Is Democracy Worth It?
The global pandemic, the ongoing cultural revolution, and the divisive politics of the 2020 election have revealed the extent to which the American republic has trended toward oligarchy.
Throughout the pandemic, federal and state officials have determined which businesses would close, which would stay open, who must wear masks, and where they must wear them. Our ruling class decided what gatherings were permissible and what gatherings were impermissible. Our governmental and medical elites decided what drugs our doctors could prescribe for us and what drugs they could not. And they have made clear that the unvaccinated population will have fewer rights and freedoms than the vaccinated.
On the cultural revolution front, the American ruling elite has normalized transgenderism in schools, athletics, and prisons, including allowing male inmates who identify as females to be housed at women's prisons. Our leaders have punished some rioters and left others unpunished, depending on the political motives of the rioters. School administrators have forced Critical Race Theory upon our public school students, regardless of the protests of parents.
Meanwhile, our Big Tech elites continue to censor political and cultural viewpoints they deem "false" or "harmful." Rudy Giuliani, the principal lawyer who represented former president Donald Trump in his election challenges, has been suspended by the New York and D.C. bars. Trump partisans who opine that there were irregularities in the 2020 election have been repeatedly censored on social media platforms. Members of our journalistic elite have openly called for Trump partisans to be jailed or to leave the country.
Our ruling elite continues to take down historical statues and rename schools and parks. The latest statues to be taken down include the explorers Lewis and Clark, Confederate general Robert E. Lee, and progressive president Theodore Roosevelt (who apparently is not progressive enough). Our elites are rewriting history, dating the founding of the American republic to 1619 (when the first slaves were brought to our shores) instead of 1776 when we declared independence. Racial "wokeism" has even infected the nation's military academies and our military leadership.
Progressive district attorneys have publicly listed crimes that they won't punish, progressive mayors and city council members have moved to "defund" police forces, and progressive state legislatures have passed bail "reforms" that effectively prevent pretrial detention of dangerous and repeat offenders.
How did this happen?
The great Italian sociologist and political thinker Gaetano Mosca in his book The Ruling Class (1896) wrote that "in all societies ... two classes of people appear — a class that rules and a class that is ruled." The ruling class, Mosca explained, "always less numerous, performs all political functions, monopolizes power and enjoys the advantages that power brings." Mosca observed that in all forms of government, there is the "dominion of an organized minority, obeying a single impulse, over the unorganized majority." Every ruling class, wrote Mosca, "tends to justify its actual exercise of power by resting it on some universal moral principle." Our current ruling class rests the exercise of its power on combatting systemic racism, rooting out domestic "insurrectionists," and protecting all of us from COVID-19.
Mosca believed that democracy was a "myth" that the ruling class in America and elsewhere uses to "help foster in the people ... the illusion that democracy is a fact." He wrote that all ruling classes tend to move toward socialism or some other form of collectivism. In democracies, he wrote, "[a]ll the lying, all the baseness, all the violence, all the fraud we see in political life ... are used in intrigues to win votes, in order to get ahead in public office or simply to make money fast by unscrupulous means." An increasingly collectivist ruling class, Mosca noted, dispenses "favor, bread, the joy and sorrow of life." Ruling classes may even become "[o]ne single crushing, all-embracing, all engrossing tyranny."
Mosca's theory of the ruling class was supplemented by the German sociologist Robert Michels in his book Political Parties (1911). Michels shared Mosca's dim view of democracy, describing it as "nothing but a continuous fraud on the part of the dominant class." Democracy, Michels wrote, affords the people the "ridiculous privilege of choosing from time to time a new set of masters." The people's representatives "have no sooner been raised to power than they set to work to consolidate and reinforce their influence," and eventually they emancipate themselves from popular control. The mass of people don't rule, Michels explained; instead, the elites who achieve power by the ballot box secure control of the institutions of collective power and do whatever is necessary to stay in power. Michels famously called this the "Iron Law of Oligarchy."
Vilfredo Pareto, another Italian sociologist, added further to the concept of ruling classes and oligarchies in his book The Mind and Society (1916). Pareto shared Mosca's and Michels's view that democracy is a "fiction." All countries and societies are ruled, he said, by aristocracies or "elites." In all societies, Pareto wrote, "one finds a governing class of relatively few individuals that keeps itself in power partly by force and partly by the consent of the subject class." Pareto observed, however, that the ruling elite is "always in a state of slow and continuous transformation." He called this latter phenomenon the "circulation of elites."
Pareto, therefore, held out hope that ruling classes can change. In the American republic, change comes at the ballot box. All the more reason to ensure the integrity and fairness of our elections. The survival of our republic depends on it.
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