The Aristocracy of Wealth and Thomas Jefferson
In the words of Thomas Jefferson, the aristocracy of wealth is harmful and dangerous to society as a whole; one can't but agree with him:
"...to annul this privilege, and instead of the aristocracy of wealth, of more harm and danger, than benefit, to society, to make an opening for the aristocracy of virtue and talent, which nature has wisely provided for the direction of the interests of society, and scattered with equal hand through all it's conditions, is essential to a well-ordered republic."
Thomas Jefferson wrote those words in a letter to John Adams, in 1813. One of the things that was most abhorrent to our founding fathers was the European aristocracy, and the lack of opportunities for people to rise above the station in life to which they were born. Our founding fathers had a very radical vision of our new Republic: first, it was self-governed by the people; second, the both government and law were no respecters of persons; everyone was equal under the law and to the eyes of the government.
Thomas Jefferson perceived the European aristocracy as hopelessly corrupt; what Jefferson wanted to see was a government formed by the people and those elected to government to be the most meritous citizens; not the most powerful or richest; and especially not simply the people who owned all the land, as in bygone times in Europe and England.
Thomas Jefferson , in his letter to John Adams, sneers scornfully at the "artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without a shadow of talent nor virtue." He goes on to say that he perceives some people to belong to the "natural aristocracy" and lists these natural advantages of those people:
- good humour
Jefferson goes on to say that it would be unlikely of our Creator to "have formed man for the social state, and not provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of society". Jefferson believed that we should look for our leaders amongst that "natural aristocracy".
Jefferson was no snob, as some historians claim. He outlined a proviso for giving everyone enough educational opportunities, so that, no matter what the circumstances of a person's birth, the "natural aristocrats" would have the opportunity to rise to the fore in society, business and government.
What has happened to the quite simple and very idealistic dream of our founding fathers? It seems, in America, rather than an artificial aristocracy of birth, such as persisted for so many centuries in Europe, what has been substituted is an aristocracy of wealth. All the time, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This has been the national trend for decades past.
There seems to be fewer and fewer opportunities for a person with natural talents, virtue and wisdom, to rise to the peaks of society, government or business. Even though there are some amazing success stories, they belong (mostly) to America's past. And I wonder, even then, what that person actually did to make their first million. Did they behave with "virtue"? Or were they canny and ruthless opportunists? How did they succeed, initially? The legendary Getty fortune, the Vanderbilt fortune, the Rockefeller fortune...the DuPonts...how did those people get their start?
It seems to me, in our government today, the wealthy special interests or corporate interests are much more than adequately represented, at the expense of the common man or woman. Somehow, this idealistic dream of Thomas Jefferson's has been corrupted. We now have that most dreaded thing, a ruling aristocracy of wealth.
Though I highly respect President Obama's efforts on behalf of the people of the United States of America, in these troubled times, I also wonder if he is in touch with the real problems the common man/woman is experiencing now...President Obama's last tax return listed his taxable income as a little over 1 million dollars. In one year. That, alone, puts President Obama right in with the aristocracy of wealth, though I believe, at least initially, President Obama's heart was in the right place.
Maybe there really is some impulse in society to separate itself into a pyramid shape, with the privileged few at the top, resting on the backs of the lower orders. Maybe there is some undeniable natural event, over time, in any human society, for it to shape itself into these seemingly unfair layers.
I do know that however repulsive the aristocracy of wealth, or of birth, is, in theory--the actuality of it is fascinating to someone who isn't so privileged. I followed "Lives of the Rich and Famous" when it was on TV, I blushingly admit! I loved the Royals in England and that glamorous wedding! I thought the whole thing simply thrilling! I've read about so many Victorian and Edwardian giants of the aristocracy, and their peculiar and lavish lifestyles, with awe and some species of greed. I fantasize on what I would do if I won the Lotto.
Underneath it all, I know I should know better. There is a better way. That pyramid shape, with the aristocracy of wealth at the top, is no good model for society as a whole.