Jun 10 2015

How Aristocracy Fails

An aristocracy is a form of government designed on the principle that the members of a society who are most capable of ruling well, should be the rulers. They are typically the top percentage of a society in terms of education, wealth, social connections and power outside of government. In Greek, “aristos” means “excellent” and “kratos” means “power”. The Greek word, “aristokrat√≠a” literally means “excellent power”, but is used to mean “rule by the best”. When an aristocracy is working optimally, wise and capable leaders are chosen to make decisions that are good for all, putting aside any personal gain as trivial compared to the well being of the larger group.

History teaches us that while it is possible to find such leaders, it is difficult to maintain a high quality level that is resistant to corruption. When the wise leader is given power to make decisions and makes them well, they are often given more power by the group. This is a natural reaction. But power becomes seductive and while a lower level of power may not tempt some, a higher level of power will tempt more. Everybody has a price point of power and temptation at which our ability to make purely rational and ethical decisions begins to degrade. Even when a truly ethical leader is found who does not succumb to increased power, there is no guarantee that the person who follows them will have the same fortitude.

Aristocratic status has also been assigned by inheritance just as titles and land ownership, or by military membership and rank. In Greece, when Solon (Laws of Reform by Solon) was given the authority to reform the laws, he ended the practice of aristocratic birthright and assigned status based on property holdings. When the status of governance leadership is assigned by any means other than evaluating the ability to govern wisely, that other means injects another value system into the process and dilutes the performance potential of the aristocracy.

Rule by a council of aristocrats or wise elders is probably one of the most successful forms of aristocracy, but it too is subject to the same weaknesses as rule by a single person. In the end, the performance of the ruling body or individual will be mostly determined by qualities of the ethics that are applied to decision making.