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date: 23 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Early modern conceptions of social order developed from a rich tradition of classical philosophy and medieval Christian thinking. This chapter begins with an overview of the core concepts of social order. Particularly prominent was the model of a tripartite society, divided into three orders or estates—the nobility, the clergy, and the ‘third estate’. Early modern society was by no means static, however. Even though there were clear borders between these three estates, social mobility within and between them was considerable. It was in Western Europe where the concept of a society of orders eroded first and new social classifications such as the middle classes or the bourgeoisie emerged towards the end of the eighteenth century. By then for many people the religious justification of social hierarchies had lost its plausibility and power, giving way to new ideas about social equality based on individual natural rights.

Keywords: Tripartite society, estates, nobility, clergy, third estate, equality, bourgeoisie, middle class

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