Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Natural Aristocracy

Thomas Jefferson to John Adams (October 28, 1813)

"I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents. Formerly, bodily powers gave place among the aristoi [aristocrats]. But since the invention of gunpowder has armed the weak as well as the strong with missile death, bodily strength, like beauty, good humor, politeness, and other accomplishments, has become but an auxiliary ground for distinction. 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 the 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? The artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and provision should be made to prevent its ascendency.?I think the best remedy is exactly that provided by all our constitutions, to leave to the citizens the free election and separation of the aristoi from the pseudo-aristoi [pseudoaristocrats], of the wheat from the chaff. In general they will elect the really good and wise. In some instances, wealth may corrupt, and birth blind them, but not in sufficient degree to endanger the society."

What we have in the United States at the present time is a situation in which there exists, for all practical purposes, an artificial aristocracy that is based upon wealth and social status.  The members of this aristocracy are no better than the rest of the citizenry, but they were lucky enough to have been born into privilege. 
Our founding fathers were naturally suspicious of such hierarchies among citizens based upon socio-economic class distinctions.  But they were also well versed in classical moral and political theory, and believed that, in fact, there existed natural differences among human beings.  Jefferson and Adams, for example, believed in what they referred to as "a natural aristocracy among men" that was based upon the possession of talent and virtue.  Some have it, they believed, and some don't. 
Furthermore, they believed that it was in the interest of society as a whole for these natural aristoi to be given the opportunity to rule their less gifted and less moral fellow citizens. 
Naturally, we Americans prefer not to believe that some of us are just plan better than others.  But that doesn't mean that such a natural aristocracy doesn't exist among us.  And if it does exist, wouldn't we all be better off acknowledging this and getting out of the way of those who might actually be better able to lead society?
My question, therefore, is:  Do you think that there is a natural aristocracy among human beings that is based upon the possession of talent and virtue?  And, if so, what might the implications of such an idea be for the way we ought to organize political society?


  1. Yes I do think there is a natural aristocracy that exists among humans. Some people are more talented and more virtuous than others. For instance, some people are just better at football than others. Victor Cruz, a professional WR for the New York Giants, is just more talented than I am. Even if I practices and played just as much as he has in his life, he would still be a better football player than me. And most Americans would agree with this statement. Ergo, some people are just better leaders than others. Each person is born with a set of innate skills, talents, and virtues. Although they are molded and altered by society and the family they were born into, people have a basic set of fundamental skills, talents,and virtues that make them who they are (makes them unique). And I definitely would say that implementing a governmental society in which the natural aristocracy ruled would benefit everyone and lead to an efficient society. It would lead to less mistakes and as long as the natural aristocracy ruled in the best interest of the society (which would probably be an innate characteristic of those in the natural
    aristocracy) then it would result in a better society.


  2. It would be wise to say that some people are more gifted than others in certain aspects of life. Every person has different capabilities that lead them to succeed at some tasks and fail at others. I'm not an artist at all, and no matter how many art classes I had to sit through in elementary school, I never even began to show an aptitude for art. I'll never be the next Monet, and that is something I recognize and understand just within myself. There are other things which I like and have been recognized for, such as organizing things and empathizing with others, so I will follow a path in which I will be able to use those skills because I know that would be the most beneficial thing for myself and for society. Those are just basic examples that show how I alone am not so good at some things yet good others. That concept applies to all people, so there must be some people that are better at ruling than others based on their possession of talent and virtue, so there must be a natural aristocracy.

    Political society should be ruled by the natural aristocracy. Perhaps some members of the artificial aristocracy also belong in the natural aristocracy, but those who do not belong should not be in power. In order for the political society to operate at its fullest potential and truly benefit the society, those who are the most naturally gifted should rule together. To find the natural aristocracy, a general liberal arts education could suffice. Just as students pick a major based on something they are good at and like, the natural aristocracy could arise from those who excel in the subjects most needed for rule. They would be selected based on their innate capabilities that will be apparent over those also following the same educational path but are not doing as well as those who belong in the natural aristocracy. It could be a sort of survival of the fittest through the education provided.


  3. "Naturally, we Americans prefer to believe that everybody has talents which make them unique. This of course means that such a natural aristocracy exists among us, as it must to highlight and nurture said talents which are then obviously acknowledged so they may be used in their field of work. This is done to help the political sphere, by helping those who will lead society."

  4. We are born with talent and brains. Each and every one of us demonstrates a passion for a particular field and/or discipline. Hopefully, that passion will contribute to society in a positive way. We don't want prostitutes, whiskey ambassadors, turd collectors, clowns, and weed farmers leading our society. If we did, it would be dysfunctional. Sure, the above occupations might be things that people are good at, but are not intellectually stimulating.

    What we need are some fierce lawyers, nerdy scientists, geeky lab techs, and so on. Those sound great and entertaining, but I know I'll never be any of the listed occupations mentioned.

    "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us"
    Gandalf the Grey

  5. I believe that there is a natural aristocracy among human beings. Every individual grows up with a certain set of natural talents. These talents are more than just a skill or ability, for it is not something they need excessive training in order to excel at. For some reason, they simply can grasp the matter with both body and mind. This natural aristocracy is made up of people who are naturally inclined to be intellectual and to seek to further their intellectual growth.
    I do not believe that this natural aristocracy is also imbued with natural virtues. Values can only be learned in relation to others, for if one is alone, his actions may go forever unqualified for they effect no one but that particular individual. And that individual would not act in a way that they did not wish to act for their would be no one to influence them otherwise. Therefore, in order for values to arise in an individual, they must be faced with the consequences of their actions. Consequences can only be learned through experience, so virtue cannot be inherent, only learned.
    -Daniel Woods

  6. There is definitely a natural aristocracy among human beings and society. It is no secret that there are those who are born with talent and virtue and those who are not. On the other hand there is a valid argument to be made that if you have wealth, and are born of money, you have more educational opportunities presented to you than those who do not. This allows you to see your natural talents more easily and foster them to grow. There are plenty of lower middle class and lower class citizens who possess a wealth of talent and virtue. However, as a result of their lack of wealth and the horrible environment in which they may live, they lack the paths and opportunities that those who are rich receive.
    Take for example the story of Good Will Hunting. Besides being a great film, it tells of a man who has immense talents in math, but even more, he is intellectually brilliant. Take this scene for example . Will hunting was a janitor living in less than spectacular accommodations and working very low end jobs in a bad part of Boston. These stories exist all over the world in reality. This does show a natural aristocracy based on talent among human beings. But what we have here in this country is one based purely on money and wealth, both of which open many more doors for the individual with or without talent.