The Natural Aristocracy

A Hypothetical Argument Against Absolute Democracy

I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents….There is also an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents; for with these it would belong to the first class. The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society….May we not even say that that form of government is the best which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government? —Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to John Adams, dated 28 Oct 1813

The mantle of the pioneers has fallen on our shoulders to sustain civilisation in a primitive country. —Ian Smith, prime minister of Rhodesia, upon ratification of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, 11 November 1965

     Lately it has been almost universally accepted, at least in the West, that democracy is a good thing, and that its virtues and benefits render it clearly superior to any other form of government. Not only that, but it is believed by many, possibly most, that a universal democracy, with every person (except maybe small children and incarcerated violent criminals) having an equal vote, is the ultimate ideal to be striven for. This tends to be accepted without question, as to question it would subject the questioner to being identified as some kind of hard-right reactionary or fascist.

     However, the founders of the world’s democratic systems have tended not to see democracy in this way, and most would disapprove of such political power distributed equally throughout the populace. The founding fathers of the United States, for example, envisioned a democracy not so different from the so-called democracies of ancient Athens or the Roman Republic: a society in which adult male citizens were free and independent political representatives of their respective households, and of these only substantial landowners were entitled to vote. In fact, the US Constitution was developed in such a way as to be a more just refinement on the British system prevailing at the time—a republican mixed government distributing power among the People, an Aristocracy, and a sovereign Monarch. In Britain to this day government is led, at least nominally, by a monarch as head of state, with the House of Lords as the hereditary upper house of Parliament, and the House of Commons as the lower house. The main refinement of this in the American system was to do away, as much as possible, with hereditary royalty and aristocracy and to replace them with a more natural equivalent. According to the US Constitution, a new “constitutional monarch,” so to speak, is elected every four or eight years, endowed with certain dictatorial prerogatives such as command of the armed forces and power of veto; and a Senate of aristocrats was selected by state legislatures from among their most respected representatives—up until the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913, after which Senators were elected by the People, rendering them somewhat less aristocratic. Pure democracy was seen by the Founding Fathers as almost as deficient as absolute dictatorship. Both should be avoided. A middle course tends to work out best.

     John Adams, second President of the United States and one of the chief architects of the US Constitution, firmly believed in a natural aristocracy, and tried to devise a system in which such a group of men would do as much good for the country as possible. Thus it was mainly his idea that the US legislature should be divided into two houses, with an elite Senate of “the rich, the well-born and the able” set apart from a more common House of Representatives, so as to prevent these gifted aristocrats from dominating over the ordinary representatives of the masses.

     The trouble lies, of course, in determining who should be allowed this exalted status of the wisest and best who are best qualified to lead society; that is the perennial question, a kind of dilemma really, and a major justification for democratic egalitarianism. Thomas Jefferson tried to figure out ways of separating the sheep from the goats, so to speak, in addition to the early American move of abolishing a hereditary nobility: for example, he endorsed government-funded universal education with university scholarships for the brightest students, and also limitations on inheritance. Thus he evidently was in favor of insuring a genuine, unbiased meritocracy as the means of allowing the best to rise to the top. John Adams, on the other hand, considered such stratagems to be troublesome and unnecessary. He figured there was sufficient overlap between the truly gifted and those simply born into wealth and connections that there was no urgent need to distinguish between the two. Besides, how could a government totally abolish inherited privilege? Not only would all inheritance have to be eradicated, but even families helping their own would have to be stopped. Small children would have to be raised exactly alike, away from their parents and relatives, which may be more fair economically and socially, and more agreeable to those inclined toward radical communism, but it strikes me as rather unnatural and dystopian really. For children to be raised in a loving family, with a mother and a father, really does have its advantages.

     A genuine meritocracy, with the cleverest and most industrious rising to the top as much as possible on the merits of their own talents, efforts, and virtues, would appear to be the best system for allowing the best people to govern society. Really, it does make sense, doesn’t it—regardless of the fact that many people on the left nowadays consider the endorsement of such an idea to be “racist,” for some odd reason. Even with an absolute democracy it would stand to reason that a well-informed, reasonable electorate would want the best to represent and champion their interests. And “rule by the best” is the literal meaning of the word aristocracy.

     One form of natural aristocracy which appears really to be distinguishing itself from the rest of society is what Charles Murray has identified as the “cognitive elite.” The most intelligent people are the most likely to rise to the top, regardless of their social status at birth, and they tend to marry amongst themselves, which is causing a kind of Darwinian natural selection for a dominant intelligentsia. And as Western society becomes more technological and complicated, this intellectual elite may be expected to become even more powerful than it is now, regardless of any socially inherited privileges.

     Another consideration which favors governance by an elite, at least in part, or at least argues against simple majority rule, is what John Stuart Mill called “the tyranny of the majority”; that is, a majority’s power to oppress those in the minority (and literally everyone is a member of some sort of minority). Since ancient times philosophers have known that a democracy may amount to little more than mob rule; and Thomas Jefferson himself, in his correspondence with Adams, acknowledged the “plundering enterprises of the Majority of the people.” A democratic majority composed of an ignorant rabble may vote for measures to punish the rich out of mere resentment, or to take their wealth and redistribute it among the populace (free stuff for everyone!), which in extreme cases results in the collapse of industry, business, and national economies. 

