23 February 2010

The murder/suicide of aristocracy

The Duke of Devonshire has announced the death of the aristocracy.

‘The aristocracy is not dying, it’s dead! Coffin’s nailed down, it’s in the ground. It doesn’t exist, except that people have titles.’ *

This is of course true. Aristocracy in theory and practice has been vigorously opposed since the inception of the welfare state. Its wealth has been largely decimated by estate duties, although the Duke himself remains relatively wealthy. After decades of propaganda via television and other media, aristocrats are now generally hated and despised, and their influence has waned to the point of being negligible. A few of them from time to time have provided some resistance to the ideologically-driven changes which have brought this country to its present state, but most have been entirely passive.

The Duke sounds thoroughly modern in his endorsement of the gradual transformation of his class.

‘Look, I’m only here by pure chance, I haven’t earned any of this?'

In 1999 the Labour government got rid of most of the hereditary peers from the House of Lords, and it is now planning to remove the last few so that there will never again be anyone in the House of Lords by virtue of inheritance. The Duke says that if that were to happen, he would give up his title altogether. This seems an unnecessary move, and presumably reveals his lack of sympathy for the idea of aristocracy.

The modern idea is to have all legislation determined by people who have been ‘elected’ – that is to say, chosen by a majority of the people who happen to bother to vote in an election. There is no reason why this process should necessarily produce an outcome satisfactory from any viewpoint (economic, moral, humanitarian), in most or even any cases.

The advantage of having at least some people in power who are unelected is that there is a greater chance of having some genuine diversity of viewpoint. Pure democracy seems to generate a model of politician similar to a second-hand car salesman catering to a market composed of average citizens (i.e. ones with an IQ of 100).

The benefit of having aristocrats in the House of Lords, as in any sphere of influence, was that they were inclined, by upbringing and no doubt by genetic makeup, to value individual independence and territory, and were therefore more likely to promote liberty and other principles that favoured the individual versus the state, such as the rule about double jeopardy, which has now been abolished.

The old House of Lords offered slight resistance to the intrusive legislation that tends to come out of Parliament more or less automatically, because those elected to power will always tend to seek to increase rather than diminish that power. With the removal of the aristocracy from most spheres, a countervailing force to the continual and inexorable expansion of state power and intrusiveness has been removed.

The Duke of Devonshire says that the final removal of all hereditary peers from the House of Lords would be a ‘clear-cut [sign of] what the people wanted’, presumably meaning that it would show that ‘the people’ want to abolish aristocracy. This is absurd. What the House of Commons does has little to do with the wishes of the majority; it is driven primarily by the preferences of the political elite. But even if it were true, it would not necessarily make it a good thing. An important attribute of aristocrats was that they were in the habit of using their own judgement about what is right, regardless of what the majority thinks. The majority might think, for example, that Jews ought to be oppressed, and the majority probably does think that people with high IQs should not be able to derive any advantages by using their ability.

* * *

No members of the aristocracy have given us significant financial support in our efforts to prevent the suppression of unfashionable points of view. Many have known of our existence, but without making any attempt to get accurate information about us by making personal contact. The Duke’s father, so I was informed, was once approached by one of our senior supporters, himself an aristocrat, but with no positive result.

Instead of surrendering to the ideology purely because it purports to be based on ‘what the people want’ or on what is supposed to be ‘good for them’, the Duke of Devonshire should devote some of his wealth to supporting those who might produce genuinely progressive culture. This is a role which the aristocracy used to play, but which they have now given up, presumably on a similar basis, i.e. that the kind of culture the majority wants is already being produced.

If the Duke were to support us, the aristocracy might once again serve a useful function. We appeal to him to do so.

* Sunday Times, 21 February 2010.