Mar 22, 2012

Aristocracy and Society, part 2

As discussed in part I, equality of people means that all people are equal in their basic human rights; no more. In other areas people vary, often widely, in areas of physical and mental ability. This results, naturally and justly, into hierarchies among men in any group, institution or society.
When this tendency toward hierarchy is understood for what it is, the natural response of all people to differences in ability, it is no more or less than part of culture and society. In several cultures this has even been part of an attempt to create a meritocracy where there were incentives for certain abilities and checks on others, or on inabilities,with the goal of quantifying and controlling hierarchies in society for the greater good of all. The traditional Chinese civil service, for example, was based upon a series of formal exams so that the intelligent and well-educated would be promoted to positions of influence and even power.
Most of these attempts at a meritocracy fail over time, however, or reveal some very interesting facts about human nature. For example, the Chinese civil service became a bed of corruption were posts were bought and sold. The armies of Napoleon were based upon meritocracy – promotion and leadership were based upon proven ability to fight, to lead and a demonstrated grasp of tactics and strategy. Napoleon's goal was to have leaders selected based upon merit and proven success. In the end, however, all of his meritocratically-chosen marshals were defeated by the Duke of Wellington, a man who had literally purchased most of his promotions.
As much as Western democracies may speak of all people being equal they are, in the end, all attempts at meritocracies. What are political campaigns but attempts to demonstrate that a particular candidate is better-suited to lead than all others? Many democracies have accepted, if unwritten, 'minimum standards' for political leaders as far as where they were educated, careers before entering politics, hobbies, etc. This forms an unacknowledged aristocracy within democracies, an aristocracy of education and background, of outlook and hobbies.
While the level of ability between a formal and informal aristocracy may be similar, these unacknowledged aristocracies are inferior to recognized aristocracies for three reasons; training, accountability, and responsibility. In a formal aristocratic class, members are aware from a very early age that they are expected to be not just privileged but also responsible, responsible to society as a whole to lead politically, socially and morally. This responsibility is accompanied by accountability; all levels of society know what is expected of the aristocracy, so failure to live up to cultural expectations strikes directly at the very elite status of the aristocrat. Indeed, it can be argued that the decline of aristocratic elites in Europe was tied to a chronic failure to be moral and ethical exemplars as well as a failure to lead politically. Naturally, the combination of responsibility and accountability leads to a lifetime of training for the role of being a leader and an example.
In contrast, the informal aristocracies of the modern democracies haven't these same expectations and there for lack the lifetime of preparation for leadership.
As mentioned before, no system is perfect, and aristocracies are prone to decline and corruption in the absence of a strong moral code. Of course, we have seen that democracies are more prone to this same decline and seem to have a tendency to reject the sorts of moral codes that would prevent this decline and/or lead to periodic renewal of aristocratic virtues.
But this is, we believe, why micronations tend to adopt aristocracies; an acknowledgement of not just Man's need for hierarchy, but an understanding that a formal leadership class is more likely to provide and maintain a strong ethical structure for society as a whole as well as give more stable long-term leadership than other systems. But such groups must be aware that the inescapable consequences of being an aristocrat are increased responsibilities and accountability.