Societies always have been run by the elite class – Monroe Evening News

Posted: June 11, 2022 at 1:17 am

opinion

Charles W. Milliken| The Daily Telegram

From time immemorial, human societies have been run by elites.Someone has to decide who does what, with whichand to whom. Exactly how these elites evolve is lost in the mists of time, but evolve they did, and have been with us ever since.

Presumablyelites represented the smarter, stronger, more ambitious elements of a given band.The basic deal then, and now, is that the non-elites will turn over a disproportionate share of the production of society in return for elites running society reasonably competently.In other words, as long as I get the basics, you can have the surplus.If matters proceed like that, stability reigns.

Problems arise, however, when the elite class loses its competence.History is full of examples of what happens when those on the bottom no longer feel those on the top deserve to be there.Revolutions and rebellions and general unrest are frequent occurrences, ending even the longest periods of stability.

The underlying cause is the problem of succession.Elites, just as the rest of us, are mortal.As has been said, graveyards are full of indispensable individuals.For most of history, the great bulk of elites are succeeded by birth.Boys succeed their fathers (history is sexist and patriarchal, alas). What guarantee is there that the boy will grow into the man his father was? None, obviously.

Dynasties rose and fell on the strength, or weakness, of inheritance, to be overthrown by new dynasties that exhibited greater intelligence, strengthor cunning. A classic example was the Merovingian kings of France being overthrown by the high official who functioned as the officer who actually ran the show.His son was Charlemagne, who ended up ruling most of Europewho, in turn, sired a collection of incompetents, who mostly lost it all.Suleiman the Magnificent, a contemporary of Henry VIII, was arguably the last competent ruler of the now defunct Ottoman empire.

So, if inheritance becomes a DNA crapshoot, and sooner or later the dice lose, how are elites to be chosen? There must always be elites, anarchists and extreme libertarians notwithstanding. A tried-and-true method has been the emergence, especially in recent history, of dictators. When enough discontent is present, men emerge (always men, although I see no reason why a woman cant be a dictator) who distill the discontent and recruit sufficient followers to replace the existing elites. Think Napoleon. Lenin. Hitler. Mao.Castro.

In the United States we have tried a different method of choosing elites, a method still evolving.George Washington could have become a dictator a king but had the character to choose otherwiseand with our currently much-derided Founding Fathers thought limited self-government would be a better option, with elites emerging not by birth or not from the saddle of a white horse, but by merit. Those who would be elites had to place themselves before their fellow citizens and stand for office.

But, dont you just know it, elections dont guarantee competence.So, starting about a 120 years ago, with the dawn of the Progressive Era, elites decided to divorce themselves from the whims and vagaries of the electorate and relied instead on self-selection by appointment. Experts with the right credentials, from the right schools, and often from the right families (inheritance isnt obsolete yet), and of course with the right Progressive beliefs, began to fill the proliferating agencies, boards, departments and the whole bureaucratic apparatus almost all of whom being insulated from the populace they rule.

Is this method also reaching the end of its tether? Consider the current baby formula mess. How hard can it be to disinfect a factory? How hard can it be to see that shutting down 20% of an absolutely necessary item is going to cause serious problems?

Considering all the messes America is currently suffering, you dont have to look far to see the elites at the heart of all of them. Maybe it is time to try a different selection method.

Charles Milliken is a professor emeritus after 22 years of teaching economics and related subjects at Siena Heights University. He can be reached at milliken.charles@gmail.com.

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Societies always have been run by the elite class - Monroe Evening News

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