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Monday, 11 January 2016

The Conservative Standpoint 12: The Elite Society


This is Part 12 of the Conservative Standpoint by Cole Dutton

What separates the Conservative from the Socialist? Up until now the majority of the distinctions I have made between conservatism and other philosophies and ideologies has been a tracing of the divisions between the liberal modern state and the conservative disposition, but in this case I would like to draw the distinction between conservatism and socialism (however I recognize these waters have been muddied by post New Deal and LBJ Liberalism, Rawls being the chief theorist). What is the chief difference between them that signifies that the Conservative’s mindset is both modest and self-conscious of the limits of the human capacity for improvement? I suggest that one of the key positions setting the Conservative apart is the acceptance and in-fact the potential desire for an elite society. What I mean by this is that Conservatives accept the distinguished in society and recognize that those who elevate themselves over their neighbors bring a distinct benefit to both the political and social sphere. This claim however is not unsubstantiated; it is ancient first articulated by Aristotle and Plato, and in the modern era defended by the likes of Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre among countless others. Where the key difference occurs however is not in the existence of an elite society and a hierarchical polity, as well as hierarchical pluralism in social structures, but rather in the belief that such a society originates not on a rational basis, as the socialists and the marxists claim, but instead is born in the natural distinctions between men; these distinctions would be impossible to abolish without recourse to the most unconscionable totalitarian acts, and even then any true attempt to mediate the elevation of one man over another, to the conservative, seems hopeless and indeed harmful.

To be clear I do not propose that inequality is a simple thing. Instead, I suggest that it is made up to intangibles, and tangibles. For example, there were points in the career of Winston Churchill, where he engaged in such profligate spending and conspicuous consumption that he had to close down wings of Chartwell House and live off book advances, which were in his case promissory. Certainly Churchill remained part of the Aristocratic class, but at this time his economic elevation was not of the kind we normally associate with the bourgeois and capitalistic body of society.

Tangibles as far as they go are the economic goods associated with the elevated class or the elite. The great wealth, new money or old, makes no difference where it originates or how it was procured, what matters is that the individual who has great tangible distinction has by some means either out produced other citizens or has become the chief heir of someone who had done so. Included in the tangible though slightly less so, is the collection of bonds, securities, stocks, corporations, and the like accrued to these individuals not to mention, the most ancient form of wealth property.

Intangibles however, may take a much smaller and more abstract definition. Generally, intangibles, as I define them are the result of the long term maturation of social capital in the form of trust and reputation. A colleague of mine, outlined such intangibles well in a thesis he wrote on the nature of social capital in premodern England, and noted that the ability of an individual to receive credit and engage in merit building activities such as business engagements, social functions, and institutional programs directly correlated with their ability to prove good character, this good character, I argue, was mutable of generations, and may be used by the elites of a society to bolster their position or enhance it when economic measures are weakening.

One quick elucidation before diving into the main arguments surrounding the Conservatives’ relationship to elite society. Firstly, I do not propose that gross inequalities should or must be abided by conservatives especially when the communal good is ailing. Nor do I propose that elite society may be free from culpability when it comes to the exploitation of labour, for such accusations are difficult to prove and disprove, the only assertion I can make is that a competitive economy generally makes it untenable to exploit labour. Secondly, I note that the elite society is not limited to an oligarchy, I do not suppose that wealth be the only measure of excellence, but rather that those distinguished individuals are often the best among us; supplementary to his I propose that social and political elites are not in opposition to the conservative fear of centralized power, but in fact, through their dispersal throughout the society may actually act as an informal check on the gross injustices potentially committed by the corporate and statist machines.

The arguments for the aristocratic, in the Aristotelian sense, or elite society are as follows: First, that elites have a genesis which is immutable and natural, not rational; second, that elites balance arbitrary power and form the foundation of authoritative institutions; thirdly, elites serve to stabilize the worst elements of the electorate’s vacillation; fourth, that economic distinction is unavoidable, and that any attempt to suppress economic elites will lead to greater harm for the polity as a whole.

