MODERNITY AND INEQUALITY
Modernity and Ascription
1. Patterns of Development in Modernity
Reflection on the character of modern society suggests that there are two starting points that are not especially viable. The first is Weber's description of Occidental rationalism (Weber 1920); the second is Parson's "relatively optimistic" description of modern society ( 1972, 179) in which he forecast that this society would flourish for another century or two. The modern societies of Northwest Europe, the United States, Canada, and Japan are not characterized by maturing processes alone; they also give evidence of counterdevelopments (foreseen by Marx) and developmental excesses that cloud the picture of continuing upward progress.
These observations are not new. Antinomies and instances of hypertrophy have always occupied a central place among sociology's major topics. Yet insistence on the particular structural features of "advanced industrial societies"—features that include the upward march of capitalism, democracy, the market economy, and prosperity—tends to live on (see Zapf 1983, 294). One example of this tendency is Dieter Senghaas (1982), who does not discuss the autumn of modernity or the beginnings of postmodernity; rather his analysis is characteristic of the optimism of the European grande bourgeoisie around the turn of the century, the United States since midcentury, and contemporary Japan.
Why has this affirmative view of modern social change persisted? As modern theory has moved away from philosophy and become more empirical in character, theorists tend to stick to positive "givens," concluding that a comparison of data from past and present indicates continuing progress. This type of analysis underscores the optimistic diagnosis. But this approach is in one sense odd because a comparison of past and
present should also reveal instances of hypertrophy and counterdevelopments worthy of note. In fact, establishing the counterdevelopments and developmental excesses has been left to social scientists with a philosophical bent (from Marx and Engels  1964), to novelists like Baudelaire (1925), and, occasionally, to sociologists like Weber, who sang the praises of rational capitalism but also saw counterdevelopments. Today some theorists, specifically representatives of the Frankfurt school and social thinkers like Arnold Gehlen, see decline and fall everywhere and emphasize the decay of civilization in modern societies. Yet these negative characterizations also have a way of losing any sense of proportion.
Bendix (1971) has brought out the problems of Western European rationalism from a realistic stance. He identifies the loss of the feeling of Western superiority, which had lasted for decades. He also notes that "the harnessing of nuclear power marks the beginning of a scientific and technical development calling into question the 350-year-old equation of knowledge with progress for the first time in the consciousness of many people" (179, 13). Following Bendix's approach, we find development, excess development, and counterdevelopment unfolding as follows:
1. The development of various resources used to secure survival and a better life has a counterdevelopmental side that is especially evident in the widespread environmental damage that accompanies it. In addition, counterdevelopments are making themselves felt with the underutilization of potential resources (for example, the labor of youths, women, older people, and foreigners). One of the questions that arises in connection with the deployment of resources is the pattern of social distribution of resources and rewards. The evidence in modern societies indicates that these resources and rewards then to be evening out. For example, educational resources are being concentrated to a greater extent in the lower social strata.
2. All modern societies show a rising level of production measured in terms of goods and services. At the same time, however, counterdevelopments are evident. The continuing application of technology gives rise to new hazards to health and new forms of oppression. These kinds of developments have raised questions about the meaning and purpose of societal development.
3. Modern societies also show growth in power and authority relationships. Both increasing numbers of decision makers and increased political participation are evident (Baudelaire 1925). The involvement of the lower and middle strata in Western European societies ranges from strong interest in politics and high polling rates in
elections to civil protest. These kinds of movements often result in the abandonment of government proposals, and there has been a kind of diffusion of power in the realm of decisions about the deployment of atomic energy and destructive weapons.
4. Remuneration has increased, as suggested by the terms "superabundance" and "the affluent society." Rewards are distributed so as to provide a high level of welfare for almost all actors, and there are minimum standards of economic provision for all phases of the life cycle. Although welfare measures also tend to distribute wealth downward, there remains a residual of poverty in all modern societies (Lockwood 1985).
5. Knowledge of one's own society has been enhanced, often at the expense of traditional religious interpretations. However, it is often impossible to apply this knowledge to the planning process because national planning efforts are subverted by international developments over which planners have little or no control.
6. A further hallmark of modern societies is the high degree of individualism and the desire for self-realization on the part of their citizens. The citizens resent control from above or from any other part of the political spectrum. Increased individualism may, however, spill over into the legitimization of deviance and crime, result in an increasing suicide rate, and give rise to anxieties about future prospects for life. Individualism is accompanied by a loss of community commitment and a loneliness on the part of the masses.
Some of the developments, developmental excesses, and counter-developments mentioned here come about very rapidly, others very slowly. Modernity is synonymous with the continual entry, at different rates, of new elements that are in conflict with established arrangements.
Significant distinctions can be drawn between modern and other societies on the basis of six dimensions: (1) increasing mobilization of resources, (2) increasing levels of positive effort, (3) power relationships, (4) increasing levels of consumer welfare, (5) increasing dissemination of self-reflection, and (6) increasing levels of individualism. Also, the increasing downward distribution of each of these dimensions distinguishes modern societies from others. And of course it is also possible to see differences among modern societies with respect to these six dimensions. But let us confine our comparison to the United States and the German Federal Republic. We can make the following observations:
1. The mobilization of resources is well advanced in both societies. However, important resources lie fallow, both in the potential pool of labor and in the field of education and training. Although West Germany exhibits high levels of achievement and educational
standing, the proportion of willing actors unable to produce effort is higher than in the United States, as is evident in statistics on unemployment and rejected students. Also, lower-class social groups in West Germany are still underrepresented at universities and other institutions of higher education compared with the United States.
2. The level of positive effort is high in both societies but its downward distribution is more pronounced in West Germany—as typified by the image of the "hard-working German"—than it is the United States. A phenomenon that is particularly advanced in West Germany is that achievement problems are identified at the highest level. An increasing number of West German actors now reject the old equation, "level of achievement equals level of welfare" (see Ronge 1975; Kitschelt 1985).
3. Power is becoming increasingly diffuse in both societies. However, the downward distribution of power is more pronounced in West Germany. A higher degree of political participation has been achieved there, and changes in power have occurred whenever the workers' party has attained a mandate to govern. In the United States the existing ruling authority has more effectively defended itself against influences from below.
4. In West Germany remuneration is more evenly spread, and the distribution of goods is less skewed than in the United States.
5. The ability to indulge in self-reflection and to self-steer relationships is downwardly distributed to a more marked extent in the United States than in West Germany.
6. Likewise, individualization is stronger in the United States and the trend is accelerating. North American permissiveness is not yet evident in West Germany.
This mixed picture shows that it is impossible to identify either one of these nations as clearly the more modernized.
2. Change through Action
How can developments in modern society be explained? Why is change so rapid and intense on the one hand and so slow on the other? How can developments of different magnitudes be related to one another?
If these questions are to be answered properly, it is necessary to have some kind of conceptualization of permanent change, and not to simply attempt to explain current arrangements as an extension of past trends. Everything is in permanent flux.
The conceptualization of social change must also take into account that different structures do not simply exert influence independently of one another; they also exert influence on one another. Thus, inequality in the distribution of resources and power in the economic sphere is neutralized by political institutions, such as universal suffrage, social guarantee systems, and public services, in such a way that civic society and capitalism mutually encourage one another (Marshall  1977).
Furthermore, learning effects also occur in the process of social change. Rapid developments in one society serve as models for change in other societies. This statement applies both to positive developments and to instances of pathology such as refusals to work and protest movements.
Thus change means that altered or even new actions or modes of behavior generate a whole series of ramifications, not simply repetitions of the past.
Both microsocial and macrosocial changes occur. Microsocial change is the altering of action or the initiating of new action on the part of a small number of actors who are aware of one another. Macrosocial change encompasses the alternations in action or the emergence of new interrelationships of action that involve many actors who are not aware of one another. Often changes on the macrosocial level can be traced back to changes on the microsocial level: a new or altered action or behavior is always generated or discovered in elementary interrelationships of action and developed as a habit by individual actors in small groups (Relationship 1 of Model 1). The actors attempt to transfer the action or behavior to other groups, or these groups follow suit (Relationship 2 of Model 1).
For example, a new attitude to family size, a new sexual behavior, or a new medical discovery may be adopted initially by a small number of actors before being exhibited to others as a model or gradually becoming appreciated by others and then deliberately imitated. Social change can also be given impetus when new personalities take over macroactor roles, for example, new party leaders and presidents, innovative entrepreneurs and labor union leaders with initiative, church leaders who convey a "message," productive scientists and academics, or imaginative legislators. Individuals and elites with an innovative orientation tend to rise to the top and usher in societal change especially at times of crisis (Nisbet and Perrin 1970, 320).
Change is introduced by either personalities, significant actors, or very small groups who exploit elements of the current social and material situation. If change is to be set in motion by significant actors, it needs to be taken up by many others and introduced into everyday action and behavior. It must be able to be transferred and must allow the
possibility of others adjusting to it. Hence the following distinctions among actors may be drawn:
1. Microactors who introduce alternations but act or behave in isolation and do not succeed in transferring the alternations to others or who do not set any processes of adjustment into action.
2. Microactors who interact with others among the masses and who generate alternations or adjustments.
3. Macroactors who address themselves to large masses, or whose behavior is relevant to them, but whose actions are not adopted or whose behavior has no effect.
4. Macroactors who assert themselves in processes of transfer and adjustment.
Action or behavior carried out on a mass scale—or its rejection—(Relationship 3 of Model 1) affects the position of the micro- and macroactors producing the innovations (Relationship 4 of Model 1). Mass acceptance of new actions and modes of behavior strengthens the innovators' positions in the first instance. The initial effect is one of creating prestige. Soon, however, the actors thus singled out become relatively weaker as the accepting masses improve their living situations by adopting the new action or mode of behavior. Nothing much has changed for the original innovators. They had already been able to put these actions and behavior modes into practice, and in the long run they are unable to derive advantage from the gratitude of the accepting masses. These interrelationships are laid out in Model 1.
Parsons's differentiation between change within the system and change of the system (1951, 480) is no more than a relative distinction. The mass of microactors within an interrelationship of action are able to bring about as much change as can successful macroactors from without: the end result in either case is the emergence of a new relationship of action. The
classic illustration of the first case is the American Revolution. At the outset none of the macroactors, nor any small group, had any notion of the action interrelationship that was later to arise in North America. Yet step by step the actors and groups moved away from the status of being a British colony: "I never had heard of any Conversation from any Person, drunk or sober, the least Expression of a wish for separation, or Hint that such a Thing would advantageous to America" (Benjamin Franklin, cited in Rossiter 1956, 41).
In modern societies, as elsewhere, the chief concern is with a secure and better life, which first means survival, then living the good life. This, however, can only be achieved if in each case a certain new level of resource mobilization can be attained. Anyone wishing to survive or to raise his or her living standards has need of the assistance and cooperation of other actors. These other actors, as carriers of resources, can be activated (Relationships 1 and 2 in Model 2) to generate additional positive achievement if they are promised rewards or threatened with punishment. Because rewards provide a stronger motivation to produce the desired positive effort than punishment, elites substitute rewards for punishment as the production of goods and services grows (Haferkamp 1983).
To refer to Model 2, raising the resource potential (Relationship 3) has the unintended consequence that those in possession of the new resources become more important in relation to the owners of the old resources (Relationship 4). This means that the new resource holders are able to generate more positive effort in comparison with other important micro- and macroactors (Relationships 5–7) and that the relative weights of positive effort are altered (Relationships 8–9). But now some power needs to be conceded to the new carriers of achievement, so that power is ultimately shared with them. This sharing of power affects the distribution of rewards (Relationships 15–19) and the possibility of self-steering (Relationships 20–24) and individualization (Relationships 25–29).
The trends toward growth and downward distribution are the unforeseen consequences of the mobilization of resources that occurs in all stratified societies. If this path is not taken and resources at the lower levels of society are left unutilized, societies remain below their potential level of performance. If no drive is made to raise the level of achievement among the masses, less power is generated than is possible. And if power is not shared and the interrelationships of action are controlled not by increasing rewards but by the use of punishment, then the forces at the top ruin the very interralationships of action they wish to profit from. The historical examples of the fall of the pharaonic empires (see Wittfogel 1938) and the major problems faced by socialist societies in the present day come to mind in this regard (see Senghaas 1982, 277).
The arguments formulated thus far serve to explain many different developments. Resources are exploited to a much greater extent in modern societies than elsewhere. This has had many consequences, the most immediate of which is the greater part entrepreneurs have played. It is possible to continue in this vein and explain many differences between modern societies and nonmodern ones. But let us turn to the end of the chain of influences, to extreme individualization. It is particularly advanced in the United States and least developed in Japan; Western Europe, including West Germany, lies in between. Evidently, however, the degree of individualization is not correlated with resource mobilization, for in this respect there are no telling differences between the United States and the German Federal Republic, and Japan is remarkable for its particularly high degree of mobilization.
Even among the intermediate links in the causal chains of Model 2, the combination are not maintained as we would expect. Can it be said, for example, that in the United States, with so many subcultures, we also encounter the highest measure of political participation in general? Or that in West Germany, with its pronounced leveling of authority, we find the work performance at the lowest levels that would be appropriate to such conditions? And how can the incidence of counterdevelopments and pathologies be explained? Do we find that the production of toxins and pollution is at its highest level where the most resources have been mobilized? Do minorities have a particularly strong blocking power where the spreading out of achievement-orientation is especially advanced? Why do resources for achievement remain unused? Why do monopolies of power exist that are not based on appropriate achievement? Something more than just resource mobilization and its consequences needs to be added to our model of actors and interaction efforts if we are to understand and interpret the development of modernity. I believe that two other additional factors are essential:
1. Contractual action, which makes everything, including ascription, the object of negotiation.
2. Radical values of equality.
Both factors are typical of modern societies, albeit in different ways from one society to another, and they are the most significant elements of action in these societies. The influence exerted by these two factors on the change toward individualistic modern society is presented in Model 3. This model shows the complex relationship between the fundamental processes of change and the hallmarks of modernity. Macroactors, together with microactors endowed with initiative, assign others to a place in the status hierarchy (Relationship 3 in Model 3), and their ascription are either accepted or rejected (Relationship 31). When significant actors
interact with the accepting masses, recognized ascriptions emerge (Relationships 32–33). These ascriptions then have effects on the various types of distribution (Relationships 34–39). Actors also create new values (Relationship 40), which are either internalized or rejected by the masses (Relationship 41). This interaction leads in turn to a recognized system of values (Relationships 42–43), which also exerts its influence on all the distributions (Relationships 44–49).
In the following section I concentrated on contractual action regarding the ascription of positive effort, how this trend became widespread, and how it influence the processes of social change that lead to modern societies (Relationships 30–39).
3. Contractual Action and Ascription
The two most important processes involved in the "transition from simple/primitive societal organization to complex/differentiated [organization are] … (1) increasing differentiation and specialization of social functions, and (2) the replacement of ascriptive principles by achievement principles for societal organizations" (Strasser and Randall 1981, 74). I assume in Model 3 that the first process exists, as shown by the chain of relationships leading from resource mobilization to individualism. I have not, however, found that the second process is actually taking place and thus I omit it from my models.
By a change from ascription to achievement principles, sociologists generally mean that there are few characteristics that are solely ascribed to particular actors. Status in particular is no longer simply accorded to a person or group but is acquired by virtue of abilities and measurable success in specific activities. One important consequence is that status in the family system, or any other ascribed status, now plays an ever-smaller part in comparison with status acquired by objective achievement, which is usually based on occupation.
I question this dichotomy and make the following alternative assertion. Modernizing societies emphasize greater achievement, and more positive effort is actually accomplished. Thus achievement is truly an important part of modern societies. Yet more ascription also occurs in modern societies. The paradoxical result is that both more achievement and more ascription arise and that achievement is to a considerable extent ascribed.
Achievement, or making positive effort, means solving problems in life, whether one's own or someone else's, or at least making a contribution to their solution. Not only is such achievement or effort ascribed, but it is also generally measurable. The following observations can therefore be made to avoid constructing a mistakenly one-side theory of ascription. Actions carried out by actors can be distinguished according
to whether or not these actions make a contribution to solving fundamental life problems, such as whether people are dead or alive, sick or healthy, hungry or well-fed, imprisoned or free. These straight-forward differentiations are fundamental life problems that, in modern societies as anywhere else, constantly cry out for solution (see Haferkamp 1991, 311). Although further life problems can be defined and needs shaped and manipulated (Hondrich 1973, 60), these activities cannot be undertaken until the basic problems have been solved. Even holders of power are not able to define all life problems or needs in such a way that they gain greater advantage for themselves by labeling basic life problems as the problems of others that they happen to be able to solve themselves.
