Aristocracy as a Tool for Decreasing Time Preference
This excerpt from Fanastic [sic] Reality: Marxism and the Politics of Religion repeats claims that our parents have been telling us since we were toddlers:
Land in the Greco-Roman world was predominantly alienable and held privately. Suffice to say, class differentiation set in early. One tightly knit group of peoplethe rich, the particians, the aristocracywon for themselves a privileged position whereby they accumulated ownership of large tracts of land and/or extracted by political-military means product or direct labour time from the primary producers: i.e., the peasants. Such an exploitive relationship, whereby a surplus is obtained by the minority class from the labor of the vast majority of peasants, inevitably affects every facet of society.
This modelthat aristocracy was nothing more than a monopoly which existed to enrich itselfis quintessentially modern and Whiggish. Since the Whigs took over the planet, that’s the explanation we are fed. There is a contrary view, however, which has not received the objective, detached consideration it deserves:
Progressivism thinks that many social norms that neoreaction thinks were developed in order to change incentive structures to bring short-term individual payoffs in line with long-term societal-and-therefore-individual payoffs such that actors with shorter time-preference or more tendency to defect would act in accordance with what provided long-term payoffs to society were actually developed by factions seeking to maximize their payoff at the expense of those outside the faction; in addition, parts of it claim that these norms are actually to the disadvantage of those factions themselves. (“Patriarchy hurts men too!”) So actions that appear to the neoreactionary as defectionthat is, as a move away from the social norms that incentivize civilization-building, societal stability and productivity, etc.appear to the progressive as actually being a form of cooperationchanging the payoff matrix in a manner that benefits not only the individual outside the faction, but also certain factions and possibly society as a whole.
You may need to read the full post a couple times to understand the argument. Basically, in context of my argument for aristocracy, the reason why the aristocracy existed is that it benefited everyone in society more, bringing short-term individual incentives closer into alignment with behaviors conducive to the long-term success of civilization and society. Thinking that aristocracy existed only for its own personal enrichment at the expense of everyone else is a simplistic and wrongheaded inference; rather, it provided a system of overall organization that is superior to an informal aristocracy based only on money and divested of formal political power.
The system of aristocracy + peasants brought much greater wealth to society than if everyone were just cooperating peasants. Concentrating power and money in the hands of certain individuals gives rise to an overall structure that benefits everyone and is greater than the sum of its parts. In a medieval context, aristocracy was necessary to protect peasants from bandits and invading neighbors. Not optionalnecessary! If the local duke and his family were murdered and their castle destroyed, it would be an occasion for deep despair and worry, not celebration.
Aristocracy accomplished many things that peasants did not. Namely, the entire foundation of the Scientific Revolution, all higher cultural artifacts including the invention of classical music and fine art, security for all peasants, a channel to facilitate long-distance trade and economic interaction with foreign entities, necessary civic administration, repairing roads and other essential infrastructure, and so on. If peasants were left to their own devices, they would not “spontaneously organize” as effective anarchists and make these things happen; instead, they would stagnate and degenerate, becoming less effective than before and be consumed by infighting, until another de facto duke emerged to restore order.
To understand the argument for a formal aristocracy in the modern era, one must first understand why they were so useful in a historical context. Let me also point out that an economic and political aristocracy already exists; it is just informal, so it has few if any cultural obligations. Aristocracy exists whether you like it or not (even in a Communist system), it’s just a question of whether it’s formalized or not. Formalizing it is better, leaving it cryptic is worse.