Status and Privilege
Success depends on who you know more than what you know. When a society is described as traditional, social status and mobility are strictly linked to the status of your family and your mate. "Traditional" means the groups within the society are well defined and the boundaries that separate groups of different social status are well defended. Social privileges are linked to economic privileges so that wealth is distributed in traditional societies according to social status. Communities of humans divide themselves into classes with rules about who interacts with whom. Behavior protocols are well defined in terms of etiquette, privileges and duties.
Racial segregation and discrimination in the United State and South Africa have been well studied examples of racial boundaries and white oppression of blacks, but everywhere on planet earth there are small groups of privileged humans who maintain oppressive authority over everyone else. An obvious racial or ethnic boundary is not required. The worst expressions of high status individuals oppressing low status individuals occurs within relatively homogeneous groups of the same-race, same ethnicity and same religion
An ideal of free states is to recognize the merit and ability of individuals and allow social mobility based on learning and achievement. Racial and ethnic boundaries, at least in the ideal model, are undesirable and are suppressed by social policy, law and the good will of citizens. American (self-made) heroes such as astronaut and Senator, John Glenn, advised young Americans that they can achieve anything they want; that intelligence, courage and determination can overcome all obstacles. While this is the aspiration of an egalitarian society, the reality is somewhat different.
The growth of a middle class of "self-made" men and women has shaped free societies and a large, thriving and proactive middle class is essential for the survival of democracies. While there is an undeniable ethos of individual freedom in the best countries, human nature does not change. Group rules and boundaries remain in place. Instead of a rather simple traditional society with three class groups, we now have elaborately stratified societies with hierarchies built inside of hierarchies. The society is partitioned horizontally and vertically to keep incompatible groups separate.
The freedom to start poor and gain great wealth and social status has existed in Canada and the United States and many notable individuals have been self-made men and women. The paths to higher social status, however, are few in number and are blocked by a succession of obstacles. Even if you are one of the unusual individuals who rise to the top, humble origins return to haunt you and the wealthy folks who belong to the old establishment will speak disdainfully of the gauche tendencies of the "newly rich." Political schemes to redistribute wealth and power mitigate the extreme social consequences of concentrating wealth, power and privilege, but true equality is a fantasy.