Interactions, groups, and interrelations of action in modern societies not only may live on or develop further, but also may decay or self-destruct. Achieving, or generating positive effort, therefore has as its opposite the causing of damage, which occurs whenever solving life problems is prevented or impaired. Damage, like achievement, is objectively measurable and subjectively ascribable. Instances of achievement or damage can be identified by actors in everyday life through observation, even in modern societies. Analysts are able to recapture such processes, which could involve, in the case of achievement, an entrepreneur's success in the marketplace, the output produced by an employee, the trouble-free handling of administrative procedures, or the discovery of new knowledge by an academic (Bolte 1979, 22). All of these are achievements that are measurable in objective terms.
When achievements are generated by several actors, measuring the level of achievement becomes a more complicated matter. Even in these cases, however, it is possible to make objective observations. Insurance companies are constantly refining their schemes for assessing the risks of the actions of organizations and corporations. Banks develop guidelines on credit, making judgment about the ability of borrowers to perform and grow in major interrelationships of action. These examples involve estimates of likely achievement. And at a higher level analysts make measurements of economic growth and progress for entire societies (Senghaas 1982, 136–37). To complete the picture, it is also possible to ascertain the extent of damage and destruction. Measurements may range from the assessment of bodily damage by medical experts to measures of the decline and fall of whole societies (see Wittfogel 1938).
These observations by no means rule out alterations in the values measured. Such alterations are especially evident in the changing view of nuclear power in modern societies in the mid-1980s. Something that had long been treated as an outstanding achievement is now—as the risks
become more evident—being scaled down accordingly. Also, measurement and objective assessment are not rendered impossible by the fact that a long period of time sometimes elapses before actors realize that something either preserves or destroys life.
These remarks on the possibility of identifying achievements are necessary to avoid creating the impression in the arguments that follow that the evolution of instances of achievement or damage are based solely on ascription.
Achievement and damage may be objectively measured and subjectively ascribed at one and the same time, for actors treat achievement and damage no differently than they do other elements of their life-worlds. Not only are these elements represented by actors within their consciousnesses—with greater or lesser degrees of success—but also they are defined from the outset, just as every situation of every actor is defined.
Ascription means that an actor assigns certain characteristics to other actors irrespective of whether these other actors have these characteristics in reality. In other words actors deal out labels to other actors. A vivid illustration of this is the ascribed ability to perform witchcraft or to obtain divine action. These are extreme cases in which either damage leading to infirmity or death or achievement leading to healing is attributing to individual human beings in the absence of any objective evidence. Ascriptions, however, can be investigated to determined whether or not the ascription is based on achievement.
Of course, false ascriptions may arise—a false accusation of murder (see Becker 1963, 20), or a false paternity Charge—but they are the exception, not the rules. It is wrong to take exceptions from everyday life or oversubtleties raised by analysts and elevate to the level of general rules. Since its beginnings science has been driven by the intention of being able to described and explain reality more fully and more correctly than can actors in their life-worlds. To dispute that science does this is tantamount to lagging behind Comte and, even more so, behind the sociologists who followed him. Durkheim, Weber, Simmel, and Mead would have little sympathy with the skepticism so widespread in sociology today about the possibility of making statements that reach beyond the knowledge of the life-world.
Certainly one is bound to admit that there are many cases that lack such straightforward reference points as life and death, health and sickness. On the contrary, social relations are complex, and it is absolutely impossible to provide a totally correct, faithful image of this complexity. It is possible, however, to carry out objective measurements of individual or partial achievements. yet aggregating these measurements is a difficult and at times extraordinarily complex process. Moreover, levels of
complexity are rapidly attained that no human consciousness is able to picture, even in aggregate terms. Actors circumvent this difficulty when they reduce complexity by using ascriptions. Matters are then selected and simplified. Some aspects are singled our for particular attention. others are generalized, and this mixture is understood as a judgment about reality (see Schutz 1964–67). Even these ascriptions, however, maintain a link with reality, for the aspects subjected to representation, selection, overemphasis, or generalization are indeed characteristics of reality in the first instance.
In the majority of cases ascriptions take place unintentionally. However, one can also consciously put forward a distorted ascription. Actors knowingly exaggerated their won achievement and deliberately understated that of their adversaries. Ascriptions in this sence have always existed. Establishing their existence is a sociological banality. More difficult questions, however, concern the alterations involved in processes of ascription and their effect both on social change and on developments leading toward, and taking place within, modernity.
Reduction of complexity is usual underlying motive for ascription. Since the advent of large-scale productive organizations, expanded bureaucracies, economies organized on the basis of a division of labor, and stratified authority groupings the generators of achievement are complex in themselves. The output produced by many workers on one payroll, and even the achievements of a single entrepreneur or politician with a large supporting staff at his or her disposal, is mainly ascribed to a group, and most of all to a large group, such as the work force, the party membership, the management, or the government (Office 1970). Such ascriptions occur even though objective measurements of achievement and aggregations are possible. The "structuring practices of agents" can be seen in operation and "summary representations" can be asserted by the analyst. The best example of this is econometrics (Knorr-Cetina 1981, 34). Another example is the presentation of the "state of the union."
Below this level in modern societies the ascription of achievements occurs with regard to actions and the results of actions in diverse occupations and related positions. Within any one occupations ascription are founded on the ascribed quality of typical occupational activities as well as on the quantitative aspects of work produced. In other words we find ascriptions of important and less important positions. Moreover, the ascription of the ability to cause damage in modern societies is also bound up with large grouping of nations and occupational and related groups. This observations becomes obvious when talks take place between management and striking workers. Both sides ascribe damage-causing
action to the other. Similarly, harmful actions are ascribed to terrorists, professional criminals, a foreign power's military leaders, and the leaders of sects.
Increasing complexity leads to increasing differentiation. The result is that there is no guarantee that ascriptions made by an ever-greater variety of actors will in any way become uniform. In principle one would expect each actor to develop his or her own ascriptions based on his or her individual social and biographical situation. Empirically, however, the actor frequently encounters a closed and rigid system of ascription. Such systems arise in homogenous, closed societies as well as in traditional societies, and they are always present under conditions of oppressive authority. This is quite natural, for uniform ascriptions ensure that interactions will be predictable, which is typical for these types of societies. Once an action or actor is evaluated in the public eye a worthy in terms of achievement, then what that actor can lay claim to is also established. This process occurs against the background of force in societies with a strong ruling authority. In such cases ascriptive power is monopolized, with the result that which is produced in the upper levels is recognized as achievement. Thus whoever possesses power generally has ready and more direct access to ascriptive power.
Wherever societies have become more complex and are internally differentiated (through occupational groupings, political groupings, including those of minorities, or immigration) and wherever there have been a large number of external contacts, existing ascriptions become problematic and discussions, conflicts, and struggles over ascription ensue. Such discussions and conflicts are typical of modernity. The ascriptions of the majority stand opposed to those of the minority. Discussions and conflict surrounding ascriptions also arise when the circumstances of power are loosened, especially as a result of the differentiation of functions and functional systems (Luhmann 1984, 186). these debates focus on the following questions: What constitutes achievement? Who has accomplished it? Which achievements are more important than others? Whose actions cause damages? What brings more damage than benefit?
Conflicts over ascription are aggravated when conceptions of equality become established but inequality continues to exist. Equality carries with it a suggestion of ascription: all achieve to an equal extent. For this reason the inequalities that exist need to be justified. Disadvantages and liabilities are also regarded in the population at large as equally distributed. This raises the problem that a disproportionate amount of blame for such action (for example, criminal action) is placed on particular strata, especially minorities. Equality, however, no longer needs to be
justified or provided with a basis because it is accepted as the natural state. Inequalities with regard to power, reward, and negative sanctions are best explained and justified in terms of differences in achievement and the causing of damage. It is for this reason that ascription conflicts focus on these kinds of inequalities.
To gain outside recognition of their own positions, inferior new groups or actors build up self-definitions and ascriptions concerning not only their own achievements but also their share of power and resources in society. In addition, they formulate images of society that explain the existing reality that they believe to be unjust. They construct images of a future society and ascribe to themselves a more important position within it. Their social self-confidence, their sense of social identity, develops, providing a basis on which it is easier to perform actions. For such a self-assessment to be maintained, an internal organization that nurtures self-ascription is necessary.
But self-ascriptions do not remain stable. The various actors try, within achievement relations, to enforce their definitions of their own and others' resources and achievements. Thus there are negotiations about resources and achievements and about a new, more just distribution of power and privileges. Concepts such as "status management" and "stratification policy" are a reflection of these processes. Negotiations mean that actors, groups, or parties attempt to reach agreements about ascriptions and the recognition of ascriptions in their future relations.
Negotiations encourage the tendency toward more equality, for negotiations always imply that communication takes place between the parties involved and the willingness to communicate confers a sense of legitimacy on the other party. Thus either party may oppose a particular proposition or set certain conditions. This process of negotiation can progress to the point where elites themselves accept conceptions of equality and only ascribe achievements of equal value to themselves, as has been true of members of the nobility in many bourgeois and proletarian revolutions.
The crucial point is that modern ascriptions are not necessarily correct just because they emerged from a process of negotiation. Some evidence suggests that definitions of the situation are more adequate if large numbers of actors from various positions participate in shaping them, but there is no guarantee of the correctness of mass ascriptions. The persecution of witches and of the Jews, each of which was supported by large majorities, makes this point clear.
Finally, in modernity ascriptions are of a less lasting character. One may observe a permanent state of change. Groups are continually appearing on the scene with new demands that repeatedly lead to ascription struggles.
4. An Explanation for Differential Rates of Achievement in Two Modern Societies
There are many developmental processes that can be explained using the frame of reference described above, and negotiations about the ascription of achievement and damage play a central part in them. Negotiations are conducted in a similar way with regard to resources and power, rewards, rights, abilities to engage in self-steering, and individualization. Moreover, the road to modernity is a trend away from the monopolization of the power of definition by elites in favor of the downward distribution of this power. I demonstrate this trend by examining changes in achievement ratios in the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany. This empirical analysis also includes references to Britain and France because these societies strongly influenced developments in both the United States and Germany.
The initial determining factor for the development of modern societies is the mobilization of increasing amounts of resources. The most important stages in this process for modern societies have been the modernization of agriculture, the industrial revolution, the modernization of commerce and transportation, and the educational revolution. these phases of resource mobilization bring about alterations in the relations pertaining to achievement and other factors. Europe in general and Britain in particular long played the leading part in continuously mobilizing new resources. Today resource mobilization in the United States and Western Europe is much similar. If we examine the differences in the downward distribution of achievement in the United States and West Germany, it is clear that observable differences in the mobilization of labor and power and in education are insufficient to explain the contrasts in achievement. Nor is there any essential distinction between the United States and West Germany with regard to the ascription of significance to resources. Factors other than the mobilization and distribution of resources must therefore be responsible for differentials in the distribution of achievement in these two societies.
Similarly, there are no significant differences in the overall levels of achievement in the United States and West Germany. For example, performance ability in the two societies—measured in terms of the growth of gross national product per head—is moderate in both cases (World Bank 1985, 175). An examination of who, according to objective criteria, accomplished achievements shows sharp increases in the levels of achievement in the lower strata in both societies. These increases can be traced back over more than a hundred years.
The industrial revolution, in particular, brought substantial change in potentials for achievement. Entrepreneurs, and indeed the urban middle
class in general, were able to offer their new approach to economic and other activities. They gave many microactors the opportunity to achieve. Using new machines, industrial workers produced a huge new range of commodities. To do this they had to demonstrate orderliness, discipline, willingness to work, and physical application, none of which were by any means achievements to be taken for granted. At an early stage supplementary large groups of highly qualified workers were sought (Geiger 1949, 87–88). The larger leap forward in achievement, however, was accomplished by the dependent masses and no longer, as in the period preceding and following the French Revolution, by the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie had already attained a high level of achievement at the time of the great political revolutions and could not improve much more on that level. The masses, however, did not emerge from the shadows of economic developments until the industrial revolution.
From around 1860 until the present day the increase in the achievement of the masses in productivity terms has been impressive. This increase has been particularly evident in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries but increases in achievement in Germany and in the United States have also been significant (Kuznets 1966, 66–65, 73). Economic growth in both Europe and the United States during this period can be attributed to a great extent to increased efficiency in the labor force (Kuznets 1966, 72–81, 494). Even in recent times major increases in the productivity of labor as a factor of production are still being accomplished. Annual increases in this statistic in Federal Germany fluctuated between 1.5 percent and 11.3 percent during the period 1960–84 (Statistisches Taschenbuch 1985, Table 3.3). Productivity per employee-hour increased during the period 1960–84 at annual rates ranging from 1.3 to 6.5 percent (Statistisches Taschenbuch 1985, Table 1.7). Very recent investigations confirm the gain in significance for human labor power (Kern and Schumann 1984). Angelika Schade has concluded that all data "support the contention that there has been a consistent, longterm increase in the efficiency of the masses" (Schade 1986, 75).
At the same time that the efficiency of the masses has been increasing, evidence in several spheres indicates declining achievement among elites. First, economic growth in both the United States and Germany is attributable less to the propagation and deployment of capital than to the raising of labor productivity (Kuznets 1966, 72–81). Second, the elite in Germany has proved to be a political failure several times in succession. Instances include the failure to moderate the policies of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the lack of identification with the Weimar Republic, and the failure to resist national socialism (Mayer 1980, 167). In contrast to these failures, in the years since World War II the German elite has made many significant achievements including guaranteeing authority and undertaking
democratic, economic, and sociopolitical reconstruction. However, in comparison with earlier historical periods the tasks undertaken and fulfilled have been narrower in scope (Baier, 1977). In the economic sphere entrepreneurs have functioned poorly in the modern period, particularly beginning in the mid-1960s. They are too strongly oriented to the short term (Vondran 1985, 42) and are one-sided in the emphasis they give to technical developments (Mayer 1980). Hence bankruptcies, crises, and mismanagement among big-name corporations are not unusual (Wurm 1978, 184). This situation is not substantially different from that in the United States where elites have failed, the race problem providing a case in point. In recent decades in particular U.S. leaders have had to live with significant political and military defeats; and the rates of economic development are not significantly different from those in West Germany.
The lack of differences between the United States and West Germany in the objective achievements of the upper and the lower reaches of society does not explain the achievement ratios discussed in the introduction to this chapter: namely, that German elites tend to be less capable and American elites more capable of achieving, whereas German working people are more efficient than their American counterparts. To explain this difference one must take into account an ascriptive effect that arose before the industrial revolution and still affects the situation today.
By the fifteenth century (at the latest) economic action interrelationships began to emerge in a differentiated form. Their potentials for creating either achievement or damage were measurable in terms of protecting against external threats and offering monarchs and nobility possibilities for using force domestically. These interrelationships gave rise to what marks the beginning of modernity: the first significant conflict over ascription. A new group—the bourgeoisie—was accomplishing important achievements, and it was ascribing these achievements to itself in a process of self-definition. This process culminated in the description of society as a whole as "civil society," a definition first successfully asserted with the bourgeoisie's ascriptive victory in the United States. Before the American Revolution Americans ascribed the achievement of solving all basic societal problems solely to themselves. From this point of view the British sovereign was solely interested in collecting taxes. The First Congress made an appeal to the people in England: Did we not add all the strength of this large country to the power that chased away our common foe? And did we not leave our native land and face sickness and death to further the fortune of the British crown in faraway lands? Will you not reward us for our zeal? (Adams and Adams 1976, 105–6). The small number of representatives
of the British crown had nothing of equal value they could set against these self-ascriptions by American macroactors.
