The democratic currents of history resemble successive waves. They break ever on the same shoal…When democracies have gained a certain stage of development, they undergo a gradual transformation, adopting the aristocratic spirit, and in many cases also the aristocratic forms, against which at the outset they struggled so fiercely. Now new accusers arise to denounce the traitors; after an era of glorious combats and of inglorious power, they end by fusing with the old dominant class; whereupon once more they are in their turn attacked by fresh opponents who appeal to the name of democracy. It is probable that this cruel game will continue without end. – Robert Michels
The right for decades has been content to chase the idea of democracy, never questioning that sacred premise of universal suffrage. The original concept restricted suffrage to property owners, given the fact that the income tax had not been enacted and property taxes were the primary source of funding for the government. The voter base has expanded proportionally with the tax base, exceeding it now to the point where the net producers are only a fraction of eligible voters. The mentally handicapped, foreign nationals and deceased all enjoy suffrage in our country. Despite increasing it to the point of insanity, has universal suffrage really changed the nature of power in our country? The two parties still maintain a stranglehold on the government, both wield their respective voting blocs as clumsy weapons against the other and if results are any indication, neither have any interest in anything other than maintaining the status quo and defrauding the taxpayer. The historically literate will note the composition of the signers of the Constitution and the charge that we exchanged monarchy for an oligarchy has merit. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Washington and Henry were all landed gentry and highly educated for the day, even if not of British aristocracy. Such men became central figures in the revolution and later the US government, forming the backbone of the new government and themselves picked those of similar social rank, such as William Marbury.
The concept of oligarchies is not a new one, class structure has existed throughout mankind’s recorded history. The rubric of the structure may be different, but the high, middle and lower classes have always been. Aristocracy places emphasis on birth, while oligarchy emphasizes wealth, political capital and other soft power. Plato defined oligarchies in his Republic as follows:
The accumulation of gold in the treasury of private individuals is the ruin of timocracy; they invent illegal modes of expenditure; for what do they or their wives care about the law?
And then one, seeing another grow rich, seeks to rival him, and thus the great mass of the citizens become lovers of money.
And so they grow richer and richer, and the more they think of making a fortune the less they think of virtue; for when riches and virtue are placed together in the scales of the balance, the one always rises as the other falls.
And in proportion as riches and rich men are honoured in the State, virtue and the virtuous are dishonoured.
And what is honoured is cultivated, and that which has no honour is neglected.
–Republic Book VIII pp. 408-409
Plato had a distinctly low view of oligarchy, from his atavistic perspective he held wealth and the pursuit of it second to the service of the state and the higher ideals of virtue. The German sociologist Robert Michels expanded this view of oligarchy in his book Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy. Rather than positing oligarchy devolves into democracy, Michels observed that any organization which is large scale in nature will in fact become an oligarchy, if not in name, certainly in function. His observation quickly became known as the iron law of oligarchy, to which exist few exceptions. Michels lists several reasons for this, namely ability, efficiency and the nature of man. The most staunch egalitarians and ancaps must acknowledge the inherent inequality of men, whether intellectually, physically or emotionally. Men may be of equal worth to God, but they are certainly not to their respective societies or fellow man. We are all of different economic, emotional and social worth to different people and to our respective societies, as wages and relative influence provide concrete proof of. This natural inequality is borne out in the private sector and within organizations, despite the best efforts of the socialists to forcibly equalize humanity to the lowest common denominator. Any organization will have the core individuals it relies upon to accomplish its purpose. Those core members wield far more influence than their ‘peers’ in a given situation and that power, whether official or not, is generally recognized. When I need to source something from a supplier at work, there are people I call to get answers and people I call to get results. The difference in ability naturally pushes the more competent to the top by virtue of results, whether that be tangible or simply their ability to propagandize their efforts successfully.
Much has been written in the business world about streamlining the decision-making process and avoiding the loss of money that occurs when timely decisions cannot be made. Any successful long-term venture, whether it be in the business or political world relies on the ability of the organization to respond to events promptly. One of Michels better prongs of analysis was on this very fact. “Democracy is utterly incompatible with strategic promptness, and the forces of democracy do not lend themselves to the rapid opening of a campaign. This is why political parties, even when democratic, exhibit so much hostility to the referendum and to all other measures for the safeguard of real democracy; and this is why in their constitution these parties exhibit, if not unconditional caesarism, at least extremely strong centralizing and oligarchical tendencies.” Successful revolutions, protests, political parties and businesses all share the ability to adapt and react to changing circumstances before it’s too late. Particularly with smaller and newer ventures, the ability to be agile in the marketplace of ideas is what separates success and failure. It simply cannot occur in any type of real democratic process, so ultimately what is arrived at is the binary option of streamline or die. Those who choose the former face that Faustian bargain of success of the organization, yet death of the democratic ideals they supposedly hold. The revolutionary syndicalist Humphrey Lagardelle admits to this anachronism in his work The Confederation of Labour and Socialism, “And for the use of the proletariat they have reproduced the capitalist tools of domination; they have built a workers’ government as harsh as the bourgeois government, a workers’ bureaucracy as clumsy as the bourgeois bureaucracy, a central power which tells the workers what they can and what they cannot do, which shatters all independence and initiative in the union members, and which sometimes must inspire in its victims a regret for capitalistic modes of authority.” Despite approaching the topic from a socialist revolutionary point of view, Lagardelle is intellectually honest enough to admit the platitudes of marxism are just that, platitudes. Michels classified the situation much the same way, “An extensive organization is per se a heavy piece of mechanism, and one difficult to put in operation…But the problems of the hour need a speedy decision, and this is why democracy can no longer function in its primitive and genuine form, unless the policy pursued is to be temporizing, involving the loss of the most favorable opportunities for action. Under such guidance, the party becomes incapable of acting in alliance with others, and loses its political elasticity. A fighting party needs a hierarchical structure. In the absence of such a structure, the party will be comparable to a savage and shapeless Negro army, which is unable to withstand a single well-disciplined and well-drilled battalion of European soldiers.”
