Jan 23, 2012

Aristocracy and Society, part 1

[from HRH Jonathan]
The Modern Western World demands a form of total equality of everyone exposed to it's touch, an idea that has become ubiquitous. Popular entertainment, education, and such all decry sexism and racism as evil while otherwise denying the possibility of objective morality. Discrimination is painted as one of the greatest of crimes.
However, there are problems with this attitude on the subject. Some forms of discrimination, such as attacks on certain religions or regions, are ignored or even celebrated (can you imagine the stereotypes of American Southerners being as broadly condemned as stereotypes or, say, American Blacks?). Another problem is far more insidious; the belief that any form of stratified social structure or other limitations based on personal status are discrimination.
This is an argument against aristocracies about as old as the French Revolution. There is a pervading vision of the Middle Ages as a time of oppression, with very wealthy and very haughty nobles lording their status over the poor serfs, women being held as completely useless for everything except childbirth, and paranoid kings declaring war on anyone who doesn't share their exact beliefs, a "Dark Age'. Continuing this popular myth, it is also thought that the revolution of democracy reversed this cruel situation of tyranny. All men were finally treated justly, women were finally not just property, governments became inherently enlightened. Of course, this popular myth is just that - myth. Historians don't use the term 'Dark Ages', bad kings were the exception, some of the richest and most powerful people of the Middle Ages were women, etc. But the myth lives on, stronger than reality in the common wisdom.
There are 2 very similar myths commonly held that are perpetuated by, and in turn empower, the concept of feminism. First is the idea that somehow before about 1965 or so women were not allowed to get an education or work outside the home but were kept in a type of slavery in the kitchen. The other is that that any differences between the sexes other than those necessary to reproduction are strictly non-physical social constructs.
Actually, women were receiving excellent educations at college for centuries before the coining of the term 'feminist'; from the Seven Sisters in America to the various women's colleges in Europe women did, yes, have opportunities for advancement in academia and the professional world. As far as work outside the home, women have always done so - throughout urban life the goal of women was being lucky and successful enough to only work in the home. To illustrate this point, the only woman to win the American Medal of Honor was an Army Doctor - in the American Civil War.
There are, or course, irrefutably obvious differences between the sexes beyond the obvious. Differences in musculature, vision, digestion, even neurochemistry. To admit than men are naturally stronger than women no more makes one superior to the other than does the admission that women have better balance than men. But to deny these realities makes it much easier to deny other things, such as the fact that boys and girls are ready to learn certain topics at different ages so holding both to the same academic standards at young ages is an error. With the dozens of differences in physical and mental form and ability, is it truly oppressive and wrong that there are social and political differences?
The claim is that men have discriminated against women throughout history, because in traditional societies men occupy higher positions in the business, politics, warfare, and religion, while women were focused into caring for families misses the point. The division of labor that makes the family the core of society and civilization leads naturally to such divisions at the larger level, as well. While men may dominate politics, women dominate societal norms, an area that arguably has much more actual influence on say-to-day life.
And we must at all times remember the great rule: There are exceptions to every rule when it comes to people. St. Claire, Elizabeth II, and Boudicca all show that in staunchly patriarchal societies women, too, have political and military leadership roles to fill. Thus it is a gender role, not a gender rule. And this gender dynamic has always been in place for a very good reason: There are exceptions to every rule, but in terms of a majority it is still a rule. Though people such as Saint Joan of Arc or Fa Mulan exist, and are perhaps more common then some think, they are still a rarity, and it is the same on the other side of the equation.
But the disruption of traditional structures was not limited to gender norms, there was also a breakdown of class distinctions. The aristocracies were annihilated, and royal houses were deposed, all in the name of progress. But the idea that history is indomitable march towards the future is yet another myth, and the destruction of the hated class system in the name of 'progress' was a dire mistake by the revolutionaries who, in the end, were merely murderers.
Class distinctions have always existed in nearly every Culture above the hunter-gatherer stage. Certainly those which were morally and politically stable had them, and often we find that the sharpness of the distinction is proportional to the stability imparted. Compare Athens to Imperial China for instance, or the Zulu tribes to pre-revolutionary England. Now it is true that stability is not a substitute for morality, but with stability any morality that is in place is unlikely to go away. The codes of Chivalry and Bushido only grew during the rule of aristocratic monarchy in their respective lands, and then vanished with said systems taking with them the codes that channeled the power and strength of the ruling classes toward weal rather than egoism.
The modern thought on traditional class distinctions is a rather universal; "They're evil!". I still do not truly know why. The Enlightenment was a rebellion of the middle and upper-middle classes and it spread a great deal of propoganda, perhaps this is the reason. In any case it is doubtless that the democratic revolutions around the late 1700s and early 1800s considered the nobility and any real political class distinction to be their enemies even as they placed land-owning, gender, and race-based limitations on voting. This caused a great deal of the prejudice we see today. But it is important to remember that it is impossible to break human nature, if there is not a stratified society by design, there will eventually be a stratified society by opportunity. If by Culture and Government there is an existing aristocratic class with distinct duties, goals, and privileges, and limitations then those with the ambition to rise, whether it be good or bad, will have a channel for this ambition. Whereas if there is no existing position to aspire to, then those who would rise high must make their positions, and this is usually very bad. And in the absence of a societal framework many of the duties and limitations will be weak or non-existant, leaving only the power. Giving someone who would become a noble or a general freedom to tailor a position to their own ends is a ticket to disaster, for if this ambition is born of a hunger for power then the ambitious will be free to indulge. Even those with good intentions are likely to stumble when given absolute freedom in this regard, who could resist righting one more wrong?
While there were certainly tyrants in the 'old days' were robber barons any different, other than there being fewer societal checks on their abuses? Today there are corrupt politicians and corporate plutocrats in startling numbers, all able to avoid the ostracism of their peers for we have done away with the Peerage. Mean-spirited nobles have been replaced with graft-ridden senators (no change except that a Senator has no concerns for the lands his heirs will inherit), dark hearted merchant lords have been replaced by all-controlling CEOs (no change at all). And at the same time great nobles have been replaced by voters, and charitable guildsmen have been replaced by unions constantly falling prey to corruption. As much as free-markets and democracies have done to increase profits, they have done more to decrease duty and honor by seeing them as valueless in 'the market'.
All these things are together in my arguments because they are all a different extension of the same principal, segregation. No, not the legal segregation of an oppressed group from its overlords, but the natural separation of the elements of society, even if only leaders from others. While a harsh segregation with no room to change or be an exception is flawed and doomed to failure, I have no doubt that a flexible one is an important part of any stable society. It may seem stifling and wrong when read and spoken of here, but segregation has existed throughout history, and whenever it is taken away darkness follows. There are too many dangers in blurring the lines, and not enough rewards. True equality can only be found in Anarchy, and Anarchy is only destructive, never constructive.
Many problems exploding in this era we are in can be attributed to a breakdown of barriers in society: homosexuality seen as 'no different than' normal behavior; near-plutocracy, rabid entitlement, and other such issues. And so I conclude that civilization needs and aristocracy, and soon.
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