The situation in Germany was very different. There, the bourgeoisie attempted to import the outcome of the French Revolution. The ascriptive victory that the French bourgeoisie won can be explained by the greater weight of its achievement. Already before the revolution the bourgeoisie, because of its successes in craft trades, technical achievement, industry, and commerce, had attained a far greater importance than the king, with his absolute power, and the nobility, which had some share in his ruling authority (Claessens 1968, 132). At the same time the Third Estate had the more able agitators among its own ranks. Whenever Louis XVI's spokesman faced the advocates Saint Just and Robespierre, they invariably got the worst of the situation (Jonas 1982). Other important and like-minded actors who intervened in the ascription battles were radical philosophers and apostate priests, who could do nothing other than ascribe. Abbé Sieyès is known to have posed the rhetorical question "What is the Third Estate?" and then immediately answered, "Everything." A handbill distributed at the time shows a person from the Third Estate carrying the king, nobility, and clergy on his shoulders. Despite the bourgeoisie's ability to achieve, this image was an exaggeration; yet this incredible overestimation of itself was common throughout the Third Estate (Jonas 1982).
Third Estate agitators even succeeded in enforcing the bourgeoisie's self-ascription on other groups as well: the nobility itself propounded ideas of equality, and the priests who remained in office were no longer convinced of their special status (Jonas 1982). This situation provided the basis for the forced dissemination of notions of equality. Thus the ascription struggle between the very top and the very bottom had been decided before the French Revolution actually occurred: "Whoever heard the theories propounded at [in the late eighteenth century], and the fundamental principles tacitly but almost universally recognized … could not have avoided coming to the conclusion that France as it then existed … was already the most democratic nation in Europe" (Tocqueville 1967, 130). The conflict culminated in the French Revolution and a convincing ascriptive victory for the bourgeoisie. This victory ensured that this stratum's superiority in achievement found recognition and that it was established for posterity.
Ascriptions, once established, can endure for long periods. Thus even today the French elite—the bourgeoisie—is still able to claim entitlement to a particularly large portion of the national income (World Bank 1985, 229).
In Germany the situation was different. The Prussian bourgeoisie in 1848 had neither the accomplishments nor the self-confidence of its
French and American counterparts. The leading positions of state in Germany were occupied by actors who were strong achievers and who successfully asserted their right to fulfill important tasks, speaking of themselves as the first servants of the state. Even allowing for the effects of the ideology of equality and the bourgeoisie's ascriptive activities, the bourgeoisie could not hope to win ascription conflicts with the ruling class. Thus, after a short period of insecurity among the rulers as to what role they should play, the course of events in Prussia led to reaction.
To this day the bourgeoisie in the Federal Republic of Germany does not have recourse to any enforced recognition of achievement, as do the bourgeois strata of France and the United States. Hence the different levels of ascriptive success of the business bourgeoisie in Germany and the United States play an essential part in determining the differences in recognized achievement ratios. The recognized achievement of the elite is less in West Germany than it is in the United States. The masses in West Germany, however, proved particularly able to ascribe special achievements to themselves.
Although workers in Britain, Switzerland, and Belgium (the three European societies then more industrialized than Germany) had an awareness that they had an important but disputed position in society, they were not able to combine this awareness with a sufficient number of actors who could organize themselves, go on the offensive, and assert this self-ascription. The first attempts at enforcing this self-definition were the foundings of trade-union umbrella organizations in 1868 in Germany (about twenty years after the commencement of industrialization) and in Britain (about one hundred years after the take-off period). Other nations did not follow suit until very much later. More significant than the foundings of trade-union umbrella organizations was the formation of workers' parties. These parties not only put worker self-ascriptions into effect in labor disputes and negotiations but also involved workers in all aspects of the public negotiating processes in which political parties normally express their positions. Not until after 1885 did workers' parties come into being in Britain, Switzerland, and Belgium, whereas actors in Germany created the Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein (the General German Workers' party) as early as 1863 under Lassalle in Leipzig, followed in 1869 by the Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei (Social Democratic Workers' party) or SDAP under Liebknecht and Bebel in Eisenach. The macroactors Lassalle, Liebknecht, and Bebel formulated self-ascriptions for industrial workers that could not have been clearer. The self-ascriptions are not surprising if one bears in mind that two of Marx's major works appeared in the years 1848 and 1867. The fact that Marx's first works were published in German was undoubtedly a major reason why workers self-ascription was first put forward by German industrial workers and their
leaders. This new self-awareness is evident in the Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein 's federation anthem:
Mann der Arbeit, aufgewacht
Und erkenne Deine Macht!
All Rader stehen still,
Wenn Dein starker Arm es will!
Man of labor, now arise!
What power is yours, if you have eyes.
All the wheels grind to a stand,
If this be the wish of your strong hand.
Like the French bourgeoisie, the self-image of the German workers tended to exaggerate their own importance. But Marx and the labor movement's leaders succeeded—in what, given the prevailing perception of the role and significance of employers, was basically a hopeless situation—in providing industrial workers and their organizers with a strong self-assurance using this self-definition.
As we know, not only does no workers' party exist in the United States to this day, but the level of union organization there is one of the lowest in the world. At the outset of unionization in the United States moderation was already prevailing. Faced with that situation, the leaders of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), Samuel Gompers, deemed it advisable to be invulnerable to attack. After the turn of the century he proclaimed that the demands of the AFL had nothing in common with those of foreign revolutionaries and with ideologies advocating a change of the system. He asserted that American workers only wanted more money and reduced hours (Merkl and Raabe 1977, 17). Clearly, given prior conditions, actors in the lower echelons have scored significantly more impressive success in Western Europe than they have in the United States.
If we compare the bourgeoisie's ascriptive success or failure in political revolutions, that is, success in the United States and France and failure in Germany, and these differences are related to the strength or weakness of the working people's self-definition, strong in Germany and weaker in the United States, then the answer to the question of why the recognized achievement ratio is more favorable to the masses in Germany than it is in the United States lies close at hand. The great turn-around as German elites declined at the beginning of the modern period and the specific "lead in achievement" accomplished by the dependent masses in West Germany cannot be attributed solely to an objective rise in the value of the bourgeois strata's achievements in the United States and France, in the first case, and in those of the proletarian strata at a later stage in Germany, in the second case. For, quite apart from the
actual achievement values, there were also changes in the subjective assessments of these values. These changes were the result, on the one hand, of the success of macroactors who appeared on the scene and interacted with the many microactors below and, on the other hand, of the influence brought to bear by egalitarian and democratic norms and values.
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Employment, Class, and Mobility:
A Critique of Liberal and Marxist Theories of Long-term Change
John H. Goldthorpe
1. Theories of Change in Class Stratification
In this chapter my concern is with theories of long-term change in the class stratification of advanced Western societies. Such theories fall into two main types on which I shall concentrate: (i) those that form part of more general liberal theories of the development of industrialism or "postindustrialism"; and (ii) those that form part of more general Marxist theories of the development of capitalism or " late-capitalism." In this first section of the chapter, I review these theories in sufficient detail to bring out the wide differences that exist between them. In the following section, I examine how well they fare in the light of recent research. I focus my attention here—without apology—on research that has produced quantitative results, since, as will be seen, most of the issues that arise in comparing the two types of theory are ones of an inescapably quantitative kind.
The main conclusion that I reach is that neither liberal nor Marxist theories stand up at all well to empirical testing, and that the claims of both must now in fact be seen as in major respects invalid. Consequently, in the final section of the chapter, I am led to ask whether anything of a general kind can be said about why these theories should have proved to be so unsuccessful and, if so, what lessons may be learned from their failure.
The trends of change proposed by the theories that I wish to examine can be usefully treated as occurring (i) in the division of labor or, more precisely perhaps, in the structure of employment; (ii) in the class structure; and (iii) in rates and patterns of social mobility within the class structure. Some amount of variation is of course to be found among both liberal and Marxist theories, and I cannot pretend here to do full justice to this. Rather, I shall concentrate on those features of liberal theories on the one hand of Marxist theories on the other that would appear to be central to the genre. On the liberal side, I draw most heavily on Kerr et al. () 1973) and also Kerr (1983), Bell (1967, 1973), and Blau and Duncan (1967); on the Marxist side, I draw on Braverman (1974), Carchedi (1977), Wright (1978, 1985), and Wright and Singelmann (1982). These sources will not be further cited except where direct quotations are made from them.
1.1. Changes in the Structure of Employment
It is a central claim of liberal theories that in the course of the development of industrial and postindustrial societies the structure of employment is, in net terms, progressively "upgraded." The proportion of the total labor force engaged in work that requires minimal skills and expertise—and in turn minimal training and education—tends steadily to decline, while a corresponding expansion occurs in the types of employment that call for various new skills and often for expertise grounded in theoretical knowledge, and that may moreover entail the exercise of authority and responsibility. Two major sources of this upgrading are identified. First, the continuing advance of technology in all forms of production tends to eliminate merely "laboring" or highly routinized jobs, while creating others that must be filled by technically and scientifically qualified personnel. Second, the tendency, analyzed by economists such as Clark (1957), Kuznets (1966), and Fuchs (1968), for labor within a growing economy to shift intersectorally—initially from agriculture and extractive industries to manufacturing but them from manufacturing to services—also generates an increased demand for high-level skills, both technical and "social." Furthermore, the organization
of services, public and private, tends to multiply administrative and managerial as well as professional positions.
In direct contrast—indeed, in more or less explicit opposition—to this thesis of the progressive upgrading of employment, Marxist authors claim that the long-term trend of change in Western societies is in fact for employment to be systematically degraded. Within the context of the prevailing methods of industrial organization, as informed by modern "scientific management," the consequence of technological advance is that one type of work after another, in all sectors of the economy alike, is effectively "deskilled," and this tendency far outweighs any increase that may occur in professional or managerial positions. Thus, Marxists argue that a large part of the growth of nonmanual or white-collar employment that has so impressed liberal authors is made up of jobs that are already degraded and that, in terms of skill levels and autonomy as well as pay and conditions, are in no way superior to the manual jobs they have replaced.
This systematic degrading (or, more emotively, "degradation") of labor results ultimately, in the Marxist view, from the fact that capitalist production entails the exploitation of workers by their employers. This means that, under capitalism, the labor process must be organized in such a way as to meet not only the requirements of productive efficiency but also the requirements of the social control of labor. And in this latter respect, the possibility of using new technology and managerial methods in order to remove skill—and thus autonomy and discretion—from the mass of employees and to concentrate them in the hands of management is one that employers will seek always to realize. In sum, while liberals view change in the structure of employment as essentially an adaptive response to technological and economic progress, Marxists would rather see it as reflecting the outcome of an abiding class struggle.
1.2. Change in Class Structure
As regards change in the class structures of Western societies, liberal theorists stress tow main developments, both of which they would regard as following directly from the net upgrading of employment. They point, on the one hand, to the contraction of the working class, in the sense of the body of manual wage-earners and, on the other, to the emergence of what has most often been labeled the "new middle class" of nonmanual, salaried employees—as distinct from the "old middle class" of proprietors and "independents," whose social significance diminishes as large-scale enterprises increasingly dominate the economy. The class structure of industrial societies is in fact seen as coming increasingly to reflect the social hierarchy of the modern corporation, although at the same time across all classes a reduction occurs in the more evident
inequalities—for example, in incomes and in standards and styles of living. Indeed, for some authors (for example, Duncan 1968), the very concept of a class structure is inappropriate to the gradational complexity found under advanced industrialism and is better replaced by that of a continuum of "socioeconomic" status.
Again, the position taken up by Marxist theorists is a quite contrary one, deriving as id does from their emphasis on the degrading rather than the upgrading of the job structure. Instead of a decline in the size of the working class, what they see in train is a process of widening "proletarianization" that will maintain the working class in a position of at least numerical, if not sociopolitical, preponderance. In classical Marxism, the idea of proletarianization was applied specifically to the "driving down" of elements of the petty bourgeoisie into the ranks of wage labor; but in more recent analyses its meaning has been extended to that it has in effect become synonymous with those changes in the content of work and in working conditions that are claimed by the "degradation of labor" thesis—and especially as this thesis is applied to work of a nonmanual kind. Marxist authors would then reject the view that the long-run tendency is for the class structures of Western, late-capitalist societies to display increasing gradational complexity. While the growth of the professional, administrative, and managerial salariat may be acknowledged as having created some problems of both theory and practice (the problems of "middle layers," "dual functions," "contradictory class locations," etc.), such problems tend to be regarded as transient ones that are in fact finding their solution as the simplifying logic of proletarianization continues to work itself out. As Braverman puts it:
The problem of the so-called employee or white-collar worker which so bothered earlier generations of Marxists, and which was hailed by anti-Marxist as proof of the falsity of the "proletarianization" thesis, has thus been unambiguously clarified by the polarization of office employment and the growth at one pole of an immense mass of wage-workers . The apparent trend to a large nonproletarian "middle class" has resolved itself into the creation of a large proletariat in a new form. (1974, 355, emphasis in original)
1.3. Changes in Social Mobility
For liberal theorists, industrial societies are highly mobile societies. The general assumption is that economic development and social mobility are positively associated: the more economically developed a society, the higher the rates of social mobility that it will display. Explanations of how this association comes about take somewhat different forms (Goldthorpe 1985a), but two processes are clearly given major emphasis (Treiman 1970). First, it is observed that the transformation of the structure of employment, which, as already described, is seen as following from technological and economic advances, mush in itself generate high levels of occupational and class mobility. Moreover, because a net upgrading of employment takes place, the pattern of mobility will in turn show a net upward bias. In particular, the expansion of the professional, administrative, and managerial occupations of the new middle class is too great to be met entirely by self-recruitment and mobility from the old middle class, and in fact greatly enlarges the opportunities for the social ascent of individuals of working-class origins.
Second, it is argued that, quite apart from the effects of such structural change, mobility is also increased as a result of changes in the criteria and processes of social selection. The functioning of a modern industrial society entails a progressive shift away from "ascription" and toward "achievement" as the leading principle of selection, and this principle becomes embodied in the procedures of educational institutions and employing organizations. In turn, the operation of such "meritocratic" selection promotes greater openness and equality of opportunity in the sense that individuals' levels of educational and occupational attainment become less closely correlated with the attributes of their families or communities of origin. Because of the prevailing high levels of mobility, the potential for class formation and class conflict in modern societies is seen as steadily declining. The more readily that lines of class division are crossed, the less likely class is to provide the basis on which collective identifies and collective action will develop. Mobility performs important legitimizing and stabilizing functions. To quote Blau and Duncan (1967, 440), "Inasmuch as high chances of mobility make men less dissatisfied with the system of social differentiation in their society and less inclined to organise in opposition to it, they help to perpetuate this stratification system, and they simultaneously stabilise the political institutions that support it."
Marxist theorists do not, in the case of mobility trends, provide a matching set of counterarguments to those that are advanced by liberal authors. Rather, major disagreement is apparent over the importance of mobility per se. Thus, where Marxists do not ignore the question of mobility altogether, they either attempt to dismiss it as one prompted more by ideological
than by social-scientific concerns (see, e.g., Poulantzas 1974, 37) or they treat it as being one of no great consequence on the grounds that mobility between different class locations in fact occurs to only a very limited extent. Thus, for example, Carchedi (1977, 173) asserts that "generally speaking, a member of the working class remains a member of the working class" and that "the same applies to both the middle classes and to the capitalist class." The only way of any real significance in which individuals may change their class location is collective and "through changes in the inner nature" of the positions they occupy. That is to say, individuals move not so much between classes as with classes. And the major instance of mobility in this sense evident within contemporary capitalism is one involving clearly downward movement, namely, "the case of the proletarianization of the new middle class" through the "devaluation" of its labor power. For Marxist authors, then, there is nothing in the dynamics of the class stratification of modern societies that tends in itself to undermine the possibilities for class-based action—even though this action may be inhibited by other "ideological" or "conjunctural" factors. On the contrary, as the degradation of work and the proletarianization of workers continue inexorably, class differences widen and class interests come into still sharper opposition.
2. Review of the Evidence
In coming now to assess the claims made by liberal and Marxist theories in the light of research findings, I proceed under the same headings as in the previous section. Apart from being convenient, to move through this same sequence of topics—from the evolution of the structure of employment via changes in class structure to trends in class mobility—should help bring out a certain coherence in the empirical results on which I draw.
