For over 300 years, one of the most enduring beliefs among historians of England has been that the character of English society has been shaped by the unique openness of its ruling elite to entry by self-made entrepreneurs able to buy their way into the ranks of elite society. This upward mobility , historians have argued, allowed England to escape the clash between those with social/political power and those with economic power, a conflict that beset the rest of Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Upward mobility was also used to explain England’s exceptional stability since the late seventeenth century , as well as such major events as the development of the most efficient agricultural system in Europe, the making of the first industrial revolution, and the onset of severe economic decline.
But is the thesis true? Recent work on the supposed consequences of an open elite has already produced some doubts. Little credence, for example, is now accorded the idea that England’s late nineteenth-century economic decline resulted from absentee business owners too distracted by the demands of elite life to manage their firms properly. But, although the importance of an open elite to other major events has been severely questioned, it is only with a new work by Lawrence and Jeanne Stone that the openness itself has been confronted. Eschewing the tack of tracing the careers of successful entrepreneurs to gauge the openness of the elite, the Stones chose the alternative approach of analyzing the elite itself, and proceeded via the ingenious route of investigating country-house ownership.
Arguing that ownership of a country house was seen as essential for membership in the ruling elite, the Stones analyze the nature of country-house ownership in three counties for the period 1540-1880. Their critical findings are provocative: there was strikingly little change in the ownership of such houses throughout the period. Instead, even in the face of a demographic crisis , the old elite was able to maintain itself, and its estates, intact for centuries through recourse to various marriage and inheritance strategies. The popular picture of venerable elite families overcome by debt and selling out to merchants is simply not borne out by the Stones’ findings. Rather, the opportunities for entrepreneurs to buy their way into the elite, the Stones show, were extremely limited. If further studies of country-house ownership attest to the representativeness and accuracy of their data, then the Stones’ conclusion that the open elite thesis cannot be maintained may, indeed, prove true.
Question: According to the passage, one of the traditional explanations of England’s late nineteenth-century economic decline has been that it resulted from the
- tendency of the ruling elite to pursue conservative rather than innovative economic policies
- failure of business entrepreneurs to reduce the power of the ruling elite in English society
- investment of large amounts of capital in the purchase and maintenance of country houses
- tendency of business owners to attempt to retain control of their firms within their families
- failure of leading business entrepreneurs to pay close attention to their firms
Question: The author suggests that which of the following was true of most European elites during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries?
- The ranks of these elites were generally closed to most business entrepreneurs.
- The elites generally dominated industrial development.
- Status within these elites was generally determined by the amount of land owned.
- These elites generally were able to maintain their power unchallenged.
- The power of these elites generally forestalled the development of a large class of self-made entrepreneurs.
Question: Traditional historians of England, as they are described in the passage, would be most likely to agree with which of the following statements regarding open elites?
- They develop more easily in agricultural rather than industrial societies.
- They develop in response to particular sets of economic conditions.
- They tend to unite some of the powerful groups in a society.
- They tend to reduce class distinctions based on income in a society.
- They tend to insure adequate distribution of material goods in a society.
Question: The tone of the passage suggests that the author regards the Stones’ methodological approach as
Question: Which of the following best states the main idea of the passage?
- Assumptions about the nature of England’s ruling elite can no longer be used with certitude to explain many major economic developments.
- The concept of the open elite is of paramount importance in explaining major English political, social, and economic events.
- The long-standing belief that England possessed a remarkably open ruling elite has recently been subjected to important and potentially lethal criticism.
- Although many possibilities are available, the most reliable means of testing the truth of the ‘open elite’ hypothesis is to analyze changes in the composition of the elite.
- An analysis of English country-house ownership in England indicates that there were few opportunities for merchants to buy the estates of old members of the landed elite.
Question: Which of the following can be inferred from the Stones’ findings about English country-house ownership in the three counties during the period 1540-1880?
- Little change in the number or size of English country houses occurred during this period.
- Wealthy business owners constituted a growing percentage of English country-house owners during this period.
- Most of the families that owned country houses at the beginning of this period continued to own them at the end.
- The most significant changes in English country-house ownership occurred during the second half of this period.
- Self-made entrepreneurs were able to enter the ranks of the English country-house owners during this period only through marriage.
Question: The primary purpose of the passage is to
- resolve a debate between two schools of thought.
- Present research that questions an established view.
- Describe and criticize a new approach.
- Defend a traditional interpretation against recent criticisms.
- Analyze possible approaches to resolving a long-standing controversy.
Question: The Stones suggest that major problems facing the English elite during the period 1540-1880 included which of the following?
- I. A reduction in the number of their offspring
- II. An increase in the amount of their indebtedness
- III. A decline in their political and social power
- I only
- III only
Question: The author suggests that the Stones’ conclusions about the openness of the English elite would be strengthened by future studies that
- pay more attention to other recent historical works
- include more data on factors other than country-house ownership
- concentrate more on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
- expand the area of research to include more counties
- focus more on successful business entrepreneurs
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