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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."
- 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 (In this sense the word is obsolete; so is that kind of government.)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 current generation of students is unique and very different in outlook from its teachers. I am referring to the good students in the better colleges and universities, those to whom a liberal education is primarily directed and who are the objects of a training which presupposes the best possible material. These young people have never experienced the anxieties about simple physical well-being that their parents experienced during the depression. They have been raised in comfort and with the expectation of ever increasing comfort. Hence they are largely indifferent to it; they are not proud of having acquired it and have not occupied themselves with the petty and sometimes deforming concerns necessary to its acquisition. And, because they do not particularly care about it, they are more willing to give it up in the name of grand ideals; as a matter of fact, they are eager to do so in the hope of proving that they are not attached to it and are open to higher callings. In short, these students are a kind of democratic version of an aristocracy.
- 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.
- Robertson Davies, Osbert Sitwell (1945)
- Aristocracy of the mind … is the only true aristocracy in my opinion. It is the essence, the very life of a well-built society.
- Georges Duhamel, In Defense of Letters (1937) p. 41
- 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.
- Emma Goldman, Living My Life, p. 194
- [I]n proportion as slavery prevails in a State, the Government, however democratic in name, must be aristocratic in fact.
- James Madison, Influence of Domestic Slavery on Government
- The stinking puddle from which usury, thievery and robbery arises is our lords and princes. They make all creatures their property—the fish in the water, the birds in the air, the plant in the earth must all be theirs. Then they proclaim God's commandments among the poor and say, "You shall not steal." They oppress everyone, the poor peasant, the craftsman are skinned and scraped.
- 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.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, W. Kauffman, trans. (New York: 1992), § 58
- 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.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, § 258 (W. Kaufmann, trans.)
- 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.
- Arthur Schopenhauer, Counsels and Maxims, T. B. Saunders, trans., § 10
- 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.
- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, H. Mansfield, trans. (2000), p. 437
- 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.
- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, H. Mansfield, trans. (2000), p. 506
- 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.
- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume II (1840), Book Two, Chapter XX.
- 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.
- Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (1948), p. 49
- 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