Lady Montdore’s Principle (Ernest Gellner)

I ‘The Social Roots of Egalitarianism’ försvarar Gellner tesen att det moderna samhället är egalitärt i seder och bruk på grund av sin sociala rörlighet, snarare än rörligt på grund av sin jämlikhet.  Denna tes har två komponenter. Dels finns det oberoende skäl som tydligt förklarar fenomenet rörlighet: det moderna samhällets ekonomiska system bygger på teknisk innovation; föränderligheten i detta system är inte en tillfällighet eller övergående faktum, utan är dess mest påtagliga egenskap. Dels finns det goda sociologiska förklaringar av varför ett socialt rörligt samhälle måste utvecklas i egalitär riktning.

En delförklaring är följande mekanism, formulerad på Gellners karakteristiska och underhållande sätt:

The instability of the economic roles is built into the system, and is self-generated. A corollary of this inherent and inescapable occupational mobility is what I wish to call Lady Montdore’s Principle. Lady Montdore is a character in some of the novels of Nancy Mitford, and she expressed and applied a certain principle of behaviour, which ran as follows: Always be polite to the girls, for you do not know whom they will marry.

Within her social circle, the young marriageable girls formed a fairly undifferentiated pool of potential brides, and some of them — but there was no safe way of telling in advance which ones — would eventually marry men of position, importance and wealth. It was obviously impolite and unwise to offend and antagonise those particular girls who were going to end up as wives of men of importance. But — there’s the rub — there was no way of identifying this sub-class in advance. Were it possible, obviously one could and would adjust one’s behaviour to any individual girl in accordance with whether she was a member of this important sub-class, or whether she fell into the residue. But it was not possible; and this being so, the only sensible policy, which Lady Montdore duly adopted, was to be polite to them all.

In an occupationally very mobile society, it is not merely the pool of upper-class brides, but virtually the whole population which benefits from Lady Montdore’s Principle.

I mina ögon ligger det mycket i detta resonemang. Gellner gör även det viktiga påpekandet att i de fall då denna, så att säga, ”egalitetsframkallande okunskap” inte föreligger angående en viss sub-grupp i samhället, så innebär det ett djupgående socialt problem.

There is one supremely important exception [. . .]. Members of underpriviliged sub-groups which are easily identifiable — by pigmentational, deeply engrained cultural, or other near-indelible traits — actually suffer additional disadvantages in this situation. The statistical improbability of social ascension which attaches to such a group as a whole is more or less forcibly applied, by a kind of social anticipation, even to individuals who would otherwise rise to more attractive positions. The bitterness of ’racial’ tensions in otherwise mobile societies is of course connected with this.

Ernest Gellner, ‘The Social Roots of Egalitarianism’, i Culture, Identity, and Politics, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), s. 93–94.

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