MacIver defines: 8

Caste as unchangeable status: -- The feudal order approximated to a caste system. When status is wholly predetermined, so that men are born to their lot in life without hope of changing it, then class takes the extreme form of caste. This is the situation in Hindu society. 'Every Hindu necessarily belongs to the caste of his parents, and in that caste he inevitably remains. No accumulation of wealth and no exercise of talents can alter his caste status; and marriage outside his caste is prohibited or severely discouraged.' Caste is a complete barrier to the mobility of class.

North 9 concludes that the term caste applies to classes that have become fixed, and that all classes tend to become castes. Castes are different from classes, says Young, 10 because they are less flexible. Sutherland and Woodward state that a caste society is one in which the social classes stay in their places. The distinctions of these writer become truly complicated, however, when they say: "Under the Czarist regime, the serfs of Russia were a social caste. Under the Soviets, the proletariat became a ruling class . . . . " 11

Wherever one turns, one finds writers of note saying the same thing. This may be because caste is so easily understood by Occidentals in these social status terms, but seems complicated when thoroughly investigated and properly qualified. The usual statement of those who identify caste with hereditary status reads, as a rule, something like this: 12

A class always enjoys certain privileges, at least advantages. When it is more or less rigorously closed, or enjoys hereditary privileges, it is called a caste. The classes are open . . .

Ferre, a thorough student of modern social class, states: "La caste est fermée, la classe est ouverte . . . "13 Dawson and Gettys, following the same tack, say: "When class lines become rigidly stratified, then we have a caste. As in the case of slavery, appropriate sentiments and attitudes have evolved in the caste system to give it fixity." 14

From the foregoing list of categorical definitions one might conclude that there is sufficient uniformity of opinion among sociologists so that further discussion would be useless, quite apart from the origin of the word caste and apart from the meaning which it has to the scholars who have spent their careers studying the Hindu caste system. But there is another group of writers to whom the word caste means something quite different.

Caste used to mean hereditary function. The following definitions of caste, referring to it as a system of hereditary occupations, sometimes refer to what is taking place in India; frequently no attempt is made to connect the two.

Sorokin quotes and affirms the view that "castes are social aggregates which have the privilege of monopolizing hereditarily the performance of a definite occupation." 15

Cooley, who, as one quickly realizes when reading Page's digest of the class ideas of the Fathers, probed more deeply into the psychological aspects of class realities than did any of his contemporaries, accepts the hereditary function theory of caste (a form of usage much more common outside of India than in it) and also falls into the unhappy habit of using the words caste and class interchangeably in this connection. He holds that: 16

If the transmission of function from father to son has become established, a caste spirit, a sentiment in favor of such transmission and opposed to the passage from one class to another, may arise and be shared even by the unprivileged classes. The individual then thinks of himself and his family as identified with his caste . . .

The strict occupational regulations of Diocletian and his successors have frequently been referred to as binding the people into rigid castes. 17 Maine is quoted by Sumner and Keller as saying that whatever the origin, "caste is merely a name for a trade or occupation." 18 Sorokin states explicitly: 19

We used to think that in the United States "social mobility" was greatest and that a caste tendency and conforming hereditary transmission of occupation from father to children was lowest in comparison with other societies.

Caste has been used to mean class, hereditary or rigid status, and hereditary occupation, but the end is not yet.

Next Page


8. R.N. MacIver, Society: A textbook of Sociology (New York 1937) p. 171. 9. North, op. cit., p. 26.
10. Young, op. cit., p. 477.
11. R. L. Sutherland and J.L. Woodward, Introductory Sociology (Chicago, 1937) p. 366.
12. E. Goblot, "Les classes de la societé," in the Revue d'Economie Politique, vol. XIII (Paris, 1899) p. 37; translation ours.
13. Louise Marie Ferré, Les classes sociales dans la France contemporaine (Paris, 1932) p. 36.
14 Carl A. Dawson and Werner E. Gettys, An Introduction to Sociology (New York, 1929) p. 546.
15. (?)
16. Charles Horton Cooley, Social Organization (New York, 1909) p. 215.
17. See, for example, Sorokin, op. cit., p. 149. 18. William Graham Sumner and Albert Galloway Keller, The Science of Society, vol. 1 (New Haven, 1927) p. 566.
19. Pitirim Sorokin, "American Millionaires and Multimillionaires," in the Journal of Social Forces, vol. III (May, 1925) p. 635.