2.1. Changes in the Structure of Employment
The Marxist thesis of the degradation of labor was developed as an explicit critique of liberal claims of a progressive upgrading of employment. It would, however, seem fair to say that in this respect it is Marxists rather than liberals who have been forced onto the defensive whenever the issue between them has been treated on an empirical basis. The major difficulty for the Marxist position has come form trends displayed in the official employment statistics of the more advanced industrial nations. These show—with considerable regularity—that the greatest increases in nonmanual employment over recent decades have occurred not in relatively low-level clerical, sales, and personal service grades but rather in professional, administrative, and managerial occupations. Furthermore,
the major decreases in manual employment have been in the less-skilled rather than the more-skilled categories. Such statistics create in themselves a strong prima facie case against the degrading thesis and have thus forced Marxists into attempting counterarguments. These have taken two main lines.
First, some Marxists point out (see especially Wright and Singelmann 1982) that the discrepancy between the claims of the degrading thesis and the trends apparent in employment statistics could arise through changes taking place in occupational distributions at the societal level that are independent of changes in the organization of production within particular enterprises. Such changes could result simply from shifts in the division of total employment among different industries and sectors that themselves possess different occupational structures. In other words, it is possible that the increase in professionals, administrators, and managers is the consequence largely—or entirely—of the growth of the services sector, within which such occupations have always been more prominent than within, say, the heavy industries, which are now typically in decline. But, it may then be maintained, the effect of degrading are in this way only masked by countervailing tendencies that cannot continue indefinitely; and, as the "service economy" reaches its full development and shift effects on the structure of employment fall off, the reality of degrading will be made increasingly apparent.
However, while this line of argument is analytically sound, it does not of course follow that it is empirically valid, and in fact evidence has of late mounted strongly against it. Although Wright and Singelmann (1982) were able to produce some supportive results for the United States in the 1960s (Singelmann and Browning 1980), later analyses for the United States in the 1970s reported by Singelmann and Tienda (1985) and analyses for a number of European nations (Gershuny 1983) have all yielded results that run in a clearly contrary direction. What is here shown is that the major trends evident in national employment statistics persist even when all interindustry shifts are allowed for. That is to say, net upgrading tendencies must be seen as resulting not only from such shifts but further from technological, organizational, and other changes determining the actual occupational mix at the level of production units.
The second way in which exponents of the degrading thesis have sought to overcome the problem posed by the data on occupational distributions is to claim that the thesis relates not simply to shifts of workers among occupations but further to changes occurring within occupations themselves—that is, to changes in their specific technical and social content. This arguments is difficult to either confirm or refute in any direct way. Detailed investigation of work-tasks and roles of the kind that is
called for is scarcely feasible on an economywide basis and has in fact been limited to case studies—the results of which, not surprisingly perhaps, have proved quite inconclusive. However, one unique data set has afforded the opportunity for an indirect test of the degrading thesis, understood in the way in question and in the context of a national society. In each of the three "rounds" of the Swedish Level of Living Survey, carried out in 1968, 1974, and 1981, a sample of the Swedish population was asked a range of questions on their work and working conditions. These results have recently been analyzed in the light of expectations derived from the degrading thesis (Åberg 1984a, 1984b). Little or no support emerges for the idea that the Swedish labor force experienced degrading over the period covered. For example, levels of work-related training and education generally increased, fewer employees reported a boring routine or a serious lack of autonomy in their jobs, and more found their work mentally (but not physically) demanding.
Efforts to reconcile the degrading thesis with the dominant trends apparent in employment statistics are thus scarcely convincing, and it is notable that some former adherents of the thesis now appear ready to abandon it (see Singelmann and Tienda 1985). It is not of course in question that at any one time in a technologically and economically dynamic society some kinds of work will be in the process of deskilling or degrading in some sense (even if not necessarily for reasons that Marxists would advance). But neither would there seem grounds for questioning the thesis that as old skills, autonomies, and responsibilities disappear, they are replaced—and indeed more than replaced—by new ones, as liberal theorists would maintain.
Does it then follow that in rejecting the degrading thesis, one is at the same time required by the empirical evidence to accept the liberal argument that labor forces are being progressively upgraded? Much depends
on what exactly this argument is taken to imply. The declined of manual wageworkers and the expansion of the professional, administrative, and managerial salariat could plausibly be regarded as generic processes of advanced industrial societies. But other developments have of late become apparent in such societies that do not accord well with the more optimistic liberal scenarios that developed in the postwar years of the "long boom," which saw upgrading in effect at all levels of the occupational structure and as leading toward the eventual "professionalization of everyone." Most obviously, one may point to the return since the mid-1970s of large-scale and long-term unemployment to most (though not all) Western societies. This means that even though the balance of change may be in favor of upgrading among jobs that exist, job loss is for many communities, families, and individuals now the central economic reality. The fact that unemployment remains, as in the past, heavily concentrated among those who were previously wageworkers brings out the persisting differentiation in economic life-chances between this group and the those employees who enjoy the much greater security typically afforded by the "conditions of service" of bureaucratic personnel (Goldthorpe 1985b; Goldthorpe and Payne 1986).
Moreover, alongside unemployment, tendencies have appeared in most Western societies—though in widely varying form and degree—toward what is aptly described by a term arising from the French experience: la précarisation du travail (see Michon 1981). A growth has occurred of diversed forms of employment of a "nonstandard" kind—part-time work, temporary work, home-work, labor-only subcontracting, etc.—that creates a "secondary" labor force that is highly exposed to both market fluctuations and managerial authority. One could say that this is a labor force that is highly flexible and disponible , chiefly because its members lack the protection that "primary" workers possess, whether through organization, legislation, or mere custom and practice (Berger and Piore 1980; Goldthorpe 1984). Recognition of an emerging dualism in this sense need not entail an acceptance of current theories—Marxist or otherwise—of dual or segmented labor markets that are systematically differentiated by levels of skill, pay, or mobility. But it does underline the error of supposing that at the stage of advanced industrialism upgrading proceeds uniformly in all aspects of employment alike.
2.2. Changes in Class Structure
As was previously shown, a close connection exist for both liberal and Marxist theorist between the course of long-term change in the structure
of employment in Western in societies and the development of their class structure. Thus, it might be expected that insofar as the accounts offered of changes in the structure of employment are called into question, analyses made at the level of class structure will also be undermined. However, while the structure of employment relations—together with the structure of property relations—can be regarded as forming, so to speak, the matrix of the class structure, the actual derivation of class structure is good deal less straightforward than seems often to be supposed.
To start with the Marxist case, it has already been observed that to reject the idea of a comprehensive and progressive degrading of labor necessitated by the logic of capitalism is not to deny that the degrading of specific types of work, over specific periods, is a feature of modern economies. Thus, there would appear ample evidence to support the arguments advanced by Marxist (and others) that a wide range of nonmanual—especially clerical, sales, and personal service—occupations are now little differentiated in their associated employment relations and conditions from rank-and-file manual occupations. But what has then to be challenged in the Marxist position is the further claim—or simple assumption—that this degrading of nonmanual work can be equated with a process of proletarianization through which the numerical strength of the present-day working class is maintained, if not indeed enlarged.
What is most obviously neglected here is the question of the appropriate unit of class structure and thus of class analysis. In tradition of such analysis, Marxist and non-Marxist, the appropriate unit has been seen as the family rather than the individual (see Goldthorpe 1983). And it must then be pointed out that for so long as this view is maintained, the implications for class structure of recent changes in the character of nonmanual employment cannot be reckoned as in any way so dramatic as Marxist theorists would make out. In all modern societies the expansion of lower nonmanual occupations has largely occured via the increased employment of women, and women now predominate in these occupations. But where the significance of these changes for the class structure has been considered by the authors in question, they have concentrated on the fact that growing numbers of women in nonmanual occupations are married to men who are manual workers and have taken this as further evidence of the consolidation of the working class as the differentiation between nonmanual and manual employment steadily weakens. As Braverman puts it (1974, 353), not only are clerical workers and factory workers increasingly recruited from similar origins but increasingly "they are merged within the same living family." However, what is thus missed is the significance of
the further fact that while many women in lower-level nonmanual work are married to manual workers, generally more would appear to be married to men in higher-level nonmanual positions, and that is these latter women who create major difficulties for claim of proletarianization. Why, one may ask, should women who perform deskilled nonmanual work but who are married to professionals, administrators, or managers, and thus share substantially in their standards and styles of living, be regarded as proletarian in the same way as women in similar jobs who are married to manual workers?
It can of course be contended that in the case of societies where most married women at some time enter paid employment, the family should no longer be taken as the unit of class analysis, and that rather than the class position of married women being derived from that of their husbands, it should be seen as following from their own employment. This argument has found much favor with radical feminists who are concerned to demonstrate the inherent sexism of the conventional view (e.g., Delphy 1981; Stanworth 1984). But what its exponents have so far failed to show is that any analytical or explanatory advantage is to be gained from adopting it: that is, that when married women are systematically attributed class locations by reference to their own employment, this makes more intelligible their own class identifications or, say, their life-styles and patterns of sociability or their political involvements. Indeed, insofar as the question of married women's class identity has been seriously investigated, the results would suggest that wives themselves (and not just "sexist" sociologists) do derive their class positions from their husbands' employment rather than from their own (Jackman and Jackman 1983, 140–52; Hernes and Knudsen 1985). Instead, then, of the expansion of degraded, and largely feminized, nonmanual work leading to mass proletarianization and thus, presumably, to an increased potential for radical sociopolitical action, it would seem that the performance of such work by many married who, however, still take
their class identity from husbands in superior positions could be a major stabilizing influence within modern class structure.
Furthermore, the simple equation of the degrading of nonmanual work with proletarianization again runs into difficulties—even if attention is concentrated on men—through the neglect of another, quite different issue: the differentiation of apparently similar jobs according to the characteristics of the individuals who occupy them. Although the distinction between "positions" and "persons" is crucial to class analysis, it needed not prevent one from recognizing that employing organizations can, and do, channel different kinds of employees into essentially similar work-task and roles—but in the context of what are, or are envisaged as being, quite different work histories. Studies of clerical work in particular have shown that while women workers are overwhelmingly expected to remain in low-grade employment, men who are at any one time found in clerical jobs can be divided into two categories: those who, usually rather late in their working lives, have moved into such jobs from manual ones and have few further prospects, and those—generally younger and better educated—who are spending some time in clerical jobs early in careers that they, and their employers, see as leading eventually to administrative or managerial positions (Goldthorpe 1980; Stewart, Prandy, and Blackburn 1980). Even if men in both categories are engaged in deskilled, routinalized work, it still does not follow that either case exemplifies mass proletarianization: these men either were rank-and-file wageworkers previously or are, for the most part, passing through jobs that, for them, are staging-posts on the way to the higher levels of bureaucratic structures.
In sum, one could say, claims of extensive proletarianization fail because workers in the widening range of degraded or low-grade nonmanual occupations are precisely not "an immense mass," as Braverman would have it. On the contrary, they constitute a workforce that is highly differentiated—by sex, age, and qualifications—in ways that clearly delimit the influence of the growth of this workforce on the shape of the class structure.
In turning, then, to the position of liberal theorist, an awareness that the structure of employment does not "map" in any direct way onto the class structure must lead one to the question of how serious for their understanding of class structural change is their failure to recognize the widespread deterioration of labor market conditions within Western capitalism after the ending of the "long boom." It might in fact be maintained that their disregard of rising levels of unemployment is not in this respect of major consequences since the unemployed do not themselves form a class; or again, that the growth of a secondary labor force of men and women in nonstandard jobs will have little effect on the class structure insofar as women at least are themselves secondary earners within families and households and have other sources of economic support—and of social identity—than those provided by their work. Such arguments are not without force, and it must be said that whatever weaknesses may exist in the liberal account, the tendency that it emphasizes for the working class to contract and the salariat to expand remains rather more in accord with available evidence than the largely contrary tendencies that Marxist theories envisage. Nonetheless, radically changed circumstances in labor markets still reveal several ways in which liberal conceptions of the emerging class structure are gravely inadequate.
For example, although the unemployed may not constitute a class, it is increasingly apparent that a substantial increase in the numbers of long-term unemployed—as can be found, say, in the United Kingdom—results in a polarization of the working class in terms of incomes, life-chances, and life-styles. Thus, contrary to liberal expectations, the overall range of economic and social inequality has significantly widened rather than narrowed. Moreover, while workers in nonstandard jobs are often secondary earners, attracted into the labor market in part by the availability of such jobs (married women working part-time, juveniles or semiretired persons in temporary work, etc.), this is by no means always the case. Most obviously, in depressed labor markets nonstandard jobs may be taken simply because nothing better is available. To the extent, then, that such employment represents the main source of familie's economic support, the formation of an "underclass" is further promoted.
Finally, it should be noted that the more difficult economic conditions that have followed the long boom may be associated with a growth in the numbers of the self-employed and small employers. The processes at work here are various and complex: self-employment may represent an attempt to escape unemployment, some nonstandard jobs
in effect impose self-employment on those taking them, small employers often play key roles in organizing the secondary labor force as, say, in subcontracting, and so on. However, what is clear is that liberal—and also, of course, Marxist—expectations that the importance of such "independents" would steadily diminish within modern economies have not been borne out, and the very idea that the petty bourgeoisie is a declining or transitional class now itself appears anachronistic in many Western societies (Berger and Piore 1980; Bechhofer and Elliot 1981; Scase 1982).
2.3. Changes in Social Mobility
As regards class mobility, it was earlier remarked that liberal and Marxist theorists differ fundamentally on its nature and extent. For liberals, the mobility of individuals between different class positions is a process central to the "social metabolism" of industrial nations; for Marxists, mobility occurs to only a negligible degree, except in the form of the collective—and downward—movement associated with the degrading of labor and proletarianization. As thus posed, the issue is not difficult to decide: there is an overwhelming body of evidence that is consistent with the liberal view but renders the Marxist position untenable.
For example, Carchedi's claim that "generally speaking, a member of the working class remains a member of the working class" is clearly falsified by findings from mobility research, which show that within the populations of advanced Western industrial societies some 20–30 percent of the sons of manual wage earners are regularly found in quite different (that is, salaried professional, administrative, and managerial or self-employed) class positions—and that this proportion has been steadily rising. Mobility research also shows that about 20 percent of men of such origins who started their own working lives as manual wage earners are subsequently able to move out of such employment. It may furthermore be observed that the idea of the mass proletarianization of lower-level nonmanual workers is also undermined by the tendency,
previously referred to, for younger males to be promoted from routine clerical and sales jobs as part of a more-or-less planned career path. In addition, there is also considerable upward mobility from this kind of work that is of a more contingent kind—associated, say, with changes of employer. It may be estimated that in present-day Western societies men who begin their working lives in routine clerical and sales occupations have better than a one-in-three chance of being promoted to professional, administrative, or managerial positions; and this probability rises to around one-in-two for men who are of nonmanual class origins. The relevance of a point I have made elsewhere is thus brought home: "It is work that is degraded, and individuals who are proletarianized; and where high mobility prevails, the former process in no way entails the latter" (Goldthorpe 1985b, 189 [my translation], emphasis in original; cf. Gagliani 1981).
However, while there is no shortage of evidence to support the liberal claim that in industrial societies the amount of class mobility is substantial, this is not to say that liberal accounts of either mobility patterns or trends—or of the sources of change in these—need be accepted as they stand. Indeed, by reference again to the findings of mobility research, one can show that these accounts are seriously mistaken. The basic flaw is that liberal theorists have taken the clear evidence of increasing rates of upward mobility, which—as they themselves have emphasized—must be expected to follow from the expansion of the higher levels of the class structure, and have then interpreted this evidence as being indicative also of the increasing openness or social fluidity that they see as required by the logic of industrialism and that they believe is created through an emphasis on achievement rather than ascription in social selection. They have, moreover, felt supported in such an interpretation by further evidence of a "tightening bond" between educational and occupational attainment—or, in other words, by what might be regarded as evidence of the increasing sway of the meritocratic principle. However, what is here neglected is the possibility that rising rates of upward social mobility are not merely favored by the changing shape of the class structure but are attributable almost entirely to such structural shifts, and that little if any change need therefore be supposed in openness or fluidity. In fact, it is this latter interpretation, rather than the one advanced by liberal authors, that the research findings bear out. Contrary to liberal expectations that advancing industrialism should cause the association between individuals' class origins and their eventual class destinations to weaken steadily, this association has proved to be patterned in a remarkably stable way—once the effects of structural shifts are allowed for—both over time and cross-nationally. That is to say, while actually observed mobility rates vary quite widely within the experience of industrial nations,
this variation is to a predominant extent structurally conditioned, and a large commonality would seem to prevail in underlying "mobility regimes" or "patterns of social fluidity" (Featherman, Lancaster Jones, and Hauser 1975; Grusky and Hauser 1984; Erikson and Goldthorpe 1985b, 1987). Some instances can be cited of fluidity showing an increase over time but, rather than exemplifying any inherent tendency of industrialism, these appear to be better interpreted as episodes arising out of the specific historical circumstances of particular nations (Simkus 1981; Goldthorpe and Portocarero 1981; Erikson 1983; Erikson, Goldthorpe, and Portocarero 1983).
