All the unanticipated consequences of civic inclusion that I outlined above can be traced to traits of family life typical among the poor. The poorer the families, the more this holds; but I am dealing here with the ordinary poor, not merely with the extreme poverty of destitute people.
With regard to self-exclusion: The authority exercised in lower-class families is utterly unlikely to breed participatory dispositions in family members, nor are family relations among the poor likely to produce the sense that one can be effective in influencing the powers that govern life. What they are likely to produce are passivity and lack of enterprise, ignorance, an inability to make reasoned choices, and a tendency to evade difficult situations.
Josephine Klein's synthesis of works on British subcultures —based on many sociological case studies, popular works, social novels, and much else—depicts unrelentingly authoritarian, nonparticipatory dominance. Lower-class families generally are headed by monocratic fathers, though they are actually governed more by mothers. Fathers live mostly at work and with their pals in pubs; when home, they require peace and indulgence more than power, but can turn despotic, often at unpredictable moments. Regulation of the family tends to be exceedingly detailed and comprehensive; the intent seems to be to establish routines for just about all the children's activities. The routines, however, are frequently disrupted by peremptory orders, and punishments are quick to be invoked to enforce orders, either routine or impulsive. Husbands rarely "discuss" rules of conduct with their wives, but rather make specific demands on them. If "discussion" occurs at all, it generally takes the form of quarrels—struggles for domination or autonomy. One finds, in effect, no decision-making processes at all in lower-class families, and hence, no participation in any sensible meaning.
Regarding the submissive acceptance of ruling elites: If the most formative experiences of life are pervaded by the distinction between superiors and inferiors; if superiors are menacing, thus to be appeased; if they are deeply needed for nurture and protection in the very precarious world that poor children confront; then surely we should expect what Michels found—that authority figures tend to be both venerated and perceived as separated from subordinates—figures of some different, higher order. To those who live in such a world, there is no association between compliance and legitimacy. Compliance tends to be mere submission, the acceptance of dominance as a given.
As to mass behavior: I want especially to stress here an aspect of authority in lower-class family life that also helps explain self-exclusion and submissiveness to power; it is perhaps the most important facet of authority in lower-class families—the arbitrary nature of authority. Arbitrariness makes life unpredictable, and thus frightening. It breeds anxiety and a sense of helplessness. Good and awful things happen without apparent rhyme or reason, where all seems aimed, above all, at peace for the moment: orders, punishments, and also indulgences (like suddenly smothering babies with love, stuffing the kids with food). An atmosphere of unpredictable kicks and kisses is bound to breed not just passivity and submission but, when reaction is aroused, irritable distrust, unpredictable aggression, riotous impulse, a reactive pattern of ruleless (thus seemingly irrational) submission, and hitting back. In addition, how could discussion occur among people whose dominant mode of making decisions is quarreling, who are suspicious, easily slighted, easily aroused to aggression, and relatively free of internalized standards of propriety?
Even the operation of organizations as gangs can be traced, to an extent, to family patterns among the poor (though it has more to do with life "on the street"). Organized despoliation can be attributed to the relative lack of strongly internalized moral restraints toward others among the poor—which includes people to whom one is close. One takes what one can, suffers as one must, and is grateful for indulgences received—surely the essence of the attitudes that maintained political machines. Despoliation seems normal within the very circle of lower-class family life. Klein points out that husbands in the English lower-classes generally try to cheat wives out of what they need to do the tasks demanded of them—even steal from them. Children, of course, also try to sneak material things: if, for instance, food is available, it is gobbled up beyond need. In these ways, the internal "market" of the lower-class family is a sort of microcosm of premodern, nonrational, ruleless capitalism.
All this may sound bigoted—like Le Bon on the crowd. Like much of the extensive literature on the culture of poverty, the conventional account of authority relations in poor milieus in fact tends to be invidious. It turns
chiefly on the lack of education and "sophistication." A more compelling explanation of the authority relations I have sketched is that family authority in poor families is of necessity determined by high material constraints and, to a large extent, adapted to that fact.
Scarcity compels people to live in ways that inevitably entail authoritarian relationships and their consequences for personality development. Where affluence is greater, objective constraints on possible modes of behavior are looser; more liberal authority relations at least are possible. This argument also implies that cultural differences among the lower and higher classes in the same society may well be greater than differences among members of the same class in different societies. If so, it follows, then, that inclusion in a system of relationships constructed by affluent people may create greater problems of adaptation, a more acute sense of disorientation, than even so dramatic a change as immigration.
Higher-class writers who discuss the poor (like the philosophic radicals) often seem astonishingly insensitive to the simplest facts of life in the lower strata. The simplest fact of all, of course, is financial stringency and what goes with it. Where everyone has a room of his or her own, access to good, adequate modern plumbing, to telephones, to personal TV sets and hifi's, and a full refrigerator, it is no triumph of sophistication to be liberal in the family. Where food is scarce, where people rub elbows all the time, where someone must have the last word over who gets to use the TV or record player—in other words, even in families a good deal above destitution—permissiveness simply is not possible; domestic routines and strict discipline are imperative. Because of that, sanctions must quickly be invoked when orders are breached. Since, moreover, the particular scarcities that need managing are highly unpredictable, the concrete command is more to the point than general norms that allow family members room for interpretation. Demanding and commanding, of course, also express aggressions that follow from frustrations, thus again from stringency; if life is poor, it can hardly fail to be brutish. The combination of stringency and strictness necessarily breeds dependence—an intensely felt need for protection—and a craving for indulgence.
If directives must be peremptory and unpredictable, if they must be backed by summary punishments, if, as a result, general norms are underdeveloped, then it follows that perceptions of legitimacy or illegitimacy also must be weak or wanting. Authority must shade off into power, pure and simple. The tendency for the two to coincide is reinforced by another unavoidable fact of lower-class life: since constant discipline is necessary, and since mothers are busy with all sorts of chores and often, necessarily, out of the home, much authority devolves on children over children; sometimes children nine or ten years old manage others. In young children of
any class, restraints are inclined to be low and the moral sense little developed, but these effects tend to be much accentuated by poverty.
Further, how could that sine qua non of liberal authority, decision by discussion, make sense in conditions of stringency and deep insecurity? The better-off have options, and thus discussion occurs naturally. Among the poor, however, we are bound to find the attitude that talking is useless—simply because it usually is.
In these ways, and others, virtually all facets of authority relations in lower-class families can be deduced from the functional imperatives of living in poverty.