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NL XXVI: Democracy and Aristocracy

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 12, 2018, edited January 26, 2019).

  1. Aristocracy and democracy are abstractions (§§26. 1[0]–28). Inseparable from one another, they are properly understood as correlative rules for the ruling class:

    1. Don’t let in anybody who is unqualified.
    2. Don’t keep out anybody who is.
  2. By what Collingwood will call, in Chapter XXXI of the New Leviathan, the Principle of the Limited Objective, (which was recognized by the Early Church Fathers,) the ruling class should be prepared to solve, not every problem (as Plato wanted), but those problems that are expected to come up (§§26. 3[0]–34).

  3. The democratic and aristocratic principles have been at work throughout the history of Europe: in Greece, in Rome, under the feudalism of the Middle Ages. The French Revolution was not only democratic, but also aristocratic, for aiming to give power to the bourgeoisie, not the entire population (§§26. 4[0]–66).

  4. Adapted from the literary concept of peripety, the concept of revolution actually has no place in history, where there are no heroes or villains, just human beings, partly good and partly bad (§§26. 7[0]–82).

  5. The concept of a revolution in history is even dangerous, if it leads you to think a political problem can have been solved once for all (§§26. 9[0]–96).

There can be no pure democracy, not for a length of time, not if we understand a democracy to be a society whose ruling class is the whole of it. Even the most extreme democrat of ancient Greece never contemplated citizenship for women, slaves, or resident foreigners. We may be more liberal today, at least regarding women and slavery. Still we do not open the ruling class to foreigners, such as myself where I am; nor do we open it to children. We could do so, in the sense of extending the franchise to all human residents. Both possibilities were discussed favorably in the early 1990s in The Nation, as I recall, in one case by a legal minor. However, perhaps most children could not be given such adminstrative duties as used to be assigned by lot to Athenian citizens. Even if they could, what of the animals that live among us—shall they be citizens?

Edward Hicks (American, 1780-1849),
The Cornell Farm, 1848, oil on canvas,
Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch,
National Gallery of Art Continue reading