Restoring a Landed Aristocracy
There is a contradiction in an essay by a political commentator in which he decries proposals to pack the US Supreme Court:
That is why it is poisonous to our democratic form of government to do what the national Left is trying to do to our Supreme Court in order to advance a liberal agenda it most likely cannot advance in the appropriate and legal way—through legislation in Congress. It is also corrosive to the trust Americans must have in the judicial system to create the impression that the courts are nothing more than a third political branch.
If the federal government were really of the democratic sort, then efforts to enlarge the number of justices on the Supreme Court, to subject them to elections, to make it a ‘third political branch’ – in short, to make it more responsive to the whims of the majority, is exactly what folks should be demanding.
This gentleman, however, and others who oppose such a change seem to understand that crying for ‘more democracy’ will only make things worse. Democratic elements can be helpful in government, especially when they are part of the ancient customs of a people; but more often than not, the people who seek elected office are demagogues, some of whom have serious psychological problems. And this has been the case since at least Plato’s days. For those who want to see a wiser and more just government, they will have to go against the grain; they will have to demand a return of what has been banished in the States; they will have to bring back the landed hereditary aristocracy.
The landed gentry is a class in society that can give it a number of good gifts: a long memory, stability, and so on. The French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville described this rather poetically in Democracy in America. We have quoted this before, but it is worth repeating:
Amongst aristocratic nations, as families remain for centuries in the same condition, often on the same spot, all generations become, as it were, contemporaneous. A man almost always knows his forefathers, and respects them: he thinks he already sees his remote descendants, and he loves them. He willingly imposes duties on himself towards the former and the latter; and he will frequently sacrifice his personal gratifications to those who went before and to those who will come after him (Richard Heffner, edr., New York City, Signet Classic, 2001, Part II, Book 2, Chap. 27, p. 193).
But it is precisely this class that has been eliminated in the States. It held on the longest in the South (because of which, many great leaders could be found there), but with the victory of the Yankees in the War, it has passed from here as well. Many of the stories of William Faulkner, in fact, are the fictional depiction of the slow, tragic demise of the South’s old planter aristocracy.
What has risen up to take its place as the States have ‘progressed’ further towards democracy has been worse than its predecessor: Instead of a landed aristocracy we have now got a combination of an oligarchy of judges and lawyers and an oligarchy of rootless money. Both of the latter tend to associate only with those in similar circumstances as themselves, cutting them off from contact with plain folks, constricting their knowledge and interests very narrowly, giving birth to their snobbish, ivory tower beliefs and behavior.
It is just the opposite with the landed aristoi. By virtue of their land-holding, they must be concerned with what is happening around them. The health of their fields and waters depends on the health of their neighbors’ lands and waters. Their economic well-being depends in some measure on the ability of their neighbors to buy what they produce. Their neighbors are in a sense an extended family for whom they care (and have cared for generations), keeping up roads and bridges, churches and schools for the common good of all.
The duties required of the hereditary gentry, usually service in a country’s military, likewise brings them into contact with the lower classes, further linking the lives of the two.
Even those dastardly kings were not so isolated as our modern judicial and moneyed oligarchs. As Professor Sarah Foot recounts in Æthelstan (Appendix II; New Haven, Yale UP, 2011, pgs. 259-65), King Æthelstan (King of England from 924-39) and his retinue were frequently moving from one part of his realm to another so he could deal with affairs in person as much as possible, though some delegation was necessary (p. 79). When was the last time you heard about Jeff Bezos or Chief Justice John Roberts coming down from their Olympian abodes to rub shoulders with the common folk as kings like Æthelstan did?
To revive a virtuous leadership class in the States, the re-establishment of an hereditary, landed aristocracy ought to be seriously considered. Thus, whatever other revisions one wants to make to the Philadelphia charter or to the various State constitutions, throw this one in as well: the repeal of clauses like the following in Article I, Section 9 – ‘No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States’.
