At This Moment: Natural Aristocracy

Yesterday we witnessed the passing of a great monarch who for 70 years brought stability, honor and integrity to her country and to the world. What a model of grace she was!

Why would we care about a monarch in the era of self-appointed rulers, parliamentary democracies and mixed constitutional republics? Up until the 8th century Anglo-Saxons practiced a system of government built on the people’s law where they crafted their own laws and regularly rotated power—a government where one from the region would temporarily be charged with leading community councils of leaders as first among equals.

By the 11th century the Normans invaded and subjugated these Anglo-Saxons with an aristocracy of rulers and kings under William the Conqueror. This type of rule became the norm with, at times, very violent results until, finally, the despot King John in the 13th century who was known for cruelty reigned.

This type of autocratic rule by one great monarch was challenged by barons and the church in England, and these groups united against the monarchy. Together they wrote the extraordinary charter of rights known as Magna Carta to protect their rights as English freemen. This document became one of the types and shadows of our own Constitution and Bill of Rights.

After several centuries the monarchy of England became a parliamentary form of government, one where the monarchy does not have any political power but possesses a sort of positional authority that is recognized as primarily ceremonial. However, it is the tradition of dignity, honor, and virtue exemplified by the monarchy to which we owe a great deal to the founding of our own government.

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born a royal princess on April 21, 1926. She was tutored in British history, and the lives of the monarchs and their tenuous relationships with Parliament became academic lessons and a map for navigating public life.

Elizabeth saw prime ministers, such as the great Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, come and go, and she was thus able to offer a long-term view of the past, present and even insight into the future. Her posterity at times caused her to proclaim in one transparent moment of a particularly difficult year “to be an annus horribilis” (a horrible year). She took her stewardship seriously!

A beautiful thought she shared on one of her journeys in a visit to New Zealand: “We are all visitors to this time, this place. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love … and then we return home.”

We now pivot to America and its birthright as a nation of freemen (not nobles) who would return to the ancient principles of their Anglo-Saxon roots, give themselves their own laws and live by rotating power in councils with temporary citizen-leaders as a firsts among equals. Thomas Jefferson wrote about this in a letter to John Adams in 1813 when he contrasted the difference between two types of leaders.

“For I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talents. Formerly bodily powers gave place among the aristoi. But since the invention of gunpowder has armed the weak as well as the strong with missile death, bodily strength, like beauty, good humor, politeness and other accomplishments, has become but an auxiliary ground of distinction. There is also an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, without either virtue or talents; for with these it would belong to the first class. The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society. And indeed it would have been inconsistent in creation to have formed man for the social state, and not to have provided virtue and wisdom enough to manage the concerns of the society. May we not even say that that form of government is the best which provides the most effectually for a pure selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government? The artificial aristocracy is a mischievous ingredient in government, and provision should be made to prevent its ascendancy.”

Thomas Jefferson, October 28, 1813 correspondence to John Adams

An American Classical Leadership Education® is one that educates us in the principles of self-governance; and then inspires us to use our gifts to bless our nation as first among equals as called upon by our community.

We should be ever grateful to the heritage, country and tradition of many good monarchs who spawned our own ascendancy of Americans to become a natural aristocracy of moral excellence and wisdom where education and freedom would draw out our individual virtues and talents to bless our families, communities, and the human race.

Please enjoy these excerpted passages from Queen Elizabeth’s historic televised Christmas Broadcast of 1957

That it is possible for some of you to see me today is just another example of the speed at which things are changing all around us. Because of these changes I am not surprised that many people feel lost and unable to decide what to hold on to and what to discard. How to take advantage of the new life without losing the best of the old.

But it is not the new inventions which are the difficulty. The trouble is caused by unthinking people who carelessly throw away ageless ideals as if they were old and outworn machinery.

They would have religion thrown aside, morality in personal and public life made meaningless, honesty counted as foolishness and self-interest set up in place of self-restraint.

At this critical moment in our history we will certainly lose the trust and respect of the world if we just abandon those fundamental principles which guided the men and women who built the greatness of this country and Commonwealth.

Today we need a special kind of courage, not the kind needed in battle but a kind which makes us stand up for everything that we know is right, everything that is true and honest. We need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics so that we can show the world that we are not afraid of the future.

It has always been easy to hate and destroy. To build and to cherish is much more difficult.

I believe in our qualities and in our strength, I believe that together we can set an example to the world which will encourage upright people everywhere.

I would like to read you a few lines from ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, because I am sure we can say with Mr Valiant for Truth, these words:

“Though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought his battles who now will be my rewarder.”

Image attribution: Archives New Zealand, CC BY 2.0via Wikimedia Commons

Published by Dean Forman

I am co-founder and CEO of the John Adams Academies, an institution that is perhaps the most unique charter school system in America today. The Academies’ curriculum is designed to give its students an American Classical Leadership Education®. This is an education that pursues truth, beauty and goodness and turns its scholars outward in search of those whom they can serve in becoming servant leaders. This website is dedicated to sharing the concepts of an American Classical Leadership Education with its readers so that more citizens can benefit from the truth, virtue and wisdom of the past. The thoughts and opinions I share on this page are my personal views.

2 thoughts on “At This Moment: Natural Aristocracy

  1. Dittos to Joyce’s comments!! Keep up the great work Forman’s and may God continue to bless and prosper you as you continue in doing so.

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