     A classic case against unqualified majority rule is late republican Rome, in which the populace of the Eternal City gained total legislative power after centuries of strife with the elite patrician Senate. They degenerated into a corrupt “welfare class” supported by a socialized dole (not so different from what some leftists are striving for now), and their ignorance and capriciousness resulted in the eventual tanking of the Republic and the birth of a despotic Empire. In the words of the philosopher and historian David Hume:

The constitution of the Roman republic gave the whole legislative power to the people, without allowing a negative voice either to the nobility or consuls. This unbounded power they possessed in a collective, not in a representative body. The consequences were: when the people, by success and conquest, had become very numerous, and had spread themselves to a great distance from the capital, the city tribes, though the most contemptible, carried almost every vote: they were, therefore, most cajoled by every one that affected popularity: they were supported in idleness by the general distribution of corn, and by particular bribes, which they received from almost every candidate: by this means, they became every day more licentious, and the Campus Martius was a perpetual scene of tumult and sedition: armed slaves were introduced among these rascally citizens, so that the whole government fell into anarchy; and the greatest happiness which the Romans could look for, was the despotic power of the Cæsars. Such are the effects of democracy without a representative.

     Another, more recent case against unqualified majority rule is Zimbabwe, formerly known as Rhodesia. Back when it was Rhodesia it was ruled by a white minority; the law did not forbid blacks from voting, but there were minimum requirements of property, as well as the requirement that a citizen must be able to write his name and occupation on a piece of paper to qualify for the vote, and most black citizens of Rhodesia evidently did not meet these requirements, whereas most of the whites did. Anyhow, while Rhodesia was ruled by white people of mostly English ancestry, constituting less than 5% of the population, the country was considered to be the breadbasket of Africa and was economically developed, well regulated with regard to roads, public utilities, etc., and relatively prosperous. But of course, by the late 20th century colonialism was totally out of fashion and setting up egalitarian democracies in the place of colonies was the rule. And so, after international sanctions pressured the Rhodesian government into allowing majority rule in 1979, the country quickly and more or less democratically came under the corrupt quasi-Marxist rule of Robert Mugabe, most of the whites were driven out or simply fled, the nation rapidly degenerated into civil war and despotism, and the country’s economy and infrastructure collapsed. Due entirely to corruption and incompetence, the inflation rate of renamed Zimbabwe reached a peak of more than 11,000,000% in 2007. Eleven million percent. For a short time the central bank of Zimbabwe was constrained to issue hundred billion dollar and even trillion dollar bills. After relative prosperity under white oppressors, now Zimbabwe is required to import food, and is reliant on humanitarian aid from the EU and USA. This latter is partly a result of white farmers having their land confiscated and awarded to blacks who were ignorant of agriculture. And now South Africa too, after gaining majority rule at the insistence of the progressive world, is taking the same route as Zimbabwe, including confiscating property from whites and giving it to blacks incapable of managing it. South Africa is now in a state of rapid economic and social decline, as a result of gaining greater democracy.

     In order for a democracy to be effective, for it to be functional rather than dysfunctional, for it to prosper, the majority of the people who participate in the governing process, if only by casting votes, must have a minimum level of intelligence, a minimum level of education (at least with regard to political issues, law, economics, etc.), and a minimum level of love for their country and fellow citizens, a minimum level of patriotism. It simply stands to reason, for example, that smarter, better educated people will make smarter, better educated decisions. This should not be difficult to understand. Consequently, there is a real danger in importing or allowing millions of relatively unintelligent, uneducated people into an economically developed democracy—a fact which politically correct people will not see because of course it is not politically correct to see it. Europe, and to some degree North America also, seem intent upon following in the footsteps of Zimbabwe and South Africa. (If any reader takes issue with the idea that immigrants from Africa or West Asia are “unintelligent,” I refer him or her to the posts entitled “An Example of PC Science denial,” posted last June.)

     By pointing out harsh realities such as these, one progresses into the realm of what many on the left are pleased to call “Fascism.” To oppose pure democracy and endorse some sort of elite meritocracy, even in part, as John Adams envisioned it, or to oppose unlimited immigration of people escaping squalid 3rd-world hellholes, largely because their culture is thus far incapable of maintaining anything better, is damned fascistic. Well, so be it. Nowadays the evil of Fascism is one of those ideas that is such common knowledge that it is expected to go unquestioned, whereas the greater evil of Marxism (if only based upon 20th-century body counts) is evaded or denied. But I can honestly say that if I were compelled to choose between the new PC progressive Left on the one hand and old-fashioned Mussolini-style Fascism on the other, it would be a damn tough choice. I suppose that so long as the Fascists weren’t indulging in gratuitous militarism, like invading Ethiopia, I’d probably go with Mussolini. But fortunately it is possible, thus far, to steer a middle course between equally odious extremes.



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