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Aristocracy or Democracy?

Aristocracy or Democracy?

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I simply do not understand why so many people (esp. Republicans?) are so eager to trust rich people instead of the representative government that we, by definition, elect to support us as we go about our lives — and there are a whole lot more of us non-rich people, so surely we should be in charge here.

The whole reason people left their homes in Europe to come to the New World was to get away from aristocratic governments, that is, from ruling dynasties based on heritage and wealth. Consider, for example, that the Peace of Augsburg, in 1555, decided that whoever ruled a particular part of the Holy Roman Empire got to decide the religion of his realm (“Cuius regio, eius religio”). That was the way the Old World worked.

So as explorers expanded knowledge of the world, and trade and modes of transportation began to develop, a lot of people began to think about going to one of those newly discovered places to see what they could make of themselves on their own. That was the great attraction of the New World.

In 1835 Alexis de Toqueville, a young Frenchman, published a voluminous and still definitive work called “Democracy in America,” based on his extensive travels here. The thing he keeps coming back to is how different a country is where there is no aristocracy to dictate how things should be and no one is better than anyone else, regardless of name or wealth. He found it very interesting and also pretty confusing.

So why have so many of us decided that rich people know best? And thus created our own home-grown aristocracy?

The whole point in this country is supposed to be government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” (Abraham Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address, 1863). Not just rich folks, who, after all, tend to be focused on their wealth, not on the rest of us. We ordinary people ostensibly wanted to elect a government that would have our interests at heart, because if it didn’t we could change it by electing different, more trustworthy people to represent us.

Is that no longer what we want? Do some of us really think the newly elected rich folks in Helena care about our everyday challenges? Since they are not subject to those same challenges, how can they have any real idea? Aren’t they primarily interested in using their new powers to ensure that they never lose power? So they can continue to build their own private empires?

Richard Nixon clearly had little respect for democratic government if it didn’t do what he wanted. Ronald Reagan and his entourage in 1980 and ever since have maintained that government is the problem. What was he and what are they but an aspiring aristocracy that wants to stay in power (over you and me) by whatever subterfuges offer themselves — just now most notably by falsifying facts and encouraging voter suppression.

And you’re okay with that? You’d rather be a vassal or a serf than what your ancestors came to this country for? I just don’t get it.

— Mary Fahnestock-Thomas, Hamilton


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