Home Language & Literature Families, Status and Dynasties: 1600-2000
At One Bound to the Highest Rank
In the twentieth century the best way to guarantee upward mobility to the highest rank of professionals was to obtain a qualification certificate, which at once guaranteed that this move would be permanent. However, a new avenue also opened up for lower-ranking people, a shortcut to the pinnacle of power comparable to the way that actors, actresses, singers and musicians rocketed to stardom in the nineteenth century. This opportunity was afforded by the parliamentary reform put in place in all European countries studied in this book and in the United States. The stepwise enlargement of the electorate finally led to universal suffrage and eligibility, which in Finland took effect in 1906 and made women eligible as well. At the time Finland had the most democratic electoral system in the world. What made this reform so special was not only that the whole adult population were given the vote, but the fact that they could also run in parliamentary elections. This radically changed the composition of those in power. Masses of tenants, crofters, farmhands, craftsmen and workers took advantage and voted for the Social Democratic Party, which was founded in 1899, or alternatively the small Christian Labour Party. As a result, 80 Social Democrats and two representatives of the Christian Labour Party were returned to Parliament in the first elections in 1907, accounting for 41 per cent of all MPs. The other important outcome was that 19 of the 200 MPs were women, another world record at the time.
The MPs of the two labour parties (Suomen kansanedustajat 1907-1982, 1982) came from rather similar family backgrounds that were typical of the Palmlof, Strand and Perttula families at the turn of the twentieth century. Almost half or 44 per cent of the MPs’ fathers were tenants, crofters or farmhands, 15 per cent were workers and 9 per cent craftsmen. Altogether, these groups accounted for 68 per cent of the MPs of these two parties. The proportion of farmers (13 per cent) was also quite high, providing further evidence that they were part of the social segment of landless tenants, crofters and farmhands. The farmer-fathers were most probably smallholders. Their sons did not, however, embark on farming, but chose to engage in other occupations. But we must look at these lower-ranking MPs for a longer time period. Originally, one-fifth (21 per cent) of the Social Democrats and representatives of the Christian Labour Party were tenants, crofters or farmhands; 39 per cent were workers; and 15 per cent were craftsmen—altogether 75 per cent.
However, the percentages above do not paint the full picture in that many Social Democrats had in fact started on an upward path some time before the elections. Of the MPs who were originally tenants, crofters, farmhands, workers or craftsmen, less than half remained in this position. The Social Democratic Party offered various job opportunities for party activists—journalistic, clerical and agitator work, which implied promotion to the working-class elite, a new layer that the growth of class consciousness had produced. At the time of the 1907 elections, around half of the Social Democrats, including the two representatives of the Christian Labour Party, who were originally tenants, crofter, farmhands, workers or craftsmen, were now employed as journalists, district secretaries or other clerical personnel, or they moved to work in small business. Six per cent of the left-wing MPs were originally journalists, but if we also include those who entered the journalistic profession around the time of the first elections, the figure is as high as 18 per cent. Journalism was in effect a branch of politics; in the United States this was the case as early as the nineteenth century (McKinney 2011, 10). Elementary school teachers were less important in this respect, but even they accounted for 10 per cent of the Social Democratic MPs.
Alongside the former workers, tenants, crofters and farmhands there were 9 noblemen, 12 professors—some of them noblemen—and 9 clerics, plus one archbishop who had also been a professor. Altogether, these MPs from the old uppermost echelons numbered 29, a much smaller group than the MPs who were originally tenants, crofters or farmhands (61), but even so quite a sizeable group compared with the total number of nobles, professors and clerics at the time. Many of the MPs were civil servants at the highest level. Moreover, some professors were second-generation professors, like some of the clerics who came from clerical families. All in all, 18 MPs were clergymen’s sons, another indication that the priesthood provided a good springboard for social rise. It is evident from the nobility’s strong presence in Parliament that those who had long enjoyed a high standing in society took full advantage of this inheritance, at least in the early twentieth century. The divide between the higher and lower echelons in Parliament was thus not only political but also deeply social. One nobleman was a Social Democrat; none of them were professors or clerics. A noteworthy question, then, is this: did the recent high-ups in Parliament gain the same kind of prestige as those whose prestige stemmed from the distant past?