Once, then, the idea of a general movement toward greater openness is rejected, other aspects of the liberal account of class mobility within industrial societies also come into question. If the observed increases in mobility are overwhelmingly the result of structural change, there seems no longer any good reason for believing that societies either have in the past or will in the future become more mobile pari passu with their economic development. For while economic development is of course associated with structural changes of a kind that will clearly affect class mobility, the historical record would suggest that this association is complex and is far more likely to produce fluctuations in mobility rates rather than any unidirectional change (Goldthorpe 1985a).
Again, it must follow that, in the absence of greater fluidity, the increase in intergenerational upward mobility into the expanding higher levels of the class structure that liberals have especially stressed will be accompanied by a decrease in downward mobility from these levels. And indeed the empirical findings show that what I have elsewhere referred to as the "service class" of modern industrial societies, that is, the class of salaried professionals, administrators, and managers (Goldthorpe 1982; see also Renner 1953; Dahrendorf 1964), is not only growing steadily but is also increasing in the intergenerational stability of its constituent families. Moreover, declining downward mobility also implies less diversity in the social origins of those found at the lower levels of the class structure, and this trend—along with the declining outflow from the agricultural sector—has affected the composition of the working classes of modern industrial societies in a way quite overlooked in liberal scenarios: that is to say, they have become increasingly self-recruiting. At the same
time, the tightening bond between education and occupation—the supposed consequence of meritocracy—means that decisive mobility away from the working class is now being more often achieved before entry into employment rather than in the course of the individual's working life. And from these two developments together, then, it may be expected that the collectivity that actually occupies working-class positions at any one point in time will comprise a substantial, and growing, core of those who are in fact both "hereditary" and prospective "lifetime" members (Goldthorpe 1980, 1985b).
Finally, the idea that the greater importance of education in determining employment chances is indicative of the prevalence of meritocratic social selection is itself thrown into doubt if no evidence of an accompanying increase in fluidity can be produced. In this case, the alternative hypothesis is suggested that education is simply substituting for the previous determinants of processes of mobility or immobility without leading to any significant change in outcomes, so that, as one commentator has put it, these processes become in effect ones "in which ascriptive forces find ways of expressing themselves as 'achievement' " (Halsey 1977, 184; see also Parkin 1974; Halsey, Heath, and Ridge 1980).
In sum, then, while trends in rates and patterns of class mobility in modern industrial societies may well have had a stabilizing effect, as liberals have argued, their account of how this effect has been produced can only be accepted to a very limited extent: that is, insofar as it points to increased opportunities for upward movement as a consequence of class structural change. There is no evidence that modern societies have become generally more fluid, whether through the application of more meritocratic criteria of social selection or otherwise, or that these societies have experienced progressive class decomposition. Recruitment to expanding service classes has been necessarily broad-based, but these classes are now in the process of consolidation; and working classes, although contracting, are becoming increasingly homogeneous at least in terms of their members' social origins.
Therefore, even if a secular decline can be traced in the propensity for collective identities and collective action to develop on a class basis (which might be disputed; see Bottomore 1982; Korpi 1983; Heath, Jowell, and Curtice 1985), there is little reason to attribute this decline, in the manner of Blau and Duncan, to class formation being inhibited by the increasing openness of Western industrial societies. If an explanation in structural terms is to be given—rather than, say, one primarily
in terms of the organization and strategies of working-class movements (Esping-Andersen 1985; Przeworski 1985)—it would far more plausibly refer to the divisions created within contemporary working classes by developments that, as earlier noted, liberal scenarios conspicuously overlook: the growth of nonstandard forms of employment, the dualizing of labor markets, and the return of unemployment on a mass scale.
3. Social Theories, Historicism, and the Historical Record
Why, then, should it be that when reviewed against the findings of systematic empirical research, liberal and Marxist theories alike appear so inadequate as a basis for understanding long-term trends of change in the class stratification of Western societies? The answer I would give at the most general level is the following: that these theories fail to do justice to the social processes that they address because in their conception and application there is a persisting historicist strain. They are theories that stem from an ultimate ambition of achieving some cognitive grasp on the course of historical development—which can then be used for normative and political purposes: that is to say, to show that certain political beliefs, values, and commitments have an "objective" superiority in being those that the movement of history favors, and that others can be "correctly" dismissed as historically outmoded.
The grave logical—and also moral—defects of such historicist endeavors have been evident enough at least from the time of Popper's devastating attacks on them (1944–45, 1945), which focused on the claims of classical Marxism and social-evolutionary theory. Since then historicism has to some extent been forced underground; but, as I have sought to show elsewhere (Goldthorpe 1971, 1979; see also Goldthorpe 1972), it has retained a powerful appeal for many social scientists—especially for those who would aspire to the more elevated status of "intellectual" and, moreover, within the liberal camp just as much as within the Marxist camp.
Thus, not only may one find Carchedi (1977, 17) speaking in more or less orthodox Marxist fashion of "dialectical determination" as "the mechanism connecting one stage of the development of capitalism to another" but, likewise, Kerr and his associates ( 1973, chaps. 1 and 2) explicitly taking Marx's quest for the "laws of motion" of capitalist society as their model in their attempts to establish a developmental "logic of industrialism" (see also Kerr 1983, chap. 1). Other theorists have expressed themselves more guardedly—but chiefly, it would seem, in order to try to obtain the political advantages of a historicist position while protecting themselves against the more obvious objections to such
a stance. For example, Wright (1985, 114–18) disavows the idea of "iron laws of history" and sees stages of class relations as no more than a sequence of "historical possibilities," yet still wishes to claim—without any attempt at explaining why this should be so—that "the overall trajectory of historical development" is of an inherently "progressive" kind. Or again, Blau and Duncan, while in large part pursuing purely descriptive and analytical goals, still base their ultimate interpretation and evaluation of long-term changes in the process of stratification on the central tenet of the "neoevolutionism" of Talcott Parsons, namely, that "a fundamental trend toward expanding universalism characterizes industrial society" (Blau and Duncan 1967, 429; see also Parsons 1951, 480–535; Parsons 1964, 1966).
Following Popper, it could be argued that theories of a historicist cast must in the end always disappoint when matched against the historical record since they are flawed by a basic misconception: that is, their exponents fail to recognize that, in any science, propositions can be either theoretical or historical but not both at the same time. Thus, their hope of "theorizing" the movement of history is vain in principle. However, of present purposes it may still be instructive to consider those deficiences that would appear in a more immediate way to undermine the analyses of social change that are conducted from essentially historicist positions.
To begin with, one cannot overlook the prevalence of what is in fact rather blatant wishful thinking. Marxists clearly want to be able to show progressive proletarianization, or liberals a steadily increasing equality of opportunity, so that they may thus fortify the faithful, confound their political enemies, and sustain their own beliefs and values. Logically, within a historicist program, political commitment should follow from a correct appreciation of the course on which historical development is set; but, psychologically, commitment seems often to dictate what view of history it is that must be represented as correct. Such an outlook is obviously then not one conducive to the recognition—and still less to the searching out—of evidence contrary to the developmental scenarios that are favored. For much more is at stake than an intellectual construction: historicism makes it difficult to accept Popper's advice that we should be ready to let our ideas die for us.
Further, though, there are also deficiencies to be noted that derive directly from the structure of historicist argument itself. Most serious here is the inadequate attention that is given to what might be called microsociological foundations, that is, to the way in which it is envisaged that the large-scale and long-term trends of change that are postulated actually come about at the level of social action (Nisbet 1969, 233). It is characteristic of historicist theories of social change—and indeed
essential to their author's project of "theorizing" history—that they should concentrate on identifying one central source of dynamism that is, so to speak, "built into" the overall process of historical development and drives it along from stage to stage. In Marxist theories this dynamism is usually seen as resulting from the contradictions that recurrently arise between the forces and the relations of production; in liberal theories this dynamism stems from the ever-renewed and reshaped requirements of technological change and economic rationality. In other words, the focus of interests is on what are taken to be successive "system exigencies" to which determinate responses must follow; and the way in which these exigencies are then experienced and accommodated by social actors be of no more than minor concern. For if a historicist theory is taken as valid, then the patterns of social action that are involved in its realization are mere epiphenomena. If the analysis moves to the level of social action at all, it need do so only for illustrative and, perhaps, political purposes. Thus, for Marxists, the progressive degrading jobs by employers and their managers is a necessary response as technological advance proceeds within the constraints of the capitalist mode of production—and serves to reveal its inhumane character; for liberals, the emergence of more meritocratic procedures of social selection is dictated by the universalist logic of modern industrial society—and shows how this offers ever-wider opportunities for the expression of talent.
However, the difficulty here is of course that if the theory is not valid, then there is no reason whatever for highlighting the patterns of action and the underlying values and motivations that are its supposed vehicles. They may not in fact be those that prevail in the determination of social change; if they are present at all, they may be opposed, cross-cut, or overwhelmed by a host of other factors of which the theory takes no account. Thus, while economic constraints may lead some employers to degrade jobs, other employers may survive by linking technological innovation to either the reduction or the upgrading of their work forces, or by opting for strategies that aim more at reshaping employment relations than job content—and that carry quite different implications for the composition of the work force and the class structure. Likewise, while in modern societies pressures may indeed exist for selection for education and employment to be based increasingly on achievement, the interests and factors favoring ascription are not thereby annulled, and the emergence of a more open and fluid society is in no way guaranteed. In sum, in the pursuit of the key dynamic inherent in the movement of history—which one may regard as not merely elusive but illusory—theorists who yield to historicist temptations become captive to remarkably limited and oversimplified views of the processes of social change,
and, in turn, they seek to sustain what are at best one-sided and at worst wildly misleading accounts of its actual patterns.
If, then, we are to move toward a more satisfactory theoritical treatment of social change—in class stratification or any other aspect of social structure or process—I would maintain that a prerequisite is to accept, once and for all, that historical and theoretical propositions should not be confounded. This would mean two things. First, we should, as social scientists, treat the historical record with respect. We should recognize it as being independent of our theories of social change, and not suppose that these theories can in any way transcend it. There is no empirical realm to which they can refer other than this record, and without having established it, as best we can, in an area of interest to us, we do not know what it is that we would wish our theories to account for. As Nisbet has argued, "Between the study of change … and history there is quite evidently an unbreakable relationship, when we come down from the empyrean heights of abstractions, wholes and universals…. Whatever the demands of a social theory, the first demands to be served are those of the social reality we find alone in the historical record" (1969, 303–4).
Second, though, we must recognize that simply by "tracing the path" followed by historical development we can explain nothing; there is no theory immanent in the course of history that we can discover and then, so to speak, apply back to history. Whether taken as comprising a series of events or empirical regularities à la longue durée, the historical record is, from the point of view of the social scientist, and an explanandum —or rather a vast source of explananda —but not an explanans (see Gellner 1964, 20). This means, therefore, that the theories through which we may seek to gain an understanding of social change will not be in themselves historical (or evolutionary or developmental) theories; more specifically, one could say that they will not be theories that embody propositions about historical—as opposed to analytical—time. In the end, I would suggest, they will have to be, like theories addressed to questions of social order and stability, ones that are couched in terms of human action, individual and collective, and its intended and unintended consequences. In other
words, we must learn to take seriously the idea that "men make their own history." This does not of course prevent us from recognizing that they do not make it "just as they please"; but what is precluded is any idea, overt or covert, that in the last analysis history is made "behind men's backs" in accordance with some immanent plan or ultimate goal.
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Social Change in the United States:
The System of Equality and Inequality
1. Introduction: A Theoretical Model of Change
In this chapter I analyze the development of the social systems of equality and inequality in America in terms of Parsonian action theory. I start with the assumption that every system of equality or inequality in communal, political, economic, and cultural realms—inasmuch as it is stable and has a binding, normative quality on the members of society—is rooted in the traditional relationships of equality or inequality among individuals and groups in society. It is also rooted in the traditional right of membership in society (rights of citizenship), the traditional everyday associations of individuals and groups, and the traditional beliefs in the natural equality or inequality of people.
In my first section on the systems of equality and inequality in America I give a description of the system of equality of relationships, associations, right, and beliefs among the settlers in New England. But I also show that from the beginning the South established a different traditional and normatively binding model, a model of inequality in economic, political, cultural, and communal terms. Thus, the United States is based on two conflicting traditions, one favoring equality (conceived in terms of equal opportunity), the other favoring inequality. The conflict between these two traditions has been a major factor hindering the establishment of a societal community that embraces society as a whole. It also explains why American society has often broken apart into different societal groups.
My second assumption is that the traditional system of equality of the New England colonies (and later, states) was counteracted by factors
I am grateful to Neil Johnson for translating the original German version of this chapter.
arising from societal growth: Economic growth leads to economic differentiation and inequality, political growth leads to the differentiation of access to political decision making, cultural growth leads to cultural diversity and the unequal evaluation of cultural ways of life, and associational growth leads to the differentiation of society into different social groups and minorities. A decisive factor in changing the traditional New England system of equality to a system of inequality has been the continuous process of the immigration of new ethnic, radical, religious, and national groups to the United States. This process resulted in a society of unequals amid a cultural system in which belief in the equality of opportunity remained, even though that belief changed from the notion of absolute equality to an ideology that legitimized the oppression of the unsuccessful minorities by the successful majority. The Southern model of inequality was sustained by the growing inequality in society, which reached a point at which the Southern culture began to dominate the national culture. The victory of the Northern states in the Civil War laid the foundations for the Northern idea of the equality of opportunity to successfully assert itself as society developed, but this idea is in constant conflict with the Southern culture, which is increasingly important because of the present-day movement to the sunbelt.
My third assumption is that "unintended" factors in a society can moderate inequality. Among these factors are economic abundance, opportunities for political participation in local affairs, uniform formal education, and social inclusion. The way these factors work in America is demonstrated in the third section.
My fourth assumption is that there are intentional actions in society that are motivated by the tension between the cultural idea of the equality of opportunity and the social reality of inequality. The logic of cultural discourse leads some to take the idea of equality to its logical extreme and to claim that every existing inequality is illegitimate and evil. However, inasmuch as other ideas, such as the idea of individualism, are involved in this discourse, there are limits to how far the idea of equality can be carried. In the United States the idea of equality becomes limited to the idea of equal opportunity.
In this context I discuss the Supreme Court's role in interpreting basic cultural ideas and its role in the change from racial segregation to desegregation. I examine how the discourse on cultural ideas has shaped the social system of equal/unequal relationships. Insofar as cultural discourse becomes involved in political decision making, it will be controversial and needs the support of dynamic forces, that is, social movements. Here the role of the civil rights movements is of primary interest. But policies aiming at the equality of opportunity also require economic resources, such as programs of affirmative action. Nothing
will change in everyday life, however, if people do not accept that change and are not prepared to associate communally with formerly excluded groups. Therefore, inclusion is also needed. School busing can be interpreted as forced inclusion. The level of communal association is the level where change is the slowest. But when it changes toward more equality the new system achieves the character of a normatively binding system. The day-to-day association of the younger generations in the educational system is a factor that can bring about a new belief in equality amid the tremendous cultural diversity that characterizes the present-day United States. The New England model of the association of homogeneous equals may be replaced by the association of heterogeneous equals.
2. The Principle of Equal Opportunity
The 1776 Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal and are vested with certain inalienable rights by the Creator, including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In America this idea of human equality was never developed into the idea of socialism or communism. It has always been embraced together with the idea of freedom and individualism. The communist ideal "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs," as formulated by Marx, was never able to gain a foothold on American soil (Marx 1962:21).
