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THE PLACE OF ARISTOCRACY IN DEMOCRACY PDF Print E-mail
Democracy-Totalitarianism

Abigail_hat_commonIn the light of the world-wide interest which has focused on the recent royal wedding in Great Britain, we should perhaps take a look at another side of the issue which has escaped the attention of a large number of people. First, the problem is not the distinction made between royal and non-royal weddings, because kingship served its purpose in the past, as did the other forms of aristocracy, at a time when peoples were ignorant and easily subject to their passions, as the plebeians were when they wanted wars, whereas the patricians saved Rome by their wariness. An even nobler example is that of the last - mythical - king of Athens, Codrus, who in full awareness sacrificed himself in order to save the city.

Aristocracy and kingship as oligarchies (without this description being one of technically legal exactitude) averted the disorderly dispersal of power by its concentration in themselves, regardless of the motives of their representatives. At the same time, the aristocracy in opposing the crown became an agent of changes by demanding, for example, for its own benefit, a restriction on the powers of the king in England which resulted in Magna Charta, which was a major achievement on a world scale, because of its influence on thought. Of course, these are examples of a use of titles and the, intentional or fortuitous, power which they bestow which is beneficial to society as a whole; there have been plenty of other examples of the opposite which show that corruption and foolishness have always existed in all fields - with few exceptions.

Since then, however, times have changed in practical terms by reason of technology and mass education and although peoples in their entirety may still show serious instances of immaturity, these are no more than those of their rulers - elected or otherwise. These forms of immaturity, to some extent, are due to the attempt made by authorities of every kind to keep them in darkness, but at the same time, power itself is based upon innate anthropological inadequacies, thus giving rise to two mutually complementary factors - which renders any attempt to shift the responsibility on to someone else, in order to achieve peace of mind, ineffective, even though the discovery of responsibility is necessary for measures to be taken actively with a view to dissuasion and amendment. Consequently, reflection is essential on the question of how far royalty, to which the countries of North-Western Europe, though at the same time democratic, so strongly incline, is compatible with the age in which we live. The obvious corruption of democracy is a characteristic not of democracy in particular, but of man more generally, only in a democracy it becomes clearly apparent because of the relative freedom of opinion and information which exists there, and because rulers are not as unapproachable as they were in the past, so that the signs of their decline are plainly visible. Furthermore, in a democracy, corruption becomes a possibility for a large number of people because of the freedom that prevails. For that reason, the corruption of democracy should not be regarded as an argument in favour of oligarchies. Democracy is the political system in which the ordinary individual comes face to face with his responsibility and his attitude towards it is revealed, and this is essential for evolution.

Second, the issue of protocol, which is much more marked in royal circles, though by no means absent from others, is something which should be investigated, since it is reminiscent of ages long past, when rituals and symbols as codes of obedience and order had to replace the  consciousness which was lacking. These ritual requirements are also to be found in religions. But with the passage of time they should recede and diminish, with greater freedom of expression being given to the consciousness. Power, however, is based for the most part on the fascination it exerts, and fascination is above all ritualistic in the negative sense, in which the ritual captures the attention, deters free expression, subjugates outsiders, but also the one who exercises power, creates customs which are a substitute for morality, and denies freedom. It is a form of senility which was rightly defeated by the youthfulness of America, which, however, was itself very rapidly corrupted by power, which is, in any event, senile in its very nature.

How senseless ritual and protocol are has been shown, for example, by the large or tiny hats worn by female members of the aristocracy, or other eccentric headgear whose use appears to have been aggressively decorative as denoting class, and not that for which these things were devised by man (protection from the sun's rays and from cold). It is, of course, not impossible that there is also some symbolism behind the protocol of the hat, but even if this is the case, this symbolism would be superfluous, since it has become an object of fashion and class, in addition to the fact that civilisation should gradually leave behind such attachments and assign more importance to substance than to symbols. If this were simply an expression of taste, it would be of no importance, but it is a statement of class and superiority - which is proved by the fact, as reported by the media, that the wife of the British Prime Minister made a bad impression by attending the wedding without a hat! What kind of absurdities are human beings capable of thinking up in order to distinguish themselves, as individuals or as groups, from others?

The feverish concern with the details of the wedding on the part of the media, and of large numbers of people, also calls for some analysis, particularly when it occurs in a period of acute economic crisis - and this particular wedding was very costly.