The last reason Michels gives for this phenomenon is the nature of men themselves. A vast majority feel an innate need to be led. Were we to step back and actually look at what every representative government in practice is, we will arrive to much the same conclusion as he did. “Even if we make the theoretical admission that in abstracto parliamentary government does indeed embody government by the masses, in practical life it is nothing but a continuous fraud on the part of the dominant class. Under representative government the difference between democracy and monarchy, which are both rooted in the representative system, is altogether insignificant — a difference not in substance but in form. The sovereign people elects, in place of a king, a number of kinglets. Not possessing sufficient freedom and independence to direct the life of the state, it tamely allows itself to be despoiled of its fundamental right. The one right which the people reserves is the “ridiculous privilege” of choosing from time to time a new set of masters.” You may protest, but look at the participation in the primaries for the respective political parties or better yet the local functions of government. Part of it lies with the fact that the majority of the public is ignorant both of economic, social and historical issues affecting them. The utter incompetence of the average person to soberly contemplate the affairs of state is perhaps an insurmountable obstacle to true democracy, whether one agrees with the ideal or not. With the breakdown of national and cultural homogeneity another layer has been added on to mere ignorance. The populace no longer has a common goal, a common heritage or common moral framework. What incentive exists for investment in an incomprehensible system that governs a populace that you share no bond with? Dumas famously stated that “Majorities are only the evidence of that which is.” The electoral privilege is one without a mandate. As such it relies on the citizenry or members of the organization to self-incentivize and exercise that right. It would appear that in every such case there exists sufficient apathy to prevent any real involvement with ‘that most sacred right’ until conditions get so poor a state of war exists between the organization and its general membership.
The ideas presented in Michel’s book have enormous implications. The liberty movement acknowledges that men are inherently unequal, yet we struggle accepting and implementing the concept. Leadership and authority are as popular as typhus, yet there still seems to be a question as to the disparity of results between the alt-right and the liberty movement. We generate our own groupthink and mantras (BFYTW, Cloud/Dirt People ect.) and have the same tepid participation in the direction of the movement. I have no reason to suspect that any form of government we could implement would differ significantly in its machinations with the exception of some boilerplate about freedom and liberty with a pro forma ‘Constitution’ as toothless to the nature of man as our current one is. We bifurcate the spectrum of society in many different ways to describe exactly what Michels observed. Predator and prey, players and spectators, high and low class, and the list goes on. One could hypothesize that the construct of the government matters less than the character of the men inhabiting it. A noble monarch and aristocracy is preferable to a self-serving president and greedy Congress. A democracy made up of men of the highest character is preferable to a weak-willed monarch and corrupt aristocracy. Michels reached the same grudging conclusion, yet ends a spectacular tour de force with a half-hearted screed against aristocracy that would make Marx proud.
An oligarchy already exists within this movement, within your community, within your family and within your workplace. If you haven’t noticed, then you’re probably not in it friendo. Rather than bemoan the fact that human nature creates and seeks hierarchy, seek to create a culture of excellence. The choice of whether you are a part of the oligarchy in your respective organization or not is up to you. Whether your children are is tangentially up to you. Call it the oligarchy or the movers and shakers if it makes you feel better, but make the choice every morning and live with the consequences. Go read Michels and Lagardelle, let them challenge your thinking and provide a different perspective. Disagree if you’d like, Michels certainly generated significant blowback with his assertion, though the best his detractors could come up with was a few exceptions that could fit on one hand. Those interested in further study should pursue elite theory and read more of Hobbes and Aristotle. Don’t be a pseudo-intellectual sitting in an echo chamber of endless kitschy acronyms. Think for yourself and use a rational argument. Who am I kidding, let the circular firing squad close ranks and extinguish aberrant opinions or challenges to your assumptions. A conservative candidate who should present himself to his electors by declaring to them that he did not regard them as capable of playing an active part in influencing the destinies of the country, and should tell them that for this reason they ought to be deprived of the suffrage, would be a man of incomparable sincerity, but politically insane. Who says organization, says oligarchy.