More than 2,000 years ago, Aristotle observed that societies seem to move from one state to another.
They begin as democracies, Aristotle said, with everyone more or less equal and sharing a voice in social decisions, but then they change into oligarchies. (An oligarchy is a society in which a small group of people have control.) An oligarchy is inevitable, he said, as some individuals and their families will gain properties and power through luck, their own efforts and abilities, or through a greed greater than their neighbors’.
After some generations, the members of the oligarchy will no longer be content with wealth, power, and respect. They will desire to become aristocrats. They will wish to be above the common herd. They will want the commoners to address them as “lord” or “lady”. They will want their progeny — however inept or foolish or incompetent — to be held in high esteem. Sooner or later, Aristotle said, the aristocracy becomes overbearing, and then democracy breaks out again.
Behold America in this election year, 2016. Here we have all three possible directions for our society available at one time.
One candidate displays the snide assurance and arrogant disdain of a self-titled aristocrat. Another is a member of the oligarchy, and knows the rest of the oligarchy on a first-name basis. A solitary socialist-democrat oddball has tapped into America’s instinct for democracy, and is causing confusion in the others’ camps.
It is rare that a society is faced with such obvious cultural choices.