class cleavagethe class-based conflict in Western democracies between competing left- and right-wing political parties. As expressed by Lipset (Political Parties, 1960), in ‘every modern democracy conflict among different groups is expressed through political parties which basically represent a “democratic expression of the class struggle”’. For Lipset, such forms of‘legitimate’ and ‘domesticated’ class conflict, which replace earlier more socially disruptive forms, are a necessary requirement for a ‘stable liberal democracy’. Modern stable democracies involve cleavage within CONSENSUS, the existence of a basic agreement on the political ‘rules of the game’, and arise from the gradual entry of the lower classes into the political system. See also END-OF-IDEOLOGY THESIS. Lipset's characterization of class cleavage has come under attack from two directions:
- from those who do not accept that the elimination of more ‘traditional’ forms of class conflict is an inevitable secular tendency in modern Western societies;
- those who argue that a more fundamental CLASS DEALIGNMENT is occurring, leading to the replacement of class as the main basis of political cleavage (see WORKING-CLASS CONSERVATISM) by individualistic bases of identification (e.g. individual choice of LIFESTYLE).
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000