This performance resembles a fairy tale, which, however, lacks the moral features of classic fairy tales in which the princes are often princes by virtue of their morality and not so much of their birth, and the story allows anybody to imagine him/herself in the position of the powerful, while as marriage it permits particularly women, by living through the life of others, to imagine themselves in the place of the common mortal who becomes a princess; they forget, of course, her wealth, and the fact that, in the last analysis, not everyone can become princes and princesses, as these positions are for the few. Hope, of course, is the last thing to die, but foolish and unethical hope should have no place in life. And such a hope is not ethical, because what ought to count is consciousness or the spirit and not the coveted titles, which have no content or meaning. It is these senseless hopes for superiority which also encourage corruption in any regime.

Nor do such people concern themselves with the fact that wealth, social standing, and 'glory' destroy human relations and happiness at their source, since they inevitably attract ambitious individuals, and there is little chance of escaping such a stranglehold, particularly when the appropriate qualities are not possessed. This particular concern is characteristic of the old myths in which the god Zeus transformed himself into an ordinary human being in order to acquaint himself with the real nature of people, or the princes in fairy stories sometimes disguised themselves as peasants. Nor, naturally, do they bother about what they would do when they encountered the first disagreements with a supercilious environment, harshly structured in an aristocratic and despotic manner. Finally, they ignore the fact that roles which have turned into symbols kill off the person playing them as a human being; but ambition is such that it blinds and deadens at one and the same time.

Third, the question of aristocracy is a very serious one and would rightly give rise to questions and doubts about the evolution of democracy - given that there is clearly nowhere in the world where 'democracy in practice' functions to its full extent - which, of course, could not be otherwise. This attachment to titles, not only on the part of those who possess them, but also of ordinary citizens, deserves attention. The only 'inequality' which we ought to recognise is the 'aristocracy' of the spirit, which, however, is not real inequality, but hopeful progress for the future which promotes unity, because it is value-based and rests only on consciousness and not on academic degrees nor on recognition nor on money or power of any kind, and certainly is not organised from outside, as academies, think tanks, etc. are. This aristocracy was contemptuously rejected by Nietzsche, as we shall see below. It is to this that obscure individuals can belong, and it is by nature the leading edge of mankind by reason of their consciousness, and the fact that they do not enjoy any scope for power, along the lines of what Christ said about his kingdom when asked by Pilate: that it is not of this world. This 'inequality' contributes to evolution, it quite clearly serves equality, since it is based on qualities which belong to everyone and cultivates them as such. Furthermore, as difference it is fleeting, since everyone can approach it if he really tries; it is not worldly, is not concerned with power, is not awarded by anyone or imposed on anyone, nor does it accord honours and money. Francis of Assisi, for example, was better than most other people, a fact which can be taken as an inequality of value, but of a kind which promotes unity. This is why Pythagoras, Thales, and others whose value had no connection with the awarding of honours or with distinction by reason of birth and descent belong to it.

Nietzsche, by way of contrast, acknowledges an aristocratic ranking, and, indeed, one based on blood and not on the spirit. The fact that Nietzsche and the present-day aristocracy coincide in this ought to worry us, because this position is very important for his theory and includes by definition the basis of inequality as the immutable nature of things, in which physicality is the centre of gravity of existence. The basis of racialism is exactly similar and particular caution is called for in the institutional developments which are symbolic of such an anthropological foundation. This does not mean, of course, that aristocracy of blood or that acquired by award are Nazi, but the basis of thought deep down is a shared one, just as every human inclination towards superiority indisputably has a similar basis to that of racialism. Nevertheless, in spite of the distance between them, the organised expression of this basis is not today the right answer to the problems of humanity.

On the other hand, human beings take pleasure in glory - something with which Marxism failed to provide them in demythologising individuals, in spite of the fact that in practice it deified its leaders - and so they find it in the symbols of glory - worldly glory, of course, because transcendental glory is unapproachable, although from time to time there are those who are assumed to be possessors of it, but without the sacrificial spirit on their part which would make this glory real. The true possessors of glory are very few in number.

The fantasising and the self-deception of the many as well as of the few may serve and reinforce power, but they kill the spirit, which demands responsibility, humility, and truth. Many think only of comfort, fine objects, and the high profile which accompany conspicuous positions - and nothing else. As for other things, they are of no concern to them at all, which shows how insignificant the things that they occupy themselves with are.

It is worth calling to mind the words of Spartacus about life as spectacle, which can be applied to any senseless losing of the spiritual life for the sake of spectacle: "it is not worth offering up life as a sacrifice to spectacle, but rather as a sacrifice to Freedom".

Ioannou Moutsopoulou, Lawyer
Member of the Secretariat of Solon NGO

Photo from Wikimedia

 
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