Social Stratification and the New Conformism
Social critics and dissidents in the United States and elsewhere are peren-
nially ba√led by the pervasiveness and tenacity of social consent—not only
the acquiescence of ordinary people in an unequal social and economic
system but their positive support of and contribution to the maintenance
and extension of that system. Why do so many people readily accept and
even further a system that seems so unjust to many of us, and so unfair to
the very people who support it? The answer is di≈cult, for the factors
contributing to consent are complex. There is no one thing that explains
conformity. People acquiesce in a current system—whatever it might be:
feudal, capitalist, socialist, democratic, authoritarian, or whatever—due to
a broad range of forces, beliefs, desires. Some of these are blatant; some
are subtle, but mutually reinforcing and with great cumulative e√ect. Clas-
sical political science, especially historical materialism, has isolated many
of these factors. Still, the prevalence of conformity remains troublesome—
practically as well as intellectually.
Indeed, the problem is perhaps more pressing now than ever, for after
the great upheavals of the 1960s, the United States has not witnessed
a further expansion of robust individual liberty and collective equality.
Rather, here and throughout much of the world, there has been an appar-
ent retreat into forms of economic thought reminiscent of the period be-
fore the Great Depression and forms of social practice that many believed
were left behind in the 1950s.
Of course, the most obvious response to the puzzle of social consent is
simply to reverse the question: Why should people revolt? Life is good.