The idea that everyone should receive equal rewards—income, power, prestige—regardless of his or her own individual performance is anathema to Americans. The primary American conviction is that people are the architects of their own fortunes. Equal distribution of society's riches without reference to individual performance is an idea that is irreconcilable with such a conviction. It deprives the individual of the right to take control over his or her own fate. The Declaration of Independence speaks not of the equal distribution of happiness but of the equal right to seek one's happiness (Ginsberg 1967; Eidelberg 1967; Murray 1964; Becker 1958). If the individual's happiness is something imparted by society or the state, then the individual has lost the right to personally seek that happiness and to achieve it in greater measure the more assiduously he or she seeks it.
Equal rights in this sense means that no one may be hindered from autonomously striving for happiness. Initially, this simply meant that no laws were permitted that excluded individuals or particular groups from the ability to make quest. This signified above all that no one should be denied access to the market as a result of privileges granted to others by the state. Accordingly, equality of opportunities came to be seen more in terms of the state refraining from intervention in economic
competition than in terms of the state involving itself by granting privileges to certain persons or groups. The quest for happiness was chiefly understood as a quest for wealth. As a rule, therefore, Americans spoke of three basic rights: to life, freedom, and property.
The meaning of equality in relationship to liberty is that everyone possesses the same rights to freedom, and each in turn can make either more or less extensive use of this right. Every individual is entitled to freedom of expression. All do not, however, participate in public discussion in the same way, and every opinion is not treated as being equally correct. The same is true of the freedom of communal association. No one may, de jure, be denied access at the outset from communities, which might be clubs or associations, religious communities, academic communities, or political constituencies. This does not, however, imply that everyone, de facto, really becomes a member of these communal groupings. The requirement is simply that membership should be attached to qualifications that anyone can gain. Everyone also has an equal right to engage in political activity even though not everyone actually takes part in the political decision-making process and not everyone carries the same amount of influence. Individual or groups simply may not be excluded from such processes a priori.
Similarly, the equality of the right to life does not mean categorically that no one may lose his or her life. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that no one may be made to forfeit life, freedom, or property without due process of law. The "equal guarantee of life" accordingly signifies that the death penalty, for example, may not be imposed on individuals arbitrarily and without equal due process and also that it should be reserved for the most serious crimes. A further aspect of the equal right to life is that it includes everyone's right to the same police protection against crime and the guarantee that all will be treated equally in the procedure for drafting people into the armed forces. How safe, within this broad framework, the individual chooses to make his or her own life, whether to ensure a greater amount of protection against sickness or accident or be content with less, remains a matter for him or her to decide. Both life and freedom, then, are only guaranteed each individual to the same degree that everyone has the right to preserve his or her life and to strive for freedom. No a priori measures taken or laws passed by the state should create any inequalities with respect to the pursuit of these goals.
Equality, therefore, is interpreted as equal opportunity with regard to life, freedom, property, and happiness but not as actual equality in the distribution of property, happiness, longevity, and freedom to do as one pleases (Laslett and Lipset 1974; Lipset 1974). The state is expected not to stand in the individual's way as he or she strives for these goods and
not to grant privileges to certain people at the expense of others. And the state is not expected to distribute goods equally. Such involvement by the state would be tantamount to the withdrawal of the right to individual striving for life, freedom, property, and happiness. State involvement would violate the principle of the equality of opportunity because an equal distribution of the goods of life among all people regardless of their effort and performance would rob the individual of the opportunity to perform better and hence acquire more of these goods that bring happiness. Individual effort and performance would be unequally rewarded. Those producing more effort and performance would be at a disadvantage relative to those producing less.
When considering this radically individualistic conception of the equality of opportunity, one must of course take into account the image of society that served as its basis. This was an image of society as a union of independent property owners who have no fundamental differences of opportunity among themselves when they compete with each other to expand their property (Berthoff 1971). No one was exceedingly rich or exceedingly poor. Differences in income and wealth were sufficiently limited that there were no conflicting classes of the privileged and the disadvantaged. Some were naturally more successful than others, but success or lack of it was purely a matter of individual fate and was never a collective experience of separately delimited estates, classes, or strata.
Those who were either unable or not permitted to take part in the competition to achieve success were cared for within the family: women, children, the aged, the sick, the infirm, and of course the slaves. The entire philosophy of the equality of opportunity applied solely to economically independent, male enfranchised citizens. Although the fact that slaves were excluded from civil rights was a thorn in the flesh of the new society—and was also the focus of both criticism and bad conscience on the part of liberals such as Jefferson and Madison—it nevertheless did not disturb the image of the equality of opportunity as it applied in general because slaves, like women, children, the aged, and the sick, were also under guardianship of a head of the family who would be able to hold his own amid the competition.
In this context a conception of the equality of opportunity was born in which the state was only involved in a negative sense. The state was not permitted to intervene by granting privileges in the competition between full citizens who, for all intents and purpose, were equal. Had it done so, then this would have created inequality between those who otherwise were equal. The equality of opportunity was ensured by way of the male full citizens' equal rights to participate in societal competition. Under such circumstances few could even conceive that the state should actively
intervene to assist those who had to compete with a more limited endowment of means and abilities.
To this day this "ultraliberal" philosophy of the equality of opportunity has remained an essential element of American thinking. It is at the core of the tough conservative opposition to measures taken by the state designed to actively establish the equality of opportunity. Although today's liberals propound such an activist state policy, particularly in the area of education policy, conservatives see in this the danger that individual freedom, self-responsibility, and initiative will be destroyed by state tutelage and surveillance. Conservatives take this position even though the conditions of the equality of opportunity have changed fundamentally from those that originally prevailed during the course of societal development.
In the course of these changes, there has also been a concomitant transformation in the way that Americans assess the state's role in establishing equality of opportunity. More and more Americans have come to see the state as having the task of actively creating equality of opportunity (Berthoff 1971). This is a basic liberal conviction today, and even conservatives do not fundamentally reject state intervention, although they would like to see it restricted to a low level. However, this transformation in the role of the state by no means signifies a complete turnaround in favor of the collective establishment of equality. In the prevailing public opinion even industrialization and the increased pluralism of racial, ethnic, and religious groups have not made success or failure into a uniform collective experience. As always, success and failure are interpreted as the fate of individuals. And whatever degree of acceptance state programs aimed at creating equality of opportunity now have, these programs are understood primarily as support for individuals, not as a means to even out the distribution of goods.
Although there is now agreement about the state taking an active role in establishing equality of opportunity, the role the state is expected to take is predominantly restricted to establishing a balance in the starting conditions for the race to achieve success. This state role applies in equal fashion whether the guarantee of equality concerned is in the communal, economic, political, or cultural spheres.
Communal equality means that anyone can associate communally with anyone else and can enter into social relations with anyone else on an equal basis. No exclusive communities exist to which only the few, perhaps by virtue of their birth, are admitted, and there is no hierarchy of estates with differing rights. When understood in terms of equality of opportunity, equality in this sphere means that no one should be refused admission de jure to communal associations. But it does not mean that everyone is also able de facto to take up communal relations everywhere
and with all others. That there is openness in social relations and in the membership of associational groupings does not mean that those without prior qualification may join. It does, however, imply that the criteria for qualification have to be defined such that no one is excluded through birth. Not everyone is able to become a member of the society of attorneys but everyone who was attained the necessary occupational qualification should be able to. More specifically, equality of social opportunity implies that equal opportunities are available to associate with others, to take up everyday social relations, to develop a style of life, and to meet in public places such as restaurants, shopping centers, sporting events, or the theater.
Economic equality means that all have a share in society's material wealth and no one is excluded from economic opportunity. Applying the notion of equality of opportunity, the key matter is to ensure that everyone is able to join the race for economic success and that no one is prohibited de jure from participating. Above all else, state guarantees of economic privileges are prohibited. What is not covered by this concept of economic equality of opportunity is the actual equal distribution of material goods. Anyone can take part in market competition but the success achieved need not be the same in each case. Specific aspects of economic equality of opportunity are equal rewards for equal achievement, equal opportunities to gain access to occupations and acquire occupational qualifications, and the provision of compensation for disadvantages via insurance and social welfare payments.
Political equality must be seen as equality in the selection and application of collective decisions. No one is excluded from the process and no one is granted privileges. When conceived of as equality of opportunity, the concern here is that the political process should be open to all who seek to put themselves in a position where they can exert political authority but not that the distribution of political decision-making competence should actually be equal. Specifically, political equality of opportunity encompasses equal opportunity to participate in the political decision-making process and to be given a hearing when political matters are under discussion, a body of law that is equal for all and is applied in the same way for all, and equal treatment for all by administrative bodies and the police.
Cultural equality should be interpreted as equality to participate in society's cultural discourses. In this context equality of opportunity means that all have the same chance to say their own piece in cultural discourse but not that every argument is equally valid. Some individual aspects inherent in the cultural equality of opportunity include the equal chance to intervene in intellectual discussions, to have access to educational institutions, to attain an education, and to carry out professional roles.
In all these dimensions of equality America has undergone a farreaching process of development. Initially, social equality in New England coexisted with major inequalities in the Southern states. Industrialization, discrimination against blacks and other minorities, and the immigration of different groups produced a society harboring substantial inequalities, one that was a contradiction to the idea of equality. Present-day liberalism is aimed at addressing the increasing rift between the idea of equality and the reality of inequality. The negative definition of the equality of opportunity, in which the state refrains from involvement in the process of free competition, is making for an approach in which the state is attributed an active role in creating equality of opportunity.
3. The Idea of Equality and Societal Inequality in America
From the beginning the New England states had the strongest air of social equality, even if it only applied to religiously qualified, male full citizens. Especially in the early period in Massachusetts, a sharp line of distinction was drawn between those with and those without the right religious credentials. In time, however, the distinction was increasingly abandoned. In Connecticut and Rhode Island all adult males were taken into both the religious and the political communities. The full citizens in this society were farmers, merchants, lawyers, doctors, and preachers, all of whom were independent and possessed relatively ample means (Berthoff 1971). This society of equally ranking citizens with equal rights was fundamentally different from the European societies of the time, which were still divided into estates, classes, and strata, each with quite different rights and each with its own consciousness as a community that shared a collective fate. This social equality was one of the first characteristics Tocqueville noticed when he visited the New England states:
But all the immigrants who came to settle on the shores of New England belonged to the well-to-do classes at home. From the start, when they came together on American soil, they presented the unusual phenomenon of a society in which there were no great lords, no common people, and, one may almost say, no rich or poor. (Tocqueville [1835–40] 1966)
The members of this society were Puritans. The religious bond between them and the common awareness that they were living for the idea of a religiously ordered society strengthened their sense of social equality in quite a special way.
Later, at the time of the founding of the United States, Thomas Jefferson also regarded basic equality as an essential prerequisite for the proper functioning of the Constitution. He believed that the individual
enjoyment of equal rights was best preserved in a society of independent farmers. Initially, he took a dim view of the development of large-scale manufacturing because it creates a class of dependent wage-earning laborers unable to lay claim autonomously to their own rights. Later, however, he was forced to admit that, in the interests of its economic strength, the United States could not do without the development of industry.
The immigrants to the Southern colonies were different in character and came to America for different reasons than the Northern immigrants. Although some settlers had religious motives, even in Virginia, settlement was undertaken primarily for economic reasons. The introduction of slavery in 1620 and the development of large-scale plantation operations created a different society in the South. Equality only applied within a relatively small governing stratum of large plantation owners, who were attempting to imitate aristocratic conditions. A clear differentiation between a higher and a lower stratum soon crystallized in the South, making inequality both an omnipresent hallmark of the society and a collectively experienced phenomenon. Thus, social relations were fundamentally equal in the North but paternalistic and authoritarian in the South (Tocqueville [1835–40] 1966; Berthoff 1971; Dollard  1957; Graven 1949; Gray 1958; Morgan 1975; Ratner, Soltow, and Sylla 1979; McGill 1963).
The contrast between North and South in the structuring of social relations is visible to this day and can be observed in all spheres, whether between farm owners or industrialists and their employees, politicians and their electorate, or teachers and their pupils. This disparity, in combination with the differences of interest between industry in the North and plantations in the South, was the basis on which the Civil War was fought between 1861 and 1865. Even today it represents a fundamental antithesis, as has been evident in the wake of the desegregation policy pursued since the end of the 1950s by the Supreme Court and Congress. The conflict has been carried to such an extent that some Southern state governors, such as George Wallace of Alabama, have openly resisted Supreme Court decisions on desegregation (Wilson 1980)
Today in the South blacks remain socially excluded wherever there is a chance, even in opposition to the policies of federal government and the federal courts, and are treated, through informal channels at least, as second-class citizens. Immigrants from Latin America, especially from Mexico, whose numbers grow by the day, are treated in a similar fashion.
Social equality, then, is still primarily an ideal held in the Northern part of the country. Inequality is far more in evidence in the South, where the prevailing public opinion among those in privileged positions is to attempt to maintain that inequality. The democratic party had to
push through its entire civil rights policy, as well as all the welfare policies of the 1960s and 1970s, not so much against the Republican party as against the dogged resistance of their own representatives in the South, who voted against these policies as a matter of principle (Wilson 1980). Hence the disparity between North and South remains a constant danger to the cohesion of the community.
Developments in the North also brought fundamental changes to the original society of equal-ranking property owners. By the time the United States was founded differences existed between the farmers and the owners of capital, that is, merchants and the bankers. Nevertheless it is an exaggeration to derive, as Charles A. Beard attempted, the shape and content of the American Constitution from these differing interests that were not equal in all respects, and to see in the Constitution the dominance of the capitalists' interests (Beard  1968). This hypothesis is not backed up by fact and certainly finds no confirmation in the interests of the founders of the Constitution (Brown 1956; Wilson 1980).
Far-reaching changes occurred with the development of industrial capitalism and its corporations, and with the continuing revolutionary changes in technology, communications, and services. Another decisive factor producing major changes was the immigration of totally different racial, ethnic, and religious groups. The stream of immigrants reached its highest levels in the first decades of the twentieth century but ebbed after annual immigration quotas for specific groups were set in 1924. Since then the inflow of Latin American and Southeast Asian immigrants had increased dramatically especially in the South and West.
The present-day United States comprises a multitude of different racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic groups. This heterogeneity is the precise opposite of the original social homogeneity found in the New England colonies. In Manhattan today, the East Side and the West Side, indeed, the Upper and the Lower East Side, Harlem, Little Italy, and Chinatown are all different worlds. The Puerto Rican neighborhoods and those where more recent Southeast Asian and Latin American immigrants have settled might also be mentioned (although the latter are not represented in the numbers that they are in the South and West). Los Angeles now threatens to burst at the seams under the pressure of the wide variety of racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic strata among the immigrants (Glazer and Moynihan  1970; Gordon 1964; Mindel and Habenstein 1976; Turner 1984; Turner, Singleton, and Musick 1984).
Under conditions such as these, what is the meaning of social equality? It certainly no longer means that all live in similar circumstances and that anyone can associate with anyone else. Only in Latin America can such a crass distinction be found as that between Harlem and the neighboring
upper-class district of the Upper East Side. To all intents and purposes, the different groups live within their own neighborhoods as they would in a ghetto. Is there, then, still such a thing as communal association among equally ranking citizens? Certainly there is not. The closest approximation today in that everyone eats their hamburgers at McDonald's, Burger King, or Howard Johnson's. This, however, is not convivial dining but simply the result of the conversion of eating into mass consumption. Conviviality is still nurtured over dinner at French, Chinese, Italian, Greek, and German restaurants, but in such situations one is among one's own friends.
Has the American melting pot given rise to a qualitatively new societal community with an identity of its own? Have the new immigrant groups conformed to the dominant values of the Anglo-Americans? Or does society consist of a multitude of relatively separate racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic groups living alongside one another? (See Bannister 1972.) The answer, at least in its general tendency, is the third alternative of the pluralism of coexisting but unequal groups. Together with blacks (Rainwater 1970; Pettigrew 1975; McCord, Howard, Friedberg, and Harwood 1969), the group that have most recently immigrated have always made up the lowest strata in an economic sense: first the Irish Catholics, then other Catholics from Southern or Eastern Europe (mainly Italians and Poles), that the Asians and Puerto Ricans, and finally the Mexicans an other Latin American groups.
