SHOULD WE FORMALLY ACKNOWLEDGE AN ARISTOCRACY?
I should probably give a name to this category of posts, the ones attempting to find procedural improvement to some of the issues troubling the minds of people on the Right. A previous post described Peter Thiel’s shortcut for preventing decline and woke ideological zeal – economic growth; another suggested a way by which to minimize hysteria. Perhaps we should call these posts “cultural hacks” or cultural “short-circuiting.”
In any case, here’s another. Could it be that we’ve made our situation worse by not providing a formal role for an aristocracy? I know, I know, we all despise the managerial elite and I have written much about that topic, equating that group to Nazgul, fungus, or just common idiots. For instance, here and here. They are malicious, stupid, vicious, culture-less, etc., etc.
But could it be that we have pushed them just a bit into a corner? After all, our system of government does not provide an official role for an aristocracy.
Back in the misty days of framing the American Constitution, some thinkers and founding fathers, most famously John Adams, actually argued for leaving room for society’s “best.” While Madison and Hamilton elaborated on the idea of federalism as a solution for a large republic, Adams was more concerned about the classical idea (following Cicero and Aristotle) of a mixed constitution.
In many essays and letters and especially in “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1778)” he drills the point again and again that the three forms of government – monarchy, democracy AND aristocracy – must be present in a stable republic.
Adams paid a price for his rather common-sense views. In an America seeing itself liberated from British hierarchies of kings and lords, it was not cool to appreciate the necessary existence of an aristocracy. And so Adams was often ridiculed as pompous, out of touch, and aristocratic despite coming from much simpler origins than, say, Washington or Jefferson.
I recommend this biography of Adams.
In any case, for a long while in Britain, and for a short while in the States, we had indeed reserved a formal role for the aristocracy – in Britain, in the House of Lords (and as a default throughout various government positions); here in the States, the plan was for the Senate to serve as a home and locus of influence for society’s best, nominated by the appreciative legislatures at each state.
In addition, both in Britain and in America representative government itself began as a limited charter based on property. And so, even the most democratic element in both countries was limited and given an aristocratic, or at least a propertied, flare.
As we know by looking around, all of that has changed. Voting has been ever expanding pretty much from the moment America was founded. State by state, all property restrictions were removed to be followed by the removal of age restrictions, sex restrictions, and so forth. Now there are powers calling for the lowering of the voting age to 16, or for the granting of the voting charter to illegal immigrants.
The same vote expansion dynamic applies to Britain as well.
In addition, the Senate and the House of Lords are not what they used to be. States-side, the 17th Amendment buried the appointed (and therefore aristocratic) nature of the Senate. From 1913 on Senators would be subjected to the same popular canvassing and electioneering required of any other elected representatives, destroying the high-minded nature of the office.
Remarkably, Britain had gone through a similar process at the same time. The Parliament Act of 1911 basically abolished the Lords’ ability to veto legislation. You may ask, who would the law pass through the Lords, when before its passage they still had the power to veto it? Well, the government threatened to create new Peers, ultimately “stuffing” the court.
And here we are today.
So going back to John Adams – if society always has a group more talented, more coordinated, and more wishful of passing its privileges to its posterity, does it make sense to pretend such a group does not exist?
By pushing aristocratic power from the formal government have we eliminated the threat of oligarchy? Or perhaps, have we only created a much worse oligarchy, one that bores into the administrative state?
If the elite is pushed away, why would it develop a sense of noblesse oblige? Why would it not define itself from a position of adversity to the rest of society? When the elite is removed from the res-publica, the common interest, why would its systems of prestige lead to the benefit of the common interest? If the provost of Harvard stands no chance of ever being nominated a Senator, why would he not develop a special resentment towards his own countrymen?
If an aristocratic element is always there, better incorporate it into the Adams-Cicero-Aristotle idea of a mixed polity than let it fester malignantly in the shadows of the bureaucratic apparatus.
Now, I am not arguing that if we had a formal role for an aristocracy then it should be given to Brandy Zadrozny and Hunter Biden or to the current cadre of Ivy League priests. Only that I believe that if we had such a role, we would have less of the Zadrozny type, at least less of it in positions of influence.
So here’s another cultural hack or short-circuiting – bring back the aristocracy.
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