In political behaviour, religion has played the role of a barrier against the lower social classes, at such a degree that in most democracies, the vertical cleavages (ethnicity, religion, language, race) have been stronger than the horizontal cleavage (income, education, professional status). Social changes in the last few decades have generated a decline of the social class as well as of the religious factor in the interpretation of political alignments. The concept of status incongruence appears to be a better explanation of contemporary social attitudes and political behaviour. Status imbalances are frequent in advanced pluralist societies, and rare in traditional societies of the Third World. For this reason, this analysis focuses on Western countries. Key words: social status, working class, decline of religious beliefs, status inconsistency, status crystallization, criss-crossing cleavages, downward mobility, individualization.
The thesis of a ruling class in France, today or yesterday, is not validated by the empirical evidence. The arguments against such a thesis are the following: the overwhelming proportion of elite positions are not transmitted hereditarily; the elite circulation at the highest level is considerable; the professionalization of political careers, which is widespread, is incompatible with the concept of a ruling class; the recruitment of elites is marked by a shift from notables to a meritocracy; the elite configuration consists in multiple spheres and sector partitioning; the selective schools, based on academic competition, generate new elites at each generation; there is fault line between capitalists and the other elite categories; the number of entrepreneurs who have built themselves their company is enormous; the isolation of the cultural elite is astonishing; the subordination of the military elites is an historical fact; the periodical beheading of the ruling elites marks French history. Nonetheless, at the apex of power, a triad, composed of outstanding polictical leaders, of corporate managers and of highers State administrators — called "mandarins" — operates the wheelwork of the heterogeneous and complex French society and State
At At the end of May 1968 France has found herself on the brink of a civil war. The role of key characters is observed as in a Greek tragedy. The crisis started in a flamable social contexteture – a significant part of the population have been persistently manifesting deep mistrust of the rulers, the same faces again and again without responding to the aspirations of many social categories. A survey conducted immediately after the crisis by the author gives the voice to the silent majority and shows what could have been the behavoir of the masses in the eventuality of a popular uprising or of a military intervention. The recourse to elections has mobilized passive masses and appears retrospectively as the miraculous solution to avoid a civil war by hushing the active minorities.
The deficit of confidence is attested by a wealth of empirical data. The analysis deals with some nine institutions, political parties, discredit of politicians, the tandem of judges and journalists in denouncing the wrongdoings, the decreasing mistrust between nations as a compensatory trend of mistrust within nations. The countries are ranked according to the level of mistrust, which permeates all social strata. Corruption is an ubiquitous phenomenon in Europe, with few exceptions. Two illustrative emblematic cases are compared; Britain and Italy. In spite of the widespread feeling of mistrust, the legitimacy of democracy remains unchallenged. What types of citizens are needed in advanced democracies? Ignorant, credulous, believers in myths or well informed rationally distrustful citizens? Today democracy is permanently under the supervision of the public, as attested by surveys conducted periodically.
Definitions of several concepts: ruling class, elite configuration, apex of power, elite interlock, functional elites, elite cousinhood. In the field of elites one notices a preponderance of contemporary American theories which are not all adequate for understanding elites stratification and roles in other parts of the world. A series of binary comparisons between France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Japan, underlines differences and similarities.
There is no filiation between the agnosticism of intellectual elites in previous centuries and today's decline of religious beliefs in the populace. The analysis is based on several international mass surveys concerning twenty European countries between 1980 and 2000. Religious beliefs are considered as observable social facts. Seven tables bring empirical evidence. The analysis of survey research are preceded by a review of the current sociological literature, particularly in France, on the "crisis of Catholicism", "dechristianisation", "paganisation", "apostasy", and of the papal encyclics and Episcopal declarations.