Friends of mine were discussing politics and leadership the day before yesterday and one raised the question: “I wonder why the most successful people, financially speaking, like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett shouldn’t be running the country?”
The question carried a bit more weight in my mind given Donald Trump‘s recent indication that he would get into politics if the country continues in its economic and political downward slide. I just can’t shake the thought…what would it be like were the nation’s greatest and most respected business leaders to govern our country?
While I don’t have the answer to that question, I do know that our liberty is not sustainable if those who run our government are not wise and virtuous. Why is it that wisdom and virtue are so scarce these days?
For starters, many people fail to mature beyond the teenage years emotionally and their sense of wellbeing is determined by the answer to the self-centered question: “What has the world done for me lately?” When those same people head to the polling booths, they tend to cast their vote based not on what is best for the whole, rather, they tend to choose based on what is in it for them, the assumption being that what is good for them is good for the whole.
Thomas Jefferson made a fascinating declaration in 1813 that is worthy of consideration now, nearly 200 years later:
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. And indeed, it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns 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?
These natural aristoi are not chosen ones, predestined to rule. Instead, they are raised by family, friends, educators and mentors, a village of caregivers dedicated to creating environments in which the inherent virtue is drawn forth so that acquired talents can be rooted in righteousness.
While all men are created equal in the sense of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we are not copies of one another. Each of us was endowed with certain proclivities and natural gifts which were either nurtured or stamped out in the process of socialization, education and the accumulation of life experience.
Given these background factors, the challenge we face is to elevate public service in the minds of our citizenry to what John Adams called “the divine science.” It is easy to write off the idealism of the Founding Fathers in this regard given the seemingly incontestable might of human nature, but I, for one, still hold fast a vision of a land and beyond that, a world governed by men and women whose thoughts and actions are reined by wisdom and virtue.
15 thoughts on “The Natural Aristocracy”
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Yes, I certainly hold the same hope for humanity and this shared planet we all call home.
I’ve always been amazed at the esteem and value given to politicians, celebrities, wealthy individuals, etc. w/o regard to their character, their leadership abilities or the example that they set.
It seems that our admiration should be reserved for those who life exemplary lives and our efforts should be given to refining our own character through service to others.
i remember learning the term “curry favor” in middle school. The day I learned it was the day I began to see it working out in every corner of life. It was like buying a certain type of car that you hadn’t much noticed before and then seeing tons of them every time you went driving. Far too many people sell themselves out to the highest bidder in exchange for some desired commodity: someone to fight their battles (make us a king!), security, riches, the admiration of others, etc., and for that to change each one must learn the excellent investment tip you provide in your last sentence.
Elitism is often spoken of as a nasty disease these days, but what you are essentially arguing for is a meritocracy where the elite are in positions of power. I happen to agree that this is likely to lead to a better quality of leadership.
However, it is almost directly opposed to the principle of democracy. Democracy is about appeal to the masses, who almost by definition will not share the same values as the elite. The elite may rise from the demos, but once they do, their value system will inevitably evolve to a higher plane.
It is highly unlikely that a (large-scale, fully-enfranchised) democracy could ever naturally elect on merit. It will elect based on popular appeal. Representative democracies attempt to circumvent this by having terms. When that failed, they created committees, quangos, political advisers, lobbyists, etc, etc, to attempt to allow expertise input into government.
I don’t have a solution, but I do think elitism/meritocracy is naturally antithetic to democracy so we’re likely to have perpetually inadequate leaders in our system. Someone (Churchill?) once said democracy was the least-worst system. He’s probably still right, but let’s not pretend the gap to penultimate-worst is all that big! 😉
I am sure that it was for that reason that the founding fathers of the United States (as an example) hoped that their descendants would keep clear in their understanding the difference between a democracy and a republic. The history of the Greek city-states gives evidence of the fact that democracy does not and cannot work, in fact, it constrains to tyranny in the presence of an insufficiently educated electorate. I think one of the keys is to educate our youth on the political science facts of the matter so that the shallow and often misleading marketing slogans that have come to condition the mind of the electorate can be seen for what they are.
Leadership with integrity would be a change. With integrity comes common sense which trumps (excuse the pun) but could be the precursor to business sense. Great post!
Thanks Doug. While I don’t know if Trump’s the card we ought to play I do know that it is the fault of the electorate when those elected are unworthy and lacking in integrity.
Awesome consideration Gregg! I definitely want to be a part of the community that fosters the virtues you mention, rather than being an individual for him or herself, to him or herself alone. Thank you for your thought provoking post – may it be far reaching in the blogging world today!
Me too and thanks for your comment!
I recently read a book about the English “War of the Roses”. Their unrest with leadership caused decades of heartache, poverty and fear. I was interested to see on what basis they chose their king. I was surprised to see things haven’t changed much. We don’t require our leaders to have a male heir, a spare and hopefully a few daughter with which to annex additional territory or at least create advantageous alliances.
But we still judge by:
1. Who their family is.
2. How much money they have to fund their quest.
3. Where they hail from ( to protect their regional interests)
4. And the ability to create popularity, to control the masses. Which in history and now looks like it equates to the candidates ability to employ the latest and greatest form of mass manipulation. In the 1400’s it was through Feudalism and as seen in our last presidential election it is the Internet.
Making leadership decisions based on righteousness as outlined in yesterdays post, integrity, honor and respect; would be unprecedented. I’m not saying we have never had leaders like this but it’s the exception not the rule.
Only a people that value these qualities and instill them in their children will deliberately choose these leaders. We can’t get around our individual responsibility. Reading history it seems that not much changes except for the tools for our destruction or emancipation.
I’ve spoken to many who are convinced that the deeper shift that Jefferson, Adams and others hoped for is overly idealistic and untenable. I beg to differ!
When considering your words (and Jefferson’s) on what truly forms an aristocracy, I was reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”. One aspect of the book I enjoyed was the in depth look at the factors which contributed to the success of people like Bill Gates. Income level, culture, time of birth, and personal drive are factors, but overall I was impressed with the sense that each one is born into a set of circumstances within which there is an opportunity to make the most of. In that sense, there is no starting point which can’t be considered to be in ‘the right place at the right time’ depending on how one make’s use of it. We’ve all had those aha moments where even just a simple word uttered changed the course of our thinking or the direction of our lives. I am thankful for all of those opportunities I’ve been given, and your words really bring to point the calling I have inherently felt as an educator to make those opportunities available to others. A lot to meditate on here today – thanks!!
Now more than ever we need to implement the wisdom of the Founding Fathers if we are to have a future of any kind. I pray that we are not too far gone to turn this boat around. Makes me realize that my personal actions are not very far removed from the shaping of our government. Thank you for the eye-opening post.
I certainly don’t think so but the way out is, as you say, paved with a renewed sense of personal responsibility.
I sure do. While the founding fathers had their own issues with infighting, I notice a difference between then and now. At the beginning of our country, politicians argued over the way our country needed to move, and over how to best provide for the citizenry. Now it seems like every decision is made for how it will appear to help the people, not necessarily how it will actually help, in the aim that they will be reelected in the next voting time. This is only one or many things that we need to get away from. I hope that, as society sees the cost of working this way, they begin to demand a better leadership.