Aristocracy

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Aristocracy is a form of government that places power in the hands of a small, privileged ruling class. The term derives from the Greek ἀριστοκρατία, "rule of the best."

Quotes[edit]

  • There is no form of rational and assured government save an aristocracy. A monarchy or a republic, based upon democracy, are equally absurd and feeble. There are but three beings worthy of respect: the priest, the warrior and the poet. To know, to kill and to create. The rest of mankind may be taxed and drudged, they are born for the stable, that is to say, to practise what they call professions.
  • In literature as in ethics, there is danger, as well as glory, in being subtle. Aristocracy isolates us.
  • ARISTOCRACY, n. Government by the best men. (In this sense the word is obsolete; so is that kind of government.) Fellows that wear downy hats and clean shirts -- guilty of education and suspected of bank accounts.
    • Ambrose Bierce, The Cynic's Dictionary (1906); republished as The Devil's Dictionary (1911).
  • The United States is in sore need today of an aristocracy of intellect and service. Because such an aristocracy does not exist in the popular consciousness, we are bending the knee in worship to the golden calf of money. The form of monarchy and its pomp offer a valuable foil to the worship of money for its own sake. A democracy must provide itself with a foil of its own and none is better or more effective than an aristocracy of intellect and service recruited from every part of our democratic life.
  • Aristocrats need not be rich, but they must be free.
  • Aristocracy of the mind … is the only true aristocracy in my opinion. It is the essence, the very life of a well-built society.
  • I pointed out that Nietzsche was not a social theorist, but a poet, a rebel, and innovator. His aristocracy was neither of birth nor of purse; it was of the spirit. In that respect Nietzsche was an anarchist, and all true anarchists were aristocrats, I said.
  • It is not for nothing that 'democracy' is opposed to 'aristocracy', for this latter word, at least when taken in its etymological sense, means precisely the power of the elite. The elite can by definition only be the few, and their power, or rather their authority, deriving as it does from their intellectual superiority, has nothing in common with the numerical strength on which democracy is based, a strength whose inherent tendency is to sacrifice the minority to the majority, and therefore quality to quantity, and the elite to the masses.
  • [I]n proportion as slavery prevails in a State, the Government, however democratic in name, must be aristocratic in fact.
  • Has it ever been really noted to what extent a genuinely religious life … requires a leisure class, or half-leisure—I mean leisure with a good conscience, from way back, by blood, to which the aristocratic feeling that work disgraces is not altogether alien—the feeling that it makes soul and body common. And that consequently our modern, noisy, time-consuming industriousness, proud of itself, stupidly proud, educates and prepares people, more than anything else does, precisely for “unbelief.”
  • The essential characteristic of a good and healthy aristocracy, however, is that it experiences itself not as a function (whether of the monarchy or the commonwealth) but as their meaning and highest justification—that it therefore accepts with a good conscience the sacrifice of untold human beings who, for its sake, must be reduced and lowered to partial and incomplete human beings, to slaves, to instruments. Their fundamental faith simply has to be that society must not exist for society’s sake but only as the foundation and scaffolding on which a choice type of human being is able to raise itself to its higher task and to a higher state of being.
  • We [Americans] have no aristocracy of blood, and having therefore as a natural, and indeed as an inevitable thing, fashioned for ourselves an aristocracy of dollars, the display of wealth has here to take the place and perform the office of the heraldic display in monarchical countries. By a transition readily understood, and which might have been as readily foreseen, we have been brought to merge in simple show our notions of taste itself.
    • Edgar Allan Poe, "The Philosophy of Furniture" in The Gentleman's Magazine (1840:6), p. 267
  • Aristocracies are of three kinds: (1) of birth and rank; (2) of wealth; and (3) of intellect. The last is really the most distinguished of the three.
  • It was once said that democracy is the regime that stands or falls by virtue: a democracy is a regime in which all or most adults are men of virtue, and since virtue seems to require wisdom, a regime in which all or most adults are virtuous and wise, or the society in which all or most adults have developed their reason to a high degree, or the rational society. Democracy, in a word, is meant to be an aristocracy which has broadened into a universal aristocracy. …
There exists a whole science—the science which I among thousands of others profess to teach, political science—which so to speak has no other theme than the contrast between the original conception of democracy, or what one may call the ideal of democracy, and democracy as it is. …
Liberal education is the ladder by which we try to ascend from mass democracy to democracy as originally meant.
  • Leo Strauss, “What is liberal education,” Liberalism, Ancient and Modern (1968), pp. 4-5
  • In aristocratic societies, enjoyments of the mind are particularly demanded of the sciences; in democratic, those of the body.
  • Even in the midst of material enjoyments, the members of an aristocracy often display a haughty scorn of these same enjoyments and find singular strength when they must at last be deprived of them. All revolutions that have troubled or destroyed aristocracies have shown with what facility people accustomed to the superfluous can do without the necessary, whereas men who have laboriously arrived at ease can hardly live after having lost it.
  • The territorial aristocracy of former ages was either bound by law, or thought itself bound by usage, to come to the relief of its serving-men and to relieve their distresses. But the manufacturing aristocracy of our age first impoverishes and debases the men who serve it and then abandons them to be supported by the charity of the public.
  • The prevailing conception is that education must be such as will enable one to acquire enough wealth to live on the plane of the bourgeoisie. That kind of education does not develop the aristocratic virtues. It neither encourages reflection nor inspires reverence for the good.
  • The aristocrat looks to a society in which there shall be absolute freedom for noble men. Anarchism declares for the absolute nobility of free men.
    • Michael Wreszin, “Albert Jay Nock and the Anarchist Elitist Tradition in America,” American Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 2, Part 1 (Summer, 1969), p. 167

See also[edit]

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