Hierarchy is eternal. Perhaps the permanence and organic nature of a hierarchical relationships is the most evident of the prior assertions. Empiricism stands as testament to the eternal distinctions between men. Biology, in its crudest sense substantiates this statement; the animal kingdom, wherever creatures are social, is governed by a tension between the dominant and the subordinate. Primates are governed and actuated by the movements of the Alpha males: Canines likewise, even the insects are divide themselves according to workers, drones, queens, and the like. Humanity takes this process and applies it naturally to its political and institutional associations.

One does not find a man independent of social and political relationships for long. We are all intrinsically aware of our standing amongst the group in which we are currently involved. Every conversation among a multitude of human beings is a subconscious maneuver or recognition of status. I like most people have felt my position in a hierarchy change, and have changed it likewise; all have experienced positions of leadership, and often this positions are based upon an informal recognition of excellence used in a sense relative to the ends being pursued by the group. It is this social behavior which facilitates, stabilizes, and contextualizes the human relationship.

Our institutions stand as testament to this reality. The episcopal nature of the Church and the recognition of the Great Chain of Being are representation of the divine hierarchy between man and his master. Our businesses are overwhelmingly governed by a hierarchy between management, owners, employees, and the like, each specializing and differing. All armies for millennia were organized based upon recognition of hierarchy.

It stands to reason that the only way in which human relationships are and were, in the infancy of our species and beyond, maintained was through recognition of relative status; this seemingly is because relative states allows for allegiance and deference as well as arbitration, and formal equality amongst men, when too broad and too rigid equality leads to the over struggle for distinction. Aristotle recognized this distinction, his politics for one, does not question the existence of the hierarchy, rather he presupposes it and asks rather who should sit upon the precipice, with the inevitable answer being the one who governs in the interest of his subordinates. Even Aristotle's Democracy does not suppose equality among men, but instead maintains only an equal participation in the prerogatives of governance and citizenship. In fact, the key democratic error is the supposition that these equal political actors, to Aristotle, presumed their equality extended to all spheres.

The fact that we may observe the existence of Elites in all societies and among both animals and man does not prove that these differences are natural. However, numerous thinkers have recognized the limits of egalitarianism and testified against the manipulations of the state as a means to reconcile the natural differences among men.

Roger Scruton explains in The Meaning of Conservatism why institutional advantage cannot be eliminated. He uses education as an analogy suggesting a base service is reasonable, but that some will always approach such an institution better prepared. He notes “we are forced to recognize an inevitability here: a collusion between the institution of the family and the later institutions which prepare a child for the adult world. Unless we are to snatch our babies from their mothers and rear them in battery farms, this ‘inequality of opportunity’ could not be eradicated. And even then, its full eradication might depend upon depriving children of some part of their natural understanding [Perhaps as Scruton suggests a club to the head as a means to delay the cognition of the gifted would suffice].”

William Graham Sumner wrote in his Sociological Fallacies that any sampling of the public through artificial selection of an experimental sample to be applied to a task, would necessarily separate, the most industrious and reflective would rise to the top and place themselves in a position of leadership. Sumner continues by stating, “the dogma that all men are equal is the most flagrant falsehood and most immoral doctrine which men have ever believed.”

W.H Mallock argued in his Aristocracy and Evolution: A study of the Rights, the Origin, and the Social functions of the wealthier Classes, that, Sociologists have failed to answer the question of how much of an individual's advantage is derivative of his congenital or natural advantage bestowed upon him through his biology. In kind Russell Kirk takes up the arguments of John Adams, and writes in The Conservative Mind Adams saw no need to reform the inequities of nature “physical inequality, an intellectual inequality, . . . is established unchangeably by the Author of nature.” For Adams, as well as Kirk, the only sufficient and guaranteed equality was equality under god.

