Aristotle wrote that rule by the best is the best, which may seem tautological, but it does not seem obvious to many, based on a brief look around. There are any number of forms of government – democracy, monarchy, oligarchy, autocracy – but it’s optimal in any of them to be governed by those most suited to rule, the aristoi – the ‘virtuous’. Hence, aristo-cracy – rule by the most virtuous. (By one of those ironies, Aristotle’s very name means ‘the best purpose or end’, even if he himself never ruled or governed, unless one counts the intellectual leadership he exercised at the Lyceum he founded in 335 B.C., after he had studied and taught at Plato’s Academy for decades. He also taught Alexander the Great).
We speak of being governed by ‘elites’, a term derived from the Latin verb eligere, ‘to choose’. The elite, therefore, are the chosen ones, the anointed, those, one might think, quasi natus, as though born, to rule.
Are they? Beto O’Rourke’s claim during his presidential bid a few years ago that ‘I was born for this!’ rings empty, a hollow self-encomium. As T.S. Eliot lamented in his 1925 eponymous poem, our world is filled with such hollow men, and, in one of those tragic ironies, seem all the hollower as they rise to the top. They are ciphers, signifying not much of anything at all, besides the signaled virtues of the zeitgeist, their noses and sails trimmed to the winds that blow.
As this reflection points out, elites include not just those elected to office, but also those who influence policies, laws, customs – the denizens of the deep state; those who shape our moral milieu, actors, pundits and anchors on news and talk shows, columnists for au courant newspapers and magazines. We may also include professors and teachers at ‘elite’ universities and colleges, forming, or de-forming as the case may be, the minds and of the children who will make up our future generations. These elites need not be rich, and if they are, it is often on the public purse or by nefarious means. They also need not be virtuous or even meritorious, and are quite often the contrary.
All that is required to be an elite is proximity to power.
So, we may ask, where do the elites get such power?
First, the system of laws, which they co-opt, finagling themselves into positions whereby they can influence and instantiate radical legislation amenable to their worldview, from the local school board to the Supreme Court to the WEF, from flying a rainbow flag, to Obergefell, to global policies dismantling national industry. Once they are in, they remove the ladder for those they don’t want in.
Second, there is propaganda, often subtle, repeated, and hypnotic, convincing many of positions that are, to an unbiased observer, only partly true, if not patently false. Control and censorship of the mainstream media and in our educational establishments aids in this immensely. Trudeau and his Liberals here in Canada already own the CBC, and have bribed the rest. Whatever’s left that might send a contrary message they will soon make illegal. The universities are wholeheartedly on the government payroll. Politics and laws are downstream from culture, and, by such propaganda, which is particularly influential on the young, the elites mold the culture, or what’s left of it. The pan-sexual agenda is now imprinted on the mind of most children under five. Disney/Marvel is about to unleash a ‘gay’ (or is that transgender?) Spiderman slinging merrily around New York.
Third, there are the baubles and freebies by which the populace is bribed, from welfare to health care, open borders and carte-blanche citizenship – at least for certain groups. Any elite who dares even suggest imposing some limit on this governmental largesse is suddenly not quite so elite anymore, but cast into the outer darkness as a misanthropic boor.
Finally, if the hoi polloi get a faint whiff of what’s up and start to get restless – recall the brutal end of the Canadian Freedom Convoy – there are the legions of police and military ready to knock a few heads and break a few bones, if need be. As Nero quipped in his advice to future dictators, ‘pay your soldiers well’. Or as an alliterative Yoda might have mused: Prodigal payroll and pension pliant policemen make.
There are exceptions, and we should honour and give thanks for virtuous and courageous leaders and those tasked with enforcing the law. But in the main, the aristoi – our best and brightest – are living quiet, industrious lives out of the limelight, handing on knowledge, running businesses, farms, schools; overseeing households, raising children; praying and working in parishes, monasteries and convents. Almost none seek to lord it over others. In one of those many ironies, the last person we should choose to rule is the one who seeks it most. Ambition is corrupting. Recall the parable of the fruitful trees and the bramble (Judges 9:8-16)
We should not forget that there is a spiritual dimension to this, for in the mystery of God’s providence, dark and sinister forces have been given power in this world, and they in turn bestow it upon those who do their will:
And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it shall all be yours. (Lk. 4:5-7)
Hence, rather than an aristocracy, we too often end up with a kakistocracy, rule by the worst, and the rotten fruit is now ripening. We could try choosing the best, even if it means cajoling and dragooning them into office. But perhaps we need some sort of divine cleansing fire first, for the forest is thick with brambles.
All is not lost. Today’s reading from the prophet Hosea gives hope:
Sow integrity for yourselves, reap a harvest of kindness, break up your fallow ground: it is time to go seeking the Lord until he comes to rain salvation on you. (Hs 10:12)