Local power and the social order


usa capitalism money class

But very few of my classmates really belonged to the area’s elite. It wasn’t a city of international oligarchs, but one dominated by its wealthy, largely agricultural property-owning class. They mostly owned, and still own, fruit companies: apples, cherries, peaches, and now hops and wine-grapes. The other large-scale industries in the region, particularly commercial construction, revolve at a fundamental level around agriculture: They pave the roads on which fruits and vegetables are transported to transshipment points, build the warehouses where the produce is stored, and so on.

Gentry classes are a common feature of a great many social-economic-political regimes throughout history. Pretty much anywhere you have a hierarchical form of social organization and property ownership, a gentry class of some kind emerges: the local civic elites of the Roman Empire, the landlords of later Han China, the numerous lower nobility of late medieval France, the thegns of Anglo-Saxon England, the Prussian Junkers, or the planter class of the antebellum South. The gentry are generally distinct from the highest levels of a regime’s political and economic elite: They’re usually not resident in the political center, they don’t hold major positions in the central administration of the state (whatever that might consist of) and aren’t counted among the wealthiest people in their polity. New national or imperial elites might emerge over time from a gentry class, even rulers - the boundaries between these groups can be more or less porous - but that’s not usually the case.

American Genry, Patrick Wyman in Perspectives: Past, Present, and Future