Doctor Charles Murray has spent his life studying this exact phenomenon, the differentiation of men based upon innate ability and intelligence, and has done a great deal to expressed a view sympathetic to those who are incapable of reaching the highest reaches of human achievement. Murray goes to great lengths to the suggests that such individuals may still be recognized in a multitude of ways and that if they are given opportunities suitable to their nature they are are not incapable of living a fulfilling and satisfactory life equal in happiness with anyone who has innate cognitive or physical gifts. Much of this reasoning, in a psychometric form can be found in the Bell Curve, and is expanded upon by Murray in other books.

Larry Arnhart author of Darwinian Conservatism notes that the innate need to form hierarchies is a key element in stability among primate species as well as man and suggest, drawing on the Research of Jane Goodall and Franz De Waal, that we such hierarchies naturally regulated between the one and the few and the many in order to maintain stability and safety. The question of conservative politics is how do we regulate the innate status drive of humans in relation to the aspirations of the many and how to do we provide an adequate life to those who are not worthy or capable of excellence in some sphere. The Conservative seeing this natural order knows that such natural restrictions are immutable and instead must be directed in the fashion most suitable to the needs of the community.

Now it is necessary to turn from the relationship between man and nature to the relationship between the elites themselves. The elite society is one that is divide between the one or the elites in the extreme and the many; this upper strata of elites is most often evident in the political apogee of the executive or head of state. The political body naturally has dominion over the civil and social spheres, but this dominion is prone to misappropriation by malevolent forces. Therefore, an investigation of the utility of elites is necessary in this regard, because it is in the intra-elite relationships that elites show their merit to society. The political world, as all know, is not limited to the organs of government. The political world is also interacting on a constant basis with the spheres of various private institutions or quasi governmental bodies. This is most evident both in the church and the lobby structures of most states; Labour Unions and Chambers of Commerce also serve as mercantile expressions of these associations. The associations make up the little platoons of Edmund Burke, as well as the various Mediating Structures of Richard Neuhaus and Peter L. Berger.

These mediating structures firstly provide the individual with distinction and a status and productivity outlet beyond the limits of the state and therefore provide for the acquisition of skills and social elevation. This is important not only because the monopolization of opportunity in the state sphere necessarily impairs the opportunity for all, but also because it provides an outlet for those who would otherwise seek political elevation and the imposition of the will through misattributed theory and vision. Sumner noted that without the notion one could distinguish themselves among peers there was little worth striving for.

Important multitude of institutions and mediating structures is the notion of subjective excellence. A concept recognized by W.H Mallock who maintained, that there was a great many forms of excellence, and “People who many be classed as great by one judge and classed as ordinary by another.” Of course to the egalitarians the ability to achieve in athletics, craftworks, or higher education, for a handful of examples does not directly correlate with political power and this is the problematic notion. Sure African Americans may dominate American athletics, but what good is that say the egalitarians if they are under-represented in the halls of power. Secondary outlets beyond the political have no use to the egalitarian.

Russell Kirk in an extensive tract on John Adams and Tocqueville in The Conservative Mind sums up concisely the importance of the elite society. Adams took a descriptive view of aristocracy recognizing its benefits and faults as intrinsic and unalterable. He notes that they often formed the bulwark against revolution and through doing so saved humanity from the exercise of popular tyranny and despotism.

Kirk notes, as he reflects on Tocqueville, that the democratic impulse acts in opposition to hierarchy; like Aristotle it is notable that the great majority, always the poorest, will act in opposition to prerogative and complex distinctions. Because democrats naturally act against the institutions which oppose or limit direct representation in democracy they, “efface gradually those very safeguards which make libertarian democracy possible.”

Like Tocqueville it seems Kirk sympathizes with the immutable nature of aristocracy, permanent, because it is made up of a plurality of souls(unlike the mortal monarch), stable because they are too few to be moved by popular outrage, and unmoving because it is confident in its nature and tied to property and distinction. However, democracy will not abide by the aristocratic state.

These institutions are important because they provide an independent political, social, and resource base for the exercise of resistance towards outside powers. For example the labour union resisting the extensions of the corporate world just as the independent municipal associations exact pressure on the mayoral body and in turn secure concessions beneficial to the municipality.

