In a normal society, the forces of culture flow from above, middle, and below. There can be no culture as such absent the aristos, those immemorial familial forces that promote the permanent values and the higher mores of the society. From below we often see what is passionate, most easily accessible, and what is more of “sentiment”. From the middle, what is practical. But nobility must come from that sphere where self-sacrifice and honor are the rules of order.
In the modern materialist society, culture is manufactured by corporate interests. Culture is literally a “product” to be sold in the market.The industrial powers will argue that they follow the desires of the people, rather than lead them. If this were so, then advertising would be an afterthought, existing merely to differentiate among competitors. But this is the least function of advertising, for, as anyone who has spent time in a corporate boardroom can attest, advertising exists as much to generate demand as to service it, it exists as much to create new markets as to provide products and services for existing ones. Industrial capitalism (that 19th through 21st century historical phenomenon), as economist Wilhelm Ropke would insist, is not cognate with the market economy, which precedes it. It is a degeneration of the market economy into subsidy and monopoly, and a degeneration of the moral vitality upon which the market economy relies. Capitalism cannot remain stagnant, it must increase or recede. Industrial capitalism (marked by the emergence of the public corporation that serves the interests of the anonymous “shareholder”) is necessarily expansionist and imperialist. And anything that must expand to survive, cannot be healthy.
In the modern materialist society, the aristos does not cease to exist as such, but it has sold its independence to the highest corporate bidder, and no longer operates as a force in society which stands in opposition to the generation of transient (that is, marketable) values, no longer safeguards the ideals of the society, no longer is composed of servants of the public good (noblesse oblige), and has become a mere instrumentality of the corporate and political powers to whom it now owes its wealth and from whom it must beg leave.
In former times, the aristocracy, in the sense in which we take this term as positive, functioned as a counterbalance to the concentration of power in the hands of the state, in other words, it maintained its independence and operated to a great extent outside of the political apparatus of the society. This traditional role for the aristocracy obtained until the development of the modern nation-state, which “evolved” into an abstract political entity, rather than one that was simply the organization of a people for its own self interest, to perform the minimally necessary work of civilization: the promulgation of law, the safeguarding of a people from invasion, the peaceful transition of power, the limitation of the rapacities of groups, etc.
The sense in which we assign a negative value to aristocracy is the one in which it has ceased to always represent the best and most immemorial of a people’s values, where hereditary privilege and arbitrary power have been substituted for merit and for fidelity. For all that can be leveled against Feudalism, and there is much, one of its chief virtues was seen the independence of its aristocrats from the royal power, and the curbs it placed on arbitrariness. The rules of class relation in Feudal Europe were often broken, but it had the virtue of actually having rules, and consequences for breaking them. The vassal stood in a definite relation to the lord, and that relation was constituted by mutual obligation. One must ask what mutual obligation exists between the board of a corporation and the public. Is the quality of our air a testament to that relationship?
The self-regulatory power of the aristocracy, when lost, brings that institution under the influence of the royal power, the bureaucratic power, or the mercantile power. This is not to say that aristocracy’s sole claim of leadership is one of merit, but to say that where aristocracy is healthy merit always precedes heredity in the self-regulating function of the group. Nevertheless, heredity, due to its wealth transferring power, is central in the maintenance of an aristocracy that is able to serve. It is in the great families that make up an aristocracy that Kinism has often been a recognized and accepted rule of action: that the spiritual interests of the people whom one is privileged to serve must prevail over the merely material interests of a certain limited class of individuals within that society, or of the interest groups they form.