The Germans and some of the Jews (not the relatively poor Jews of New York, living in their ghetto) represented exceptions to this hierarchy of immigration. Though economic success and by virtue of their education, they were able to assimilate themselves. The Jews, especially, have a disproportionately high representation among the most educated strata. In their case inclusion into the societal community was facilitated by the adoption of fundamental American values and most all by the success flowing from their keenness to succeed.
Among the other groups, the Irish Catholics were best able to find their way into the dominant Anglo-American societal community. To some extent this applies to another major Catholic group, the Italians, but so far not to the Hispanics (Navarro 1971). There is a vast difference between the Catholic Church in the North and its position in the South. In the North it has actually achieved a position of some respect within society, and well-regarded families such as the Kennedys serve as a representatives of Catholicism in the North. In the South, however, the state of the church corresponds to the underprivileged position of the Hispanic groups it represents.
Under these conditions social inequality is a collective experience. This experience, however, has discontinuities. There is a marked socioeconomic
stratification within ethnic and religious groups and it is more pronounced in proportion to the number of generations of immigrants that make up the group. Given the burgeoning growth of immigration from Latin America and the regional concentration of this immigration in the South and West, Hispanics are the most clearly delineated and homogeneous underprivileged section of society today (Wagenheim and Wagenheim 1973; Grebler, Moore, and Guzin 1970; Steiner 1970). They have not yet had time to send their second and third generations to schools and colleges. In a society where there is no large-scale collective welfare system to redress social imbalances and where competition for economic success means everything, the Hispanics and other groups like them inevitably constitute an army of the poor, frequently living below subsistence level. America today is a society of inequality. In this respect it is radically and diametrically opposed to its origins in New England (Myrdal 1994; Kahl  1967; Coleman 1966; Blau and Duncan 1967; Jencks et al. 1972; Collins 1979; Zeitlin  1977).
The difference between the highest and lowest income levels is greater in the United States than in other industrial nations. The lowest-income groups and lowest-paid occupations are predominantly made up of the particularly disadvantaged minorities, namely blacks, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and other Hispanic groups. Within the same occupation minorities earn less on average than their white colleagues (Kaufmann 1983; Reimers 1984). And despite the unified educational system, occupational qualifications differ widely by race. The most immediate reason for this is that there is a very unequal distribution in the quality of education given, with the disadvantaged minorities winding up with the lowest quality education. In addition, the social welfare net is relatively undeveloped. Anyone who falls ill, loses the ability to be gainfully employed, is otherwise unemployed, or leaves the work force owing to old age becomes among society's poorest. Here, too, the disadvantaged minorities are hardest hit.
In the field of politics the inequality that exists is no less striking. Political participation is more a matter of individual initiative and free association and less one of caring for needs via large organized parties. Accordingly, the variations in the degree of qualification to participate that stem from different levels of education and income are especially important. Political participation rests in the hands of the educated strata (Almond and Verba 1963; Verba and Nie 1972). Similarly, the discussion of political subjects in the mass media is clearly dominated by the educated Anglo-American strata. It is not infrequent, especially in the South, that formal equality before the law is undermined by informal inequalities in the assessment of legal cases and criminal acts and in the meting out of penalties. The same tension between formal equality and
informal inequality is evident in the way public authorities and the police treat minorities. Blacks, Puerto Ricans, and Hispanics who have dealings with the police are more likely to encounter mistrust and unfriendliness than their white counterparts (Mayhew 1968; Cicourel 1968; Cohen and Kluegel 1978; Terry 1967; Thornberry 1973, 1979).
In the cultural sphere inequality is apparent in the Angle-American domination of matters of religion, moral theory, the arts, and the academic world. The other racial and ethnic groups occupy an extremely marginal position here. Under such conditions there is no sign of a cultural melting pot. For a long period entry into institutions of higher education was extremely unequally distributed. There are also substantial differences in the quality of the education obtained. The low-level groups and strata show a disproportionately high rate of attendance at the poorer-quality high schools, colleges, and universities. The professions have long been dominated by Anglo-Americans, and to the extent that members of the disadvantaged minorities have actually gained entry into the professions they tend to occupy its lower echelons. One apparent exception to this trend is that Asian groups have recently been particularly successful in entering the professions. They have also achieved top performances in schools and universities well out of proportion to their numbers (Collins 1979).
In terms of communal association, a pronounced vertical differentiation of social prestige has developed in the United States as of the 1960s. The Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, other Hispanic minorities, and blacks form the lowest groups in the ranking. Above them are the Asians and Eastern Europeans, especially the Poles, then the Italians, the Anglo-Americans are paramount in the scale of prestige. There are sharply outlined social barriers between these groups. People marry within their own groups and only develop new acquaintances and friendships within the same confines. Clubs, associations, and religious communities are also largely ethnically homogeneous in their composition. And when it comes to their place of residence, different groups stick together in their own neighborhoods. For a Harlem black Manhattan's neighboring Upper East Side is further away in a communal sense than the moon. And in the South racial segregation prevailed in public places right into the 1960s. Although racial segregation is no longer official policy, racial and ethnic groups communally distribute themselves quite clearly among different public places: different residential neighborhoods, hotels, restaurants, theaters, and cinemas.
Great differences are apparent in the life-styles of racial and ethnic groups, from living conditions and eating habits to family circumstances. There is a huge discrepancy between the life-style of a well-off Anglo-American family and the grim living conditions of the lowest groups.
They belong to two different worlds. A social relationship between them on a common basis is inconceivable (Coleman and Rainwater 1979).
However, it would be pharisaical if a European were to take a moralizing tone in pointing out the gross contrast between the wealth enjoyed by a majority and the poverty faced by a minority and how this contradicts the great idea of equality in American society. No European country has ever had to cope with a comparable influx of heterogeneous immigrant groups. At present over a million people immigrate into the United States each year (Anderson 1983). And apart from this, the situation is further aggravated by the fact that the majority of immigrants come from the poorest countries and enter the lowest strata, thus contributing to the continuation of inequality.
4. In Search of Greater Equality
Even under the difficult conditions discussed above one should neither overlook the countervailing forces that work in favor of realizing social equality of opportunity nor underestimate the amount of effort that is made in this direction. The economic prosperity that prevailed for so long and the common striving for success have to be seen as countervailing forces. So, too, are the egalitarian ways of dealing with others in everyday communication and the uniformity of the educational system, at least on a formal basis.
Most of the inequalities in the economic wealth of the United States do not take the form of a rich minority and a poor majority (for example, the contrast between rich capitalists and poor workers). Rather they take the form of a well-off majority and a poor minority (Potter 1954). This reality is fundamentally at variance with the usual theories of class inequality. Within the ranks of the well-off majority the general prosperity functions as a great leveler, as expressed in equal participation in mass consumption. Striving for success is the commonly shared philosophy and the conversion of that success via consumption the commonly shared practice.
Most of the families in this majority category have a detached house in the suburbs, two cars, color TV, dishwasher, and freezer. The family members deck themselves out generously in the latest fashions, wear blue jeans, eat hamburgers at McDonald's, Burger King, and Howard Johnson's, watch "E.T." and "Dallas," and take vacations in places like Florida every year. A leveling in life-styles has occurred in the United States via mass consumption. Such a leveling has not been reached in Europe. A family in which both the husband and the wife work has sufficient income to be able to satisfy most conceivable middle-class wishes. To a fair extent both the university professor and the newspaper
vendor on the corner share this style of life, and in this respect they are much more equal than their European counterparts.
In everyday communication Americans do not stress the differences between higher and lower social echelons. Top-level professionals, once outside their occupational spheres, are treated as ordinary citizens. This can be seen in typical day-to-day interactions. Newspaper vendors, for example, do not take a reverent stance in their dealings with professors, particularly if they make more money than the professors. Within the occupational sphere differences of rank are not automatically reflected in forms of address. The sales assistant's approach to the sales manager is not one of subordination, just as the latter does not an authoritarian stance in relation to the assistant. This equality in everyday dealings is highlighted by the normal practice of keeping communications throughout all levels of ranks on first-name terms (Collins 1979). In the occasional awkward situation where the lower-ranking person feels the difference is too great, he or she tends not to address the other directly in order to avoid embarrassment. A student, for example, might avoid direct address rather than call the professor "Professor Smith."
The most important factor in social leveling, however, is the breadth of the educational system, which gives a vast majority of Americans the opportunity for twelve years of education before they complete high school and allows half of those graduating each year to attend college for a further two to four years. Accordingly, educational differences are less of a social barrier than they are in Europe. Nevertheless, the uniformity of the educational system cannot be taken altogether literally. There are likely to be greater differences of quality between high schools in Harlem and the Upper East Side than there are between the secondary modern (Hauptschule ) and the grammar school (Gymnasium ) in the same suburb of Cologne. In additional, the high dropout rate in the United States is a major problem. There are also huge differences in the quality of colleges and universities. An Anglo-American graduate of the Harvard Law School will not mix with his or her Mexican-American counterpart from a less highly regarded law school in Texas by dint of having the same formal qualification alone. Because informal vertical differentiation exists, the formal uniformity in the educational system cannot, in and of itself, level out social differences. The children belonging to the lower groups and strata also attend the poorer schools, colleges, and universities in most cases.
The decentralization of the political system in the United States, especially the autonomy of municipalities, counteracts the tendencies toward a political differentiation into a ruling elite and a mass of ruled subjects. By European standards there are more varied possibilities for participating in political life. Although this does not make political involvement
something that is shared by all groups, it does at least make it a matter where a far greater number of citizens are active, and where they develop a common awareness of being active citizens with equal rights (Dahl 1967).
Most important in establishing equality in the United State is the belief that the unequal distribution of opportunity is illegitimate. This belief has led, first and foremost, to an active state policy of establishing equality of opportunity, which has been driven forward by the liberals. Although the conservatives can put a damper on this policy, they cannot eliminate it (Burkey 1978; Slawson 1979). Today the vast majority of the population supports measures securing equality of opportunity in all areas when these measures are explicitly intended to improve an individual's qualifications in the competitive job market. The majority does not, however, offer such support for efforts to redistribute income in a way that bears no relation to individual performance (Wilson 1980).
American individualism, which blocks income redistribution that bears no relation to individual performance and which resists state-administered care in the place of individual responsibility, provides the explanation on the ideological level for the fact that it was not until 1935 that the first comprehensive and effective social legislation was introduced in the United States. In response to the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt took the lead with his New Deal (Leiby 1978). The Social Security Act of 1935 incorporated two programs. One was an insurance scheme to provide pensions and unemployment pay, under which the insured were required to pay contributions; the other was state support, not based on contribution payments, for the aged and the blind (later also for other invalids) and for needy families with dependent children (Piven and Cloward 1971). This social legislation was expanded on in 1964 and 1965 by Lyndon B. Johnson and the liberal majority in Congress. The intent of the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act was to bolster the fight against poverty. State assistance was granted to training programs aimed at improving levels of occupational qualification. The following programs were supported: training schemes for unemployed youth, English lessons for adults having no command of the language, neighborhood programs intended to give work experience to the young, corporate student programs enabling college students from needy families to take part-time work, and community action programs allowing residents of poor neighborhoods to participate in the planning and provision of services for their own benefit (Sundquist 1969; Plotnik and Skidmore 1975; Slawson 1979). The Medicare Act, another piece of major social legislation, was passed in 1965. It provided for health care among the aged and the poor, to be paid for from the federal budget. The growth in social welfare payments has made a marked impact on the
federal budget over the years. Between 1950 and 1976 expenditures in this sphere rose from $10.5 billion to $198.3 billion, their share of federal expenditures increased from 26.2 percent to 56 percent, and their share of the national product rose from 4 percent to 12.3 percent (Wilson 1980; U.S. Bureau of the Census 1978).
Despite this tremendous increase in social expenditures, there is no doubt that even today, the United States still lags well behind the European countries, which in this respect lead the world (Thurow 1969; Beeghley 1983). The prevailing public opinion continues to favor direct support designed to establish equality of opportunity, but opposes the collective redistribution of income. In an opinion poll carried out in 1976, although 94 percent believed on one should be allowed to starve for want of government aid, 89 percent believed there were too many welfare recipients who actually were able to work, and 64 percent expressed the view that the criteria for welfare payments were not strict enough (Wilson 1980).
A further indication of the American resistance to the collective establishment of social equality is given by the limited place socialism has had in the political arena. Any moves to initiate socialist parties have quickly run into the quicksand of American individualism. Insofar as socialist ideas have been formulated, they have never seriously demanded that there be a collective leveling of the distribution of goods. Rather they simply demand that the state give active support to those beginning the race for success with more limited chances and that true equality of opportunity be actively created (Lipset 1974; DeLeon 1978; Gilbert 1977).
The same applies to the policies of the trade unions. Although the American labor unions have never fought to have the economic system remodeled along socialist lines, they are among the toughest in the world when it comes to asserting the interests of their own member. These interests, however, are not conceived of as the collective equalization of the distribution of income, but as obtaining the best possible wages for relatively limited groups of workers with homogeneous interests. Unions are very strongly differentiated according to different industries and job specializations, and their duties are to interests of the particular groups concerned and not to those of working people as a whole. Thus unions are no more than instruments workers use to more effectively promote their own positions in the competition for better wages, and the individual worker does not expect any more than this from his or her union. Far from producing an increasing equality in wage levels, trade-union policy actually gives rise to increasing differentiation. The unions improve the positions of particular groups of workers, not only in opposition to the corporations but also in the face of competition from other groups of workers (Lipset  1979).
5. The Road Toward Greater Equality
Since the 1950s the main thrust against social inequality in the United States has been in the area of civil rights policy. The civil rights movement has forced the pace of progress, using both Supreme Court decisions and civil rights legislation in Congress. Although various social groups and minorities have experienced oppression in the course of American history, the paradigmatic case, which so far has been the chief object of civil rights policy, is that of the blacks. Former slaves were not made citizens of the United States until the Fourteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution in 1868. And in 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment prohibited denial of the right to vote on the grounds of race, color, or previous status as a slave. Of course these amendments did not end racial segregation and discrimination in practice. Nevertheless, the Fourteenth Amendment in particular was play a key role in future Supreme Court civil rights decisions. Although it created a framework for the implementation of equal rights for all citizens, it was not until the 1950s that decisive steps were taken in this direction (Shapiro and Hobbs 1978; Pritchett 1979; Gunther and Dowling 1970; Berger 1967; Wilson 1980). The question at this time was what precisely should be subsumed under the Fourteenth Amendment's privileges and immunities and its provision for individual equality before the law.
For a long period the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment were given a very restrictive definition, which led to a number of Supreme Court decisions accepting what was known as jim crow legislation on racial segregation and discrimination. In the Slaughterhouse cases of 1873 (16 Wallace 1873), in which black rights were not the point at issue, the "privileges and immunities" clause was interpreted so narrowly as to be effectively nullified (Gunther and Dowling 1970). In the civil rights cases that came before it ten years later, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a Congressional law forbidding racial discrimination in public facilities, such as hotels and transport, on the grounds that the Fourteenth Amendment was only applicable to governmental bodies and not to privately run organizations (Gunther and Dowling 1970). In Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 the Supreme Court judged that segregated but equivalent public facilities—in this case separate railroad cars for blacks and whites—were in compliance with the Constitution. Three years later in Cumming v. Richmond Country Board of Education the Court held not only that segregated schools were compatible with the Constitution but also that it was permissible for a school district to only provide a high school for white children, ignoring the needs of black children. The Court reminded blacks of their ability to make use of private schools.
In 1909, following an antiblack riot, a small group of blacks and
whites together founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The association's publication, The crisis, which was edited by W.E.B. DuBois, drew attention to the oppression of blacks. The organization endeavored to work as a lobby in Congress but its primary efforts was to cause change by filling lawsuits. Its first successes were achieved in the mid-1930s. In Missouri ex re. Gaines v. canada, decide by the Supreme Court in 1983, Lloyd Gaines, who had graduated from all-black Lincoln University in Missouri in 1935, sought admission to law school. There was no law school for blacks in Missouri, so he applied for entry to the University of Missouri's white law school only to have the application rejected with the provision that the extra costs gaines would incur by attending a school located state were to be reimbursed to him. The federal Supreme Court compelled the University of Missouri to admit Gaines on the basis of the "separate but equal" ruling, which held that separate schools for blacks and whites were permissible but that they also had to be equally accessible. In a similar case ten years later the University of Oklahoma set up a special law department with three professors for a single black student as a result of the decision in Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma . Subsequently, in Sweatt v. Painter (1950) and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (1950) the Supreme Court prohibited this practices, arguing that such minidepartments did not guarantee equal academic standards.