However, the elite society does not solely act as a check upon arbitrary power, but also acts as a bridge between the personal/private and political worlds. The structures of institutional power outside government organs and corporate bodies, the so called megastructures to Neuhaus and Berger, are to them, necessarily alienating. In To Empower People: The Role of Mediating Structures in Public Policy in the piece they argue a thesis that they key failure of the welfare state structures is the failure to acknowledge and effectively utilize the mediating structures present in society. The key structures they identify are “neighborhood, family, church, and voluntary association.” They maintain that any divorce from these structures depersonalizes government efforts to ameliorate suffering or act in an authoritative fashion. They state “Without institutionally reliable processes of mediation, the political order becomes detached from the values and realities of individual life. Deprived of its moral foundation. . . . When that happens, political order must be secured by coercion rather than by consent.”

With Kirk, Neuhaus and Berger in mind we create a picture whereby the political world finds stability through the moderating nature of the elite or aristocratic society. This is because the institutions they head are capable of resisting the force of the state and corporate megastructures while meanwhile providing a bridge between the private and public worlds. Thus invested with power, prerogative, and property to protect the elite society is one in which a body is placed into a position where by nature it must mediate between the emaciated and the gluttonous. Elites resist revolution, and they are educated enough, to even blockade the silent ones when possible: only an elite society can muster that much independent strength, the strength to oppose the rapine nature of the mass and the banditry of the potentially corrupt leader. This resistive character is of the utmost use in the democratic system because in such a system more than any other the reckless and capricious people are given the means to act in a tyrannical and harmful fashion.

Finally, I would like briefly touch on the existence of economic elites, those supposed exploiters of capital, who, according to critics are responsible for the base state of the most impoverished among us. An accusation of this fashion may essentially be dismissed out of hand, only in the most extreme regions of economic inequality is economics a zero sum game. We all know by instinct that economic measures are prone to problems, but simply because one class of people rises in its incomes faster than another or a population declines in wealth does not imply causation. Yet, many of the Marxist and Socialist demeanor would have it believed that the state of hardship endemic to the poor is not permanent, but rather recent and curable through the elimination of the entrenched advantage of the wealthy. However, I contend that such an assertion is misguided because the economic elites, will always resurface, and in doing so provide benefit to their communities, if given the opportunity to act freely; likewise any attempt to equalize economic outcomes, as Friedrich Hayek new well, is inimical to the freedom of the society as a whole.

Thomas Sowell touches on the issue of economic elites in his Quest For Cosmic Justice where he acknowledges its futility like all other forms of Cosmic Justice. Cosmic Justice being defined by Sowell as Justice which seeks “to mitigate and make more just the undeserved misfortunes arising from the cosmos, as well as from society. It seeks to produce cosmic justice, going beyond strictly social justice, which becomes just one aspect of cosmic justice.” The aims of cosmic justice can be summarized as the creation of a world as it ought to have been initially created, it is justice beyond the frontiers of man. Another way of looking at Cosmic Justice is instrumental reasoning placed into the realm of Justice, what is meant by this is that to the Cosmic Justice advocate the disordered universe has no pattern and no rationality and therefore may be subject to the whims of mankind, who stands above and beyond the frontiers of nature: it is a deluded and superhuman conception.

To highlight the failed attempts to equalize outcomes Sowell points to Malaysia as one example. In Malaysia local Chinese were discriminated against because the native Malays were failing to secure positions in the University. Despite a many impediments placed upon the Chinese to reduce their University attendance rates and therefore equalize the number of Chinese and Malays attending university the initiative failed, and Chinese continued to make up the economically dominant population in the country.

Likewise, Sowell talks about reformers in the Jewish quarters of New York who saw massive ghetto’s instead of economic trade offs. They assumed that because Jews had been living in such impoverished dwellings they must have been exploited by the landlords or employers. In fact, the Jews were living there by their own volition finding it easier to save money when housing costs were lower, often saving above 50% of their earnings. When city ordinance was placed to limit the squalor in the neighborhoods the Jews and other locals protested alongside the landlords knowing that housing prices would climb if minimum standards were placed on the housing. Certainly, reform could have been possible, but the misguided assumption of exploitation highlights the errors of visionary thinking and efforts at equalization. This conscious soothing efforts often do little for the benefit of the supposed victims of the circumstances to be remedied.

