavored to support each of my principal statements by at least a brief survey of the whole field of the pertinent facts and by indicating at least the minimum of literature where further factual corroboration may be found. When I have not been sure that a certain relationship is general or firmly established, I have stressed its local or hypothetical character.

Another “plague” of sociological theories has been their permeation with “preaching or evaluating judgments” of what is good and what is bad, what is “useful” and what is “harmful.” Sociological literature is inundated with “preaching works,” 90 per cent of which are nothing but mere speculation, often quite ignorant, given in the name of science. As the primary task of any science is to face the facts as they really exist; and as such “preaching” only compromises the science itself, it must be avoided by all who care for and understand what science means. This explains why the book, with the exception of a very few casual remarks, is free from such “preaching.”

Trying to face the facts I naturally do not care at all whether my statements are found to be “reactionary” or “radical,” “optimistic” or “pessimistic.” Are they true or not-this is the only thing that is important in science. If disfiguring the facts of sociology in the interests of the upper classes is a crime against science, no less a crime is disfiguring the reality in the interests of the lower classes. Either of these crimes should be fought by scientific sociology.

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The emphasis on a scientific, statistical, quantitative approach to sociology — reflecting trends in Russian and European sociology by which Sorokin was influenced — is evident.

‘[I]n the book there is not much of speculative psychologizing and philosophizing … wherever it has been possible to obtain reliable quantitative data, I have preferred to use them instead of purely qualitative description,” Sorokin writes. He inveighs against the “plague” of sociological theories permeated with “preaching or evaluating judgments.”

Yet, it can be said — in fact, I think it is undeniable — that in Sorokin’s later works can be found just such characteristics (those he criticizes here), as he shifted from dry quantitative sociology to what might called sociology and social/historical philosophy in the grand manner.

— Roger W. Smith

     May 2020