Aristocrats Wanted

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Not without reason, in traditional Chinese society, are the merchants the fourth class after the gentry, the farmers, and the artisans. The liberal bourgeoisie, for all its good intentions, will be the death of us all unless we can all commit to reining in its excesses and grounding its successes in the divine virtues that are the foundation of a good and lasting republic. Among those in the polis whom Plato calls the producers, the strongest are the bourgeoisie: money is power. But I cannot recommend, with the agrarians, that we deprecate commerce; it is clear to me that a nation with poor commerce is a nation impoverished not only in goods but also in imagination. Nevertheless, a class whose readiest concern is to fill the belly cannot rightly rule. For all its importance, its place is elsewhere, and modesty will give it a more fitting and comely place. As St Paul says,

Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: and those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

Whether the feebler part be the enterprising merchant or the humble farmer, we must acknowledge both with honour and give neither the part of the ruler. For either one as the ruler would be a source of schism in the body politic. It is true that the Apostle was speaking of the Church and not of the civil order, but it could not escape our notice that he used the same metaphor for a group of people as Plato used in the Republic: a human body with parts. Since the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, the philosopher-king of all the earth has been Christ himself. Greater than Solomon, he has been given for the nations of the earth. As Isaiah has foretold, the spirit of the Lord has rested upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. What St Paul commends to the Church, then, is the end to which the Lord is both secretly and openly directing the whole of human society. The word of God we must acknowledge in its place at the top of society, as the voice of its everlasting Head, even Christ; and we must imagine that those who safeguard society and the needs of the soul are to hold greater authority than the masses.

In a review of a biography on Benjamin Disraeli by Douglas Hurd and Edward Young, Lord Lexden notes the reputation that prime minister tends to have today: ‘Disraeli is widely praised within the Conservative Party for furnishing it with a new vision, Tory democracy, that was to transform a small aristocratic organisation, run from the Carlton Club, into a mass movement following his audacious Reform Bill of 1867 which doubled the electorate by giving the vote to a significant section of the urban working class.’ But the goal, says Lord Lexden, following Hurd and Young, was not to start a mass movement but to improve aristocratic governance: ‘The task of the electorate enlarged by Disraeli’s 1867 Reform Bill – up from one million to two – was to make good aristocratic government more secure by pressing the upper classes to fulfil their duty to run the country well.’

An admirable end, in my opinion. Since none of Plato’s producers can run a commonwealth, the task of guarding the word of God and advancing society’s submission to it must fall primarily to those whom Plato calls the guardians. By no power of their own can they secure this submission, but they have a sacred trust: though the power to subdue the peoples is in the hands of Christ, it is the guardians who are naturally endowed with the time and ability to lead their people in righteousness. This is the class who can most readily think of other things than profit. If righteous, they can hope to draw the people to themselves with bonds of affection and trust; if decadent, they will lead the people as much astray, either by imitation or by adverse reaction, as did the kings of ancient Israel. As Mencius said King Huì of Liáng,

Why must the king speak of profit? I have only humaneness and rightness. If the king says, ‘How can I profit my state?’, the officers will say, ‘How can I profit my house?’, and the gentlemen and the common people will say, ‘How can I profit myself?’ Those above and those below will compete with one another for profit, and the state will be imperilled. One who murders the ruler over a state of ten thousand chariots surely will be from a house of a thousand chariots; one who murders the ruler over a state of a thousand chariots surely will be from a house of a hundred chariots. A share of a thousand in ten thousand or a hundred in a thousand is hardly negligible; yet, when rightness is subordinated to profit the urge to lay claim becomes irresistible.

This is the power of those who have both power and leisure. Rather than the glory of God, they can magnify their faults in the people. The people are a mirror to their guardians. Thus the guardians’ vice may be the ruin of all; but their virtue may be the happiness of all. To keep the power out of acquisitive hands, to keep it in the service of men of such moral force as the lately deceased Lee Kuan Yew, is good for both body and soul. Whatever its form, an aristocracy that will nobly answer its call is a gift to its people, and for this reason countless writers have tried to instruct their rulers especially in virtue. For Scripture as well as history tells us that, subject to the loving providence of God, virtue is the greatest gift for rulers to have. By virtue are the nations led to happiness.

Perhaps even more than the British Tories, the French legitimists were not interested in democracy, but after the July Revolution of 1830 they did appeal to popular sovereignty against the hypocritically liberal rule of the ‘citizen king’, Louis Philippe. Jeffrey Hobbs says in ‘Death in the Fields: Legitimist Réfractaires and State Violence in July Monarchy France’, Proceedings of the Western Society for French History 37 (2009), 175–86,

In order to consolidate political authority, legitimists argued, Louis-Philippe’s government violently imposed its power on provincial populations and, thereby, actively engaged in the destruction of French families. While liberals purportedly believed that popular sovereignty necessitated a strong central government from which power radiated into the provinces, legitimists contended that popular sovereignty originated in the affective bonds of the family and the local community.

Theirs was a protest, then, against a liberal despotism that served the profit of the Parisian bourgeoisie. Legitimists, who were royalists of aristocratic beliefs and hardly democrats, here challenged urban individualism and its guarantor, the central despot, by appealing to the popular sovereignty embodied in families and local communities. The Duchesse de Berry, the symbol of royalist popular sovereignty, was portrayed to represent all French families by virtue of being a mother. No longer was the humanity of Frenchmen to be symbolized by a myth of universal rights, rights that obtained for one class against the others, but rather it was to be esteemed in the truly universal but truly particular institution of family. Out of this matrix, this womb, would rulers rule. Whatever self-serving agenda may have motivated this framing of the terms of debate, the symbolism is objectively correct. And it is a reflective aristocracy, attuned to the needs of all, brought up to serve, that is best equipped under this symbolism to uphold the social order, if it will do what it does best.

If a reflective class of guardians is meant to safeguard respect for the law of God, widening the franchise in Britain was either a stroke of genius or a stroke of madness. Which it was remains to be seen. In the Britain of today, it is perhaps the widened franchise that allows the liberal bourgeois élite to be chastened by the people, particularly by working-class folk. Votes for the UK Independence Party, whatever that party’s flaws, have made for a viable alternative to the tired neoliberal consensus of the main party establishments. Perhaps, when all is said and done, the voices of ordinary people will have been enough to give a strong message of no confidence in the culture of bailouts for the City and concession of sovereign power to the unaccountable, unelected, unknown bureaucracy of the European Union. If so, let the guardians take note and remember their duty.

The fact is that statesmanship is not democratic. That power accrues to certain lineages is beyond dispute. But it is better that we have good aristocrats than bad, and that we, acknowledging the truth, set out to cultivate the most virtuous character in those who could be guardians, beholden neither to the rich nor to the poor. Such persons, even if various class interests seem incommensurable, may devote themselves to the common good and listen for the needs of all. Who knows? They may even forge one nation anew from its old shards. God save the Queen, whose majesty is an image of his own majesty in heaven, which in the Last Day will come to judge the quick and the dead. May all who are charged with keeping society acknowledge him to be the Lord and keep their bond, that he may bless us with greater obedience and godlier examples of life.

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