Foundation Series: Thomas Jefferson’s Natural Aristocracy vs. Artificial Aristocracy

Foundation Series: Thomas Jefferson’s Natural Aristocracy vs. Artificial Aristocracy

In 1813, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

There is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents. Formerly bodily powers gave place among the aristoi. But since the invention of gunpowder has armed the weak as well as the strong with missile death, bodily strength, like beauty, good humor, politeness and other accomplishments, has become but an auxiliary ground of distinction. There is also an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents; for with these it would belong to the first class. The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society. And indeed it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of the society. May we not even say that that form of government is the best which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government? The artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and provision should be made to prevent it’s ascendancy.

Where do we start with this one? Let’s start with the end where Jefferson makes the statement that ‘artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government.’

In order to understand where Jefferson is taking us, we have to take a second to understand how he defines the idea of ‘artificial aristocracy.’ Simply put, he said it is founded on ‘wealth and birth.’ The idea that they are ‘entitled’ to a place in government because of their money, or even the idea that it’s their birth-rite (Because that’s a thing in America?).

Now, let’s go back to it being a bad ingredient for those in government.

Take a look at politics today. For a moment, let’s put aside history and look just at today. We’ve morphed into this idea that only those who are wealthy are fit for political office. We’ve morphed into this idea that because someone else in the family, or even a spouse, was in office, that somehow sets into motion that they are next in line. That this is their time.

Truth be told, it isn’t! That’s just not how this idea was supposed to work.

This brings us to Jefferson’s idea that ‘natural aristocracy’ is ‘the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society.’

Uninfluenced by their own lusts for power, they rely on their ‘talents and virtue.’ Something of a lost art in today’s society.

Let us focus on the promotion of a ‘natural aristocracy’ rather than give way to a polluted ‘artificial aristocracy.’

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