There comes a time in the life of every country when we must acknowledge the existence of, and the need for, a social group to provide example, guidance, and influence in society and government. Egalitarian as we Americans like to think we are, we nevertheless informally nominate, elevate, consecrate, and hold in high(er) esteem, members of a cultural and sometimes political elite: our celebrities, our entrepreneurs, and to a less extent members of our ‘aristocracy’.
While some would deny, protest, or bristle at the word, we need to admit that we do have an aristocracy, as fluid, loosely organized, opaque, and untitled as it may be. If you don’t believe we have one, fine, have it your way. I’m simply advocating the need for a new and/or improved one.
It will require society to first understand the term and then redefine the term. It will require new aristocrats to step forward and behave differently. America is, inevitably, growing up. It is necessary that we amend our social institutions in order to reflect new sensibilities, new realities, and new requirements.
I’ll delineate briefly the logic behind this scandalous proposal, and articulate the benefits it may confer upon the nation.
First is the benefit of Example. The new aristocracy would replace or at least supplement celebrities as models of behavior for society as a whole. Entertainers and athletes who be required to step aside–not down–and allow room for First Citizens–my name for this group–to step forward. Let’s face it: most entertainers and athletes are good at what they do. Few have exhibited the same expertise in behaving well in public that they have on the stage or on the field. They can’t be expected to: wealth and recognition are new to them. The public needs more qualified role models from which to learn.
Speech, etiquette, dress–all the Old Money attributes we advocate on this blog–would be presented by the living, breathing, day in and day out example of The First Citizen. The challenge for Old Money individuals and families would be to assume a more public role: people need to see these attributes in action in order to understand them and emulate them. Charity affords the most appropriate way to do this: when a First Citizen donates money to a school or hospital, they can take the time to introduce themselves to teachers, students, nurses, and patients. This is not grandstanding. This is teaching by example, inspiring by exposure. It needs to be done more often, tastefully, but publicly.
Second, First Citizens should embody Moderation. They should be a moderating influence in the political climate of a democracy. Tempers flare. Opinions can be hard and sharp. Drastic actions, which may be the right of every person, may not be in the best interest of all the people.
The First Citizen must, of course, be well-educated, well-read, and well-traveled. He or she will have an informed perspective on history, human nature, business, freedom and tyranny. These are the fundamental issues of daily life in the world. They must balance the passions of a free people with the rules of law that every society must have in order to remain free.
Most basic of these is the sufficient safety net of money, food, and shelter to afford the less fortunate and working classes survival, assistance, and the opportunity to improve their lives. In turn, the same society should afford enough reward and incentive to wealth creators to invest and create jobs, good, and services–value–in society. Taxes and regulations should be well-considered, with public safety paramount. Unscrupulous business practices do more harm than wars.
The First Citizen must curb his or her zeal for unregulated capitalism and speculation as well as unchecked authoritarianism and beaurocracy. A public too dependent on the state will forget the value of hard work. Entrepreneurs too free of regulation will forget the importance of fair play and the essential role government plays in managing and preserving markets.
Third, there is Courage. Circumspect and discreet, the First Citizen can honor his or her obligation to set an example and calm the political waters in times of temporary turbulence. However, the history of democracies hint strongly that there will inevitably come a Time of Tyranny. The First Citizen can be many things, but they cannot be out of touch, viewing the world through the myopic lens of privilege.
They must have the honesty and fortitude to to know that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it may very well be a clear and present danger to democracy. This is the time for a First Citizen to discard the lesser loyalties and labels of political party or ideology. It is a critical time for the members of the American Aristocracy to close ranks and come together as a single social and political voice. When tyranny will not heed the persistent calls of ‘Enough’ from the public, or will not alter or correct a corrupt system (campaign finance laws come to mind) then the aristocracy of our country must unite and bring the full force of its moral authority, considered opinion, and very real influence to the front.
This opinion and its consequent actions must at all times reflect genuine concern for the overall, long term good of the people as a whole. Self interest and self preservation are secondary considerations for a First Citizen. Often, their forefathers have seen to the financial well-being of their descendants’ current lives of privilege. The nagging pull of ‘more’ or ‘profit’ or ‘acquisition’ should have long since been put to rest. If it persists, go, young one, into business and compete. Work, profit, acquire, but in doing so consider yourself a person of business and not an aristocrat.
You cannot be both, and it is obvious why: the time is soon coming when a First Citizen will be asked–oh, required–to step up. Tyranny, costumed in conservative or liberal clothing, will soon enough show its face…and its teeth. Violence, resulting from injustice, may be met with martial law and violations of citizens’ rights. Authority will make its play for power. A person of business will have to consider his profits and his property. An aristocrat, only his people.
Therefore, the aristocrat, the First Citizen, should be comfortable with his or her state of affairs. Nothing the state could expose should concern him or her in the least. There should be a complete immunity from blackmail or extortion. The First Citizen should be completely comfortable with his finances. They should be well-managed, diverse, and secluded in safe havens. The government will seek to bankrupt or confiscate assets of its enemies for reasons just or fabricated. It may conversely seek to bribe and corrupt those not wholly on board with its agenda.
An aristocrat will be immune to both. He is financially independent and controlled in his expenditures. His attention and resources can therefore be used to their best advantage, not obligated to burdensome luxuries or distracted with shortages of cash. This First Citizen is liquid, mobile, and self sufficient in purse and in person, able and willing to commit time, money, influence, energy, reputation, and even his life, to defending the ideals of liberty.
It may or may not be said that an aristocrat is a friend of the people; but it should be said that an aristocrat was a friend to the people. The aristocrat is the first to enjoy the privileges of his position. his money, his luxuries, his freedom from worry; his access to advantage in many realms. Correspondingly, he must also be the first to stand and speak, to fight when warranted, to die if necessary, when the rights of any of his countrymen are abridged. This is the double-edged sword of nobility: if you find it to sharp or heavy to pick up and carry, leave it be for a better person who may come later.
To those of you who burn with ambition, make your fortune and put it to the use of patriots. To those who yearn for purpose, take your family’s fortune, nourish and protect those in your care. To those of you who dare to glory, risk your fortune and all you hold dear–follow Washington, Jefferson, Adams, look to Frederick Douglas, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Revive their ideals. Restore those same ideals at the forefront our national psyche with your words, with your example, and with your actions.
When our Founding Fathers wrote that “all men are created equal” and promoted the concept of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, their words rang out over national boundaries, over centuries of time. The same resonance is there when we recall the words, “I have a dream.” We have ample role models to draw upon when we look to men who signed their name to dangerous documents and spoke challenging truths. They became our aristocracy by not by birth or title, but by vision and bravery.
We need First Citizens. We need those educated in private schools to now advocate for the public good and, in doing so, turn the tide of history. We need our American Aristocracy to step forward, be they reluctant or eager, well-spoken or shy, faults, contradictions or preferences be damned. This is no time and no position for the timid. And you do not come from timid stock.
Step up. Step forward. Lead the way.