In the Great Chain of Being, one’s place in the hierarchy is set, fixed, immovable. Any deviation, it was believed, would go against the Creator’s plan. These convictions and rationale were widely held to, especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and extended also to degrees of difference (supposedly) in humans.
For example, the king, divinely ordained, depended on the unquestioned loyalty and devotion, as the hierarchy demanded, of his lords for allegiance and military strength. The lords of the manor depended on the same from those who enabled them to remain lords—their servants and serfs. No advance beyond one’s designated and predetermined place in the Chain was tolerated or imagined. Going “outside” one’s place was nothing short of blasphemy, an attempt to oppose the divine Order of all.
The GCB has persisted in various forms, even though diluted, to the present. Based on vestiges of the Chain, pernicious in our history has been discrimination against Native Americans, African Americans, women, and many other groups. Granted, the American anti-GCB credo is strong—anyone can “make it” in the United States, whatever their origins and backgrounds. And an immense number of stellar individuals have disproved their “prescribed” place in every field. Nevertheless, many people, influenced by others, hold to today’s various versions of the GCB.
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