In The Road to Serfdom Friedrich Hayek described the pattern by which equalization and state interference in the marketplace necessarily impacts freedoms and hinders justice recognizing that our fundamental freedoms were based on equality before the law, or the conception of the rule of law: the fundamental concept that all parties regardless of station are governed by the same law of the land from the head of state to the pauper. He also recognized that the rule of law produced necessary inequalities. In order to have equal status before the law, the law could not treat people at variance with one another due to economic circumstance. The moment the law procured more for some or facilitated economic or opportunity access for one at the expense of another equality is necessarily eroded to a greater extent than the minimal inequality necessitated by the rule of law. In essence formal equality before the law must be readily sacrificed to achieve economic equality. It is this paradigm that makes a mockery of Blind Justice.

Joseph Schumpeter went to great lengths to dispel the myths of erroneous economic thinking about the highest achieving individuals in a given society. He wrote about these issues in “Social Classes in an Ethnically Homogeneous Environment.” Primarily he highlighted that economic class is not a monolith and wealth and achievement are subjective criteria. Though a poor man may call both Bill Gates and a local contractor rich, say the contractor has a three million dollar house and makes several hundred thousand dollars a year, the distinction between Gates and the contractor is likely greater than the distinction between the average individual and the contractor. Schumpeter also took the time to acknowledge that the perception most people have of the wealthy is tainted. Those who are not wealthy often experience the wealthy outside of their labours and instead at leisure, where their hard work and energy is not apparent; rather we experience the wealthy as indolent rather than industrious. Schumpeter says the rich are maintained and grow through, “differences in efficiency. . . . Behavior giving rise to such differences may, for our purposes, be adequately described in terms of hard-headedness, concentration on profit, authority, capacity for work, and inexorable self-discipline, especially in renouncing other aspects of life. . . . [O]ften escap[ing] consideration, because the outsider is likely to observe these people in the practice of compensatory and conspicuous excesses.”

The ultimate result of this is a misperception of the monied class and a toxic envy rather than an energetic aspiration driven by a desire to learn from those who achieve most in our society. To Schumpeter the capitalistic system is necessarily dynamic and reliant on innovation, which is provided by the monied class, therefore it would not be misguided to place such a monied class in a position of elevation rather than denigration so the necessarily innovative knowledge and ethic may be disseminated to those who are capable of similar achievements yet lacking in means.

Ultimately what may be derived from Schumpeter beyond his insights about the innovation produced by economic elites and the necessarily oblique perspective of the mass of people in relation to the wealthy, is that changes in social class take place over the long term not necessarily a life time. People were improving their condition and have been inexorably, however, this does not content the multitude of reforms and revolutionaries because it is largely imperceptible or at least inadequate when a single lifetime is under consideration, and in fact the improvements in condition may not be reliable, regressions may take place, and individual elements of families may fall behind, these concerns then draw the attention of reformers and egalitarians who refuse to take the historical view into consideration.

I hope that the arguments given may prove persuasive for some who have not considered the relationship between social and economic inequality; it is my hope that such arguments will prove to be a catalyst for a re-examination of our paradigms and projections related to an elite and aristocratic society.

Primarily, I hope that one will realize that the elite society provides a necessary stabilizing force on imperative to good government as it forms a natural buffer between the envy and vacillation of the mass and the acquisitiveness and domination of the ruling body. The elite society is eternal; it is eternal because men natural differ on the most base and biological levels are capacity differs, but not only on such mean grounds can we measure distinctions, rather our culture, environment, heritage, and efforts all produce the richness of human life. Equalization, and the efforts to reduce the elite society, is a non-teleological goal one that serves no greater purpose but the satisfaction of the aggrieved. This effort is misguided and I hope the case has been made for the utility of the elite society both economic and social.