Based on the findings in this book, I would suggest that a four-year term in Parliament was not enough to upgrade the status of MPs of humble origin to such a degree that they would have been on a par with noble, professor and clerical MPs, many of whom were not parvenus but came from old high-status families. In this light it seems sound to conclude that more than one term in Parliament, and preferably membership of the Senate, was needed before politicians without a high-ranking family background could rise to the same level of prestige as their colleagues from old better-off families. A good example of this kind of propensity is provided by American political dynasties. In their cases, prestige accumulated in successive generations of politicians—congressmen, senators and presidents—even though the founders of these dynasties came from farmer, carpenter, yeoman, minister and merchant families, some of them admittedly wealthy landowners or merchants (Hess 1997). As Hess (1997, 1) observes, the American Constitution decrees that ‘no title of nobility shall be granted by the United States’, yet the American people, despite official disapproval, have chosen a political nobility. There have been some 700 families in the country in which two or more members have served in Congress, and they account for nearly 1700 of the 10,000 men and women who have been elected to the federal legislature since 1774. The Harrisons had the longest unbroken line of politicians in American history, including two presidents and several senators and congressmen, in ten generations over a period of 320 years (Hess 1997, 217-38). Furthermore, the Americans referred to the Roosevelts as ‘the Royal Family’ (Hess 1997, 170). Dynasticity simply conferred some extra aura on politicians, but sometimes a shorter duration of dynasticity was sufficient to create a presidential royal family, as in the case of the Kennedys. The family was to become celebrated as never before, the focus of unparalleled public interest (Goodwin 1988, 866). In the same way, Bradford (2013, 223) glowingly depicts Jack Kennedy’s inauguration: ‘It was as if the act of Inauguration had given him a real sense of the Presidency, of being elected head of the most powerful country in the world, much as the coronation of a king or a queen endows an ordinary human being with an almost mystical sense of the qualities of kingship.’ It was in this way that King Louis XIV (r. 1643-1715) reflected on his own coronation a long time ago (Burke 2009). And as Bradford’s (2013) book on Jacqueline Kennedy says, she was ‘America’s Queen’.
However, as has happened to so many dynasties, the heyday of American political dynasties eventually came to an end. Their contemporary heirs no longer have that same electricity about them. The trajectory of a dynasty rarely extends beyond five to six generations. Hess (1997, 215) remarks that the Roosevelt dynasty bears some hallmarks of a political variant of ‘shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations’. The early Roosevelts were intelligent without genius and educated without erudition, but suddenly, unexpectedly, the dynasty produced the two most personally exciting figures in the history of American politics. The next generation suffered from ‘the Famous Father Complex’: they lived in the long shadows cast by their presidential sires. Yet President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s sons are not losers, but higher civil servants. In the Parliament of Finland there have been no comparable dynasties. There have been some married MP couples and fathers and mothers whose sons or daughters were elected to Parliament, but seldom in three successive generations. One exception is Dr. Erkki Tuomioja from the Social Democratic Party. MP Erkki Tuomioja’s father, Sakari Tuomioja, was Prime Minister; his paternal grandfather, Walto Tuomioja, was an MP; and his maternal grandfather, Sulo Wuolijoki, was an MP, as was his maternal grandmother, Hella Wuolijoki. The time span here covers more than a century, from 1907 to the present.
The composition of Parliament today is very different from what it was in 1907. The most recent elections were held in 2015 (Luettelo vaa- likauden 2015-2019 kansanedustajista), when one nobleman and one professor were returned to Parliament. The number of clerics was three, including a bishop who withdrew from this post before the elections. In other words, the ensemble of old high-ranking people has decreased from 29 to a mere 5. At the opposite end of the social scale, the proportion of workers, including technicians, mechanics and assistant nurses, is a mere 7.5 per cent; only three of them are Social Democrats, quite a dramatic fall from 61 in 1907. Most workers now represent the populist Finns Party. The most populous group in Parliament are learned professionals, MPs who have a university degree (55 per cent), while 17.5 per cent have a BA-level degree. In addition, many have started their university studies but not completed them. Learnedness has also found favour among farmers, who used to have no vocational training. Moreover, there are five top-class sportsmen and sportswomen in Parliament. With just one exception, they have an MA-level degree. All these figures attest to the final breakthrough and triumph of professionalism: a certificate of a university degree now serves as a principal gateway to higher statuses, at least if viewed from the top of the social pyramid.
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