There has always been an aristocracy, and there always will be, using different names with the same meaning, gentility, high society, upper class, patricians, ruling class, nobility or the elite. Thomas Jefferson, ironically a leading member of the Virginia landed gentry, dreamed of an America with no aristocracy, a land solely of personal merit. His writings (one being the Declaration of Independence) had such power that the concept became a fundamental part of our American political identity. Today we use the phrase “class warfare”, a direct descendant of Thomas Jefferson’s writings. Our success as a species is due to our enormous variation and adaptability, this alone will produce hierarchy, some will succeed more than others, add in our human flaws, and some will prey on others, creating more stratification. As hunter/gathers we had tribal chieftains and shamans that claimed extra for themselves. Today’s societies are not different in any fundamental manner, with the elite demanding extra for themselves.
A founding principle of American is that aristocracy causes more harm than good. The success of representative government over monarchical government has proven the proposition correct. Unfortunately, our representative government has been captured by an American aristocracy, the elite, the 1%, there is less merit in our meritocracy, there is less social mobility, and with the staggering debt of recent college graduates, we now have and indentured class.
What is aristocracy and does it have any societal benefit? The five pillars of aristocracy are birth, wealth, beauty, genius, and virtue; the first two often over power the last two, with a high birth the last two are not needed. This question and these pillars were written about by the theorist of the “enlightenment” and argued by Jefferson, Adams and Washington. Some things never change and the questions are still relevant. Originally discussed in a renaissance society governed by nobility, I would like to discuss the question in today’s society.
Beauty may be the easiest to discuss, and I will start here. This would be entertainers, actors, musicians, athletes and artist. They create beauty, or for some actors, they are beauties, to rise into the elite they must attract fans and continuously create. These elite also have a unique genius they can share with the masses. Their children often get a gift of birth and start with an advantage, but, they must eventually succeed on their own. The elite of this category cannot establish dynasties; each generation has new opportunities available to all.
Elite built on genius and/or virtue also benefits society as well as themselves. These are the people that advanced science, mathematics and engineering, giving us the products we “can’t live without”, expanded food production, developed medicine that saved a million lives, or the leader that sacrifices to help many.
Those who are elite due to birth and wealth diminish society. Someone rich with no beauty, genius or virtue will shove out the middle class youth with superior abilities. These rich will freeload through the best college, pushing out the gifted middle class youth. The rich without virtue will use their power and money for selfish benefit, corrupt government to their advantage, and persecute the less powerful for petty reasons. The creation of dynasties only benefits the dynasty, if many must suffer to benefit the dynasty, so be it.
The aristocracy of the middle ages had the self justification of being appointed by a deity, the Holy Roman Emperor, who ruled what is roughly today’s Germany, was directly appointed by God, the Word delivered by the Roman Catholic Pope. Our current American elite have decided to promote themselves, today’s aristocracy is not proclaimed by God, they are Gods. They have claimed a Demigod title, Job Creator, a mythical, omnipotent being with the powers of magical creation. The modern priesthood is the political class, delivering the Word unto the masses.
Three of the five pillars are good and productive; two are wasteful and impede the betterment of society. Aristocracy based on high birth and unearned wealth is counter to the spirit of the American Revolution, the corrosion of high birth and unearned wealth has undermined our meritocracy. Dynasties have wasted, destroyed, the talent of many “common” people to advance their own untalented progeny. We do not allow this for athletes or artist, why is it allowed for tycoons?
Our greatest American leaders have been people of virtue, leaders that understood the danger of unearned wealth and high birth, perhaps this is why our new American Aristocracy do not allow such people to hold power.