By doing so, conservatives/traditionalists could build up a counter aristocracy, if you will, capable of challenging the domination of the culture by the Woke aristocracy of the judiciary and the plutocrats. If nothing else, this counter aristocracy could at least offer shelter and sustenance (land, an occupation) to those who have suffered dispossession at the hands of the Marxist, Cancel Culture Elite. But, more than that, their manors could serve as a series of bases from which peaceful, long-term efforts to retake captured institutions could be organized and funded.
But the reappearance of a strong and vigorous landed aristocracy is intertwined with the overall spiritual condition of society. As long as the creation is viewed as a poorly developed object waiting to be re-shaped by technocratic minds into whatever form they want it to take; as long as it is viewed as a thing with no intrinsic value or structure of its own, as an abstraction; then an Elite that is likewise closely tied to abstractions like fiat money, the digital bits of cyber space, and ‘evolving’ laws, and imbued with an exalted view of their own expansive powers, will be dominant.
However, if we take the pre-Modern view that the creation has a definite form, identity, and purpose, then the prominence of an Elite rooted in fixed, concrete physical realities like the soil will reflect that. The Native Americans Black Elk and Slow Buffalo give voice to this pre-Modern view when they say,
When we use the water in the sweat lodge we should think of Wakan-Tanka, who is always flowing, giving His power and life to everything. . . . The round fire place at the center of the sweat lodge is the center of the universe, in which dwells Wakan-Tanka, with His power which is the fire. All these things are Wakan [holy and mystery] and must be understood deeply if we really wish to purify ourselves, for the power of a thing or an act is in the meaning and the understanding.
Remember . . . the ones you are going to depend upon. Up in the heavens, the Mysterious One, that is your grandfather. In between the earth and the heavens, that is your father. This earth is your grandmother. The dirt is your grandmother. Whatever grows in the earth is your mother. It is just like a sucking baby on a mother. . . .
Always remember, your grandmother is underneath your feet always. You are always on her, and your father is above.
(Quoted in Jack D. Forbes, ‘Indigenous Americans: Spirituality and Ecos’)
This is close to what the Orthodox Church confesses, that the Holy Ghost is ‘everywhere present and fillest all things’; that every created thing has as the ground of its being and as its goal a ‘word’ or logos of the Logos, the God-man, Jesus Christ; and, that by virtue of the Incarnation, the Son of God is hypostatically united to what He has made – to the flesh and bone and soul of man, who is the microcosm of the whole creation: God therefore wears His creation as a garment in much more than simply a metaphorical sense.
This pre-Modern view of Orthodox Christianity limits man’s desire and ability to ravage the natural world. Philip Sherrard writes,
The lack of technical genius in the West [i.e., ancient Greece and Rome - W.G.] or, rather, this refusal to admit technical exploitation except in a very limited sphere, was emphasized, not counteracted, by the spirit of Christianity. . . . One of the architects of Hagia Sophia at Constantinople was quite capable of making a steam engine (some 1200 years before James Watt ‘invented’ it), but he used his skill only to make the house he was living in shake as though there was an earthquake in order to get rid of an unpleasant neighbour living on the top floor (The Rape of Man & Nature, Ipswich, Suffolk, Golgonooza Press, 1987, pgs. 66-7).
This anti-nominalist mentality was so ingrained in the Roman Empire centered at Constantinople that one fellow moaned that ‘the meager accomplishment of the Byzantines in the natural sciences remains one of the mysteries of the Greek Middle Ages’ (M. V. Anastos, ‘The History of Byzantine Science’, quoted in Fr John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology, New York, Fordham UP, 1979, p. 133).
It is therefore up to us what sort of aristocracy we will have. If we continue to accept as valid the Faustian, nominalist ideology that folks like Prof Richard Weaver and Dr Matthew Johnson have been warning us about for decades, then we will continue to find ourselves under the not so benevolent rule of our current Promethean technocratic masters. If we turn away from that system back to the pre-Modern, Christian, Logos-centered view of creation, we will more than likely find ourselves with an humble, generous, agrarian-oriented ruling class.
As Orthodox Christians begin their celebrations of Christ’s bright Resurrection and victory over death, here’s hoping that, God allowing, a landed, hereditary aristocracy will also rise from the grave in the South and the other States.