During 1950s the liberal Warren Court ushered in a new phase of civil rights decisions. The case that proved decisive was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (Kluger 1975). In that case Oliver Brown, a black, wanted to send his daughter to a white school in Topeka , Kansas. The school rejected his application, remarking that a black school in his district offered the same facilities. The lower court decision, based on the "separate but equal" doctrine, held that this rejection was legal. However, in a trail-blazing unanimous judgement on 17 May 1954 the Supreme Court decided otherwise. It declared that segregated schooling was unequal in and of itself because it gave black children a feeling of inferiority with regard to their status in the community, preying on their hearts and minds in a way that could not reversed at a later stage.
This ruling that the "separate but equal" doctrine that had applied since Plessy v. Ferguson was overruled. The segregation of schools was now unconstitutional. The judgement generated vehement opposition in the South , which persisted long after the event. On a number of occasions federal troops had to be on hand to enforce the admission of black students to white universities. Sometimes these federal troops were even opposed by state National Guards, as in Little Rock,Arkansas, in 1957. In 1964 only 2 percent of black schoolchildren in the eleven
former Confederate states attended mixed-race schools, and most of these students were Virginia and Texas. By 1970, however, the resistances had been broken. Racial segregation had ceased in 97 percent of the Southern states' 2,700 schools districts. Segregated schools still existed within these district but only 14 percent of black pupils attended purely black schools. Today were are more segregated schools in the North than in the South because segregation in the North occurs not de jure but de facto, stemming from the racial homogeneity of residential neighborhoods (Wilson 1980).
In the 1960s and 1970s desegregation led into integration, as federal courts more and more frequently made the requirements that the races should be mixed in the schools; simply allowing to have a free choice of school was no longer enough. The Supreme Court under Warren Burger continued this pattern of legal decisions. Educational authorities were required to strived for complete racial mixing. To fulfill this aim, children had to be bused from their home neighborhoods to other parts of the town or city (John and Hoyt 1975; Sheeham 1984). Many children were no longer able to attend the schools nearest to their homes. This system of busing met with vehement criticism from most of the parents affected. It remains highly controversial today, but on the instructions of the courts it is still practiced in the interest of creating a uniform school system. In the case of school busing one is able to see what the policy of creating equality of opportunity means when taken to its logical conclusion.
As late as the 1930s, the court ruled that racial segregation did not violate the principle of equality as formulated in the Fourteenth Amendment as long as the segregated facilities offered equal opportunities— although one has to say here that comparisons between facilities were made very generously, that is, they exaggerated the quality of existing black facilities. By the end of the 1930s the judicial authorities were concerned that every black should have open to him or her the same education or training that was open to whites. At the end of the 1940s the requirement was that the education given should be of equal quality. In the first half of the 1950s the court ruled that all racial segregation was detrimental to the quality of opportunity. And in the 1960s and 1970s the court held that active integration was a precondition for true equality of opportunity. Although the courts long permitted state and local governments to pursue a policy of obstructing equality of opportunity, today state and local governments are required to actively establish such equality.
Yet propagating civil rights in the interests of improving equality of opportunity is not a matter that has remained confined to the courts. In the 1960s and 1970s Congress adopted an active role in civil rights policies. Although the courts initially made their decisions in opposition
to a conservative majority opinion— as indeed they still do today on school busing question— a swing in public opinion in favor of the liberal position was needed before Congress could take action.
The civil rights movement, which formed in the mid- to late-1950s, made its own contribution to this turnaround in public opinion (Wilson 1980; Dye 1971; Geschwender 1971; Chafe 1981). The first major move was a one-year boycott of a bus company in Montgomery, Alabama. Martin Luther King, Jr., began to make a name for himself as the movement's leader during this time. in the 1960s sit-ins, demonstration, protest marches, and boycott were instituted against public bodies practicing racial discrimination. In Birmingham, Alabama, in April 1963 police used force in repelling and dispersing demonstrations. On 28 August 1963, 250,000 blacks and white participated in the civil rights marched on Washington, D.C. In June 1964 three civil rights supporters in Neshoba County, Mississippi, were murdered. Under King's leadership protest marches were staged in Selma, Alabama, in the period from January to March 1965, some of which were violently broken up by the police. In the "long hot summers" of 1966 and 1967 violent demonstration and rioting spread through many cities in the United States. On 4 April 1968 King was shot in Memphis, Tennessee.
The civil rights movement incorporated black leaders of various groups, such as Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, Whitney Young of the Urban League, and Martin Luther King, Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. They banned together with the liberal and modernate white groups. A more militant position was adopted by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the black Panther party. Black leaders did not initiate the violent riots during the 1964–68 period, but these actions probably contributed to a general swing in white public opinion in favor of integration, even if the chief concern of many whites was simply to reestablish peace and order by making concessions.
Between 1963 and 1976 support for black integration among whites increased markedly. In 1963 approximately 60 percent were in favor of integrated schools. By 1970 the figure had risen to 75 percent, and in 1972 it was 85 percent. In 1976, however, support fell to 80 percent. The falloff in support between 1972 and 1976 is presumably attributable to the controversial busing system. In 1963 approximately 50 percent of whites said they would not opposed to having black as a friend, 65 percent expressed this opinion in 1970, 70 percent in 1972, and 72 percent in 1976. In 1963 roughly 45 percent of whites expressed their opposition to the exclusion of blacks from white neighborhood, 50 percent did so in 1970, 55 percent in 12972, and 60 percent in 1976. Thirty-five percent of whites to laws prohibiting intermarriage between
blacks and whites in 1963, 50 percent in 1970, 60 percent 1972, and 70 percent in 1976. The last support for integration was obtained in answer to the question of whether blacks should press forward into spheres in which their presence was not wanted. Approximately 25 percent opposed such moves in 1963, 18 percent in 1970, 23 percent in 1972, and 26 percent in 1976 (Taylor, Sheatsly, and Greeley 1978).
It was in the context set by the civil rights movement and the changes in white public opinion that Congress enacted civil rights legislation (Gunther and Dowling 1970; Abernathy 1980). In 1957 Congress passed a law prohibiting actions that prevented anyone from participating in a federal election. In 1960 the U.S Attorney General was empowered to post observers to investigate cases in which black were prevented from exercising their rights to vote. The crucial breakthrough came with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, brought before Congress on the initiative of President Lyndon B. Johnson. The Civil Rights Act Prevented the used of literacy test to keep blacks away from the polling booths, a common practice in the South. It prohibited any and all discrimination on the ground of race, skin color, religion, or national origin in restaurants, hotels, snacks bars, filling station, movie theaters, sports stadiums arenas, and lodging houses with more than five rooms. Furthermore, the act prohibited any discrimination on the grounds of race, skin color, religion, national origin, or sex in connection with the recruitment, dismissal, and remuneration of employess in organization employing more than twenty-five persons. The federal Attorney General was instructed to file complaints in order to step up the pace of school desegregation, but there was no order to establish a system of school busing to bring about an improved racial balanced. Federal financial aide was denied to any organization practicing discrimination.
In 1965 Congress electoral examiners, who were to seek our discriminatory practices—on all, whether federal, state, or local—wherever fewer than 50 percent of those entitled to vote were actually on the electoral register. In 1968 discrimination in the purchase or renting of apartments or house was forbidden in all cases in which real estate brokers conducted these transactions.
The civil rights legislation brought considerable results. Black participation in politics rose substantially. For example , although in the eleven Southern states only 30 percent of blacks who had right to were actually entered in the electoral register in 1960, this figure rose to 58 percent by 1971. Political representatives in the South had to take their black voters into account. In 1957 for instance, none of the Southern Democrats voted in favor of the new legislation on electoral rights. Yet when an electoral rights act of Congress came up for extension in 1970, it was approved by thirty-four out of the possible eighty-nine Southern
Democratic votes. There was a great increase in the number of black popular representatives. The total number of black in Congress or State legislatures rose from 182 to 316 between 1970 and 1978. In city and county positions in the increase was from 715 and 2,595, in judicial and sheriff's post from 213 to 454, and in school boards from 362 to 1,138 (Wilson 1980).
Affirmative actions programs gave black and members of other minorities an increasing amount of governmental support in winning entry to colleges, universities, and other positions in both public and private sectors (Abernathy 1980). This program however, generated controversy over the question of whether minorities should be given preferential treatment and compensated for the discrimination of past years by being given enchanced opportunities in general competition. The following types of programs for improving the opportunities available to disadvantaged minorities are covered under affirmative action:
1. Programs that make efforts to recruit qualified or qualifiable members of disadvantaged minorities for public service positions.
2. Training programs designed to improve the occupational qualifications of disadvantaged minorities.
3. Programs that monitor all tests to ensure their cultural neutrality.
4. Programs that monitor the qualification required for different occupations, to avoid the disadvantages that result from discriminatory qualification rules.
5. Programs that pay special attention to members of minorities who can show in employment applications that they have the same qualifications as other applicants who are not so disadvantaged.
In practice, the affirmative action program has frequently led to quotas being established a priori for certain minorities in determining admissions to colleges and universities and in recruitment for employment. It is a practice, however, that has met with increasing criticism and is not supported by public opinion. A Gallup opinion poll showed that 77 percent of whites are in favor of training programs to improve the opportunities available to blacks but that 82 percent reject preferential treatment for blacks of equal qualification when choosing candidates for promotion. In 1974, 96 percent of whites and 83 percent of blacks were against preferential treatment at the time of recruitment. In 1977, 83 percent of the respondents were opposed to preferential treatment for women and members of minority groups when granting entry to college or filling employment vacancies. A 1976 survey asked respondents whether they approved of the fact that some large organization were implementing affirmative action programs that sometimes gave members of disadvantages minorities preferential treatment. The results
showed that 51 percent disapproved and 35 percent approved of this policy, and among black respondents 58 percent approved and 24 percent disapproved (Lipset and Schneider 1977; Wilson 1980). These opinion survey results show quit clearly that although a large majority of Americans agree with programs to establish equality of opportunity, they strongly oppose giving the preferential treatment to disadvantaged minorities if this means violating the criterion of reward according to individual performance
Beyond basic minimum provisions for the sick, the weak, and the needy, Americans reject the notion that equality in the distribution of material goods irrespective of individual performance is desirable. However, most Americans believe that activist policy designed to bring about equality of opportunity is a fundamental task of society. The Supreme Court recognized this belief in its decisions in the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, handed down on 28 June 1978 (Shapiro and Hobbs 1978; Abernathy 1980; Sindler 1978). Allan Bakke, a thirty-eight-year-old engineer, applied for place at the University of California Medical School and Davis and was rejected. bakke then filed a complaint to the effect that the medical school's admissions procedure was unconstitutional and violated the principle of equality of opportunity as laid down in the Fourteenth Amendment. He argue that sixteen places at the school were reserved in advance for members of minorities, and that because of this some applicants had been accepted even though they were less qualified that Bakke. The California Supreme Court upheld Bakke's complaint and ordered that he admitted to study medicine at the University of California. The university then lodged an appeal. However, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the California court's judgement by a five-to-four majority.
The majority group, which included Justice Powell, Stevens, Rehnquist, Stewart, and Burger, regarded the medical school's procedures primarily as a violation of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and its stipulation that no one way be denied access to an institution receiving federal financial support if that denial is based on race, skin color, or national origin. Although Justice Powell reached the same verdict, he did so on the grounds that a explicit quota system was in contravention of the Fourteenth Amendment and its requirement that protection by the law of the land should be equal. Justice Powell noticed, however, that a candidate's race could, per se, be one of the criteria taken into consideration.
The minority group, comprising Justice Brennan, Blackmun, Marshall, and White, argued that a quota system intended to provide redress for previous discrimination was permissible under the Constitution and under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Supreme Court's split decision on the Bakke case conveys the line of demarcation of present-day civil rights
policy: although equality of opportunity should be actively brought to realization by way of training programs and special consideration should be given to previously disadvantaged groups in an effort to redress earlier discrimination, a perfect collective distribution of goods by establishing quotas is not desirable. Many regard such quota systems as reverse discrimination against persons who belong to groups that have been privileged in the past (Glazer 1975; Grass 1977). Discrimination should not be eliminated by reverse discrimination, for this too is in contravention of the Constitution.
The policy of establishing equality of opportunity has been so forcefully pursued in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s that it has continually run up against conservative opposition and, in the case of the quota system, has overshot the frame of reference of American fundamental convictions. Nevertheless, these developments have not been equaled in any other Western industrial nation and college and university admission figures for members of disadvantaged groups increased tremendously during this period. A similar trend is apparent in income levels. In 1950 blacks received wages and salaries that were only 50 percent of white salaries on average, whereas in 1973 these average earnings had increased to 73 percent of those of whites. Earnings comparisons among the female population show a still more remarkable development: black women received only 40 percent as much as their white counterparts in 1950 but 97 percent in 1975. The problem today is no longer one encompassing the black population as a whole, but primarily one of particular black groups, especially youths from broken families. The nature of the problem is illustrated by the fact that in 1977 black graduates from four-year college courses earned 94 percent of the salaries of their white counterparts but that in the same year the rate of black youth unemployment was 38 percent (Wilson 1980).
During the 1970s, the women's movement refocused national discussions of equality in the United States on the situation of women (Kraditor 1965; Flexner 1968; Stazs 1978; Theodore 1971; Treiman and Hartmann 1981; McGlen and O'Connor 1983). No other industrial country has such an active, far-reaching, and historically rooted women's movement. Although elsewhere the women's movement has remained largely confined to intellectual strata, the American movement embraces far broader strata and groups of women, including housewives.
The American woman—the housewife in particular—is much more involved in public life than her European counterpart. This is an immediate result of the private and public spheres being less sharply delineated. The fact that it was not until 1920 that women received the right to vote, through the Nineteenth Amendment, is the exception rather than the rule in the comparison between women's involvement in public life in
Europe and the United States. By the mid-1970s the women's movement had made its cause the chief focus of attention in equal opportunity policy and had also managed to achieve a number of successes in the wake of the affirmative action program. A European immediately notices how American women occupy career positions that in Europe are still a man's domain in a way that is still taken much for granted. The proportion of women in academic, industrial, and public posts is much higher than it is in European industrial countries.
In this chapter I began with an outline of how the idea of equal opportunity became the dominant definition of equality in American society. This definition is rooted in the relative equality of the people who built the Northern colonies. However, the idea of equal opportunity was counteracted in the Southern colonies where the idea of the natural inequality between free people and slaves dominated.
This cultural conflict eventually resulted in the victory of the Northern idea of equal opportunity, but that idea was then interpreted in both liberal and conservative ways: the liberal way called for political programs to counteract tendencies toward unequal opportunity, the conservative way opposed such programs. The development of actual equality and inequality in society has been shaped by the effects of this ongoing discourse and by economic, political, and associational processes in society itself. Many processes work unintentionally toward increasing inequality: the traditional racial, ethnic, religious, national, and class-based separation of neighborhood communities, the accumulation of unequal rewards for unequal economic achievement, the accumulation of political power in the hands of racial, religious, national, and class-based groups, and the hierarchical differentiation of the cultures of these various groups, with the "WASP" culture in the dominant position. Additionally, there are the intentional activities of the better-off groups to maintain their position by establishing associational, political, economic, and cultural barriers against up-coming groups.
However, these tendencies toward increasing inequality are militated against by other tendencies toward greater equality of opportunity. Economic abundance, opportunities for political participation for aspiring political movements like the civil rights movement, the development of a growing middle class, mass consumption, and open communication work unintentionally toward greater equality. These tendencies are accompanied by intentional activities that aim at realizing greater equality of opportunity, namely, programs that increase the chances for disadvantaged groups to achieve in economic, political, associational, and cultural
terms. Affirmative action is designed to produce such effects. the idea of equal opportunity itself exerts pressures to move society toward greater equality of opportunity. This process takes place particularly in court decision making on civil rights.
We can say that United States society, more than any other, is subject to the permanent tension of processes that work against one another. Although some processes move society toward increasing inequality, countervailing processes move society toward greater equality. In certain aspects, both inequality and equality are growing at the same time.
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