Aristocracy –

In about 2 paragraphs.

Historically, as we have been noting, a key aspect of civilization is greater social stratification, even the categorization of people. At the top is the ruler, at the bottom are the masses, and in between is the aristocracy (literally, “rule by the best”), that is, the societal elite. Relatively absent from our sources are the voices of the masses, including women, who are often accorded a lower status in comparison to men.

Many within our own US society can be at times enamored with European aristocracy (e.g., British royal weddings, Princess Grace of Monaco); indeed, both the attraction and the rejection of elite status are part of US history. Many today see the US as supporting a meritocracy rather than an aristocracy (meritocracy = rule and placement based on education and examination).

[Please read through the accompanying PowerPoint slides before answering the Discussion Board questions. The slides briefly cover Western notions of aristocracy, helping to give a context for a modern Western response.]

In your summary, note the following:

What is the relationship between the ruler and the aristocracy (e.g., in China, in Japan), and how does this play out historically? What is the role of land-ownership (i.e., wealth and access to food production)? What part does the Confucian civil service examination play in the concept of “aristocracy”?

Be sure to cite at least two passages from the PowerPoint presentations and/or the textbook to support your summary.

In your reflection, consider the following:

Is it important to have higher social strata composed of “the best”? If so, what kind of individuals should comprise “the best”? How can such an arrangement secure human freedom, dignity, and opportunity (access to resources), or does it secure anything of this nature, or are these concerns merely secondary to proper rule? Does the US still have an aristocracy?

Additional note concerning the Discussion Board topic:

Another reason to explore the centralized power vs. local power issue, that is, centralized state power vs. the power of landed aristocracy/nobility, is that a recent major study is indicating that social mobility, that is, the ability of an individual to increase social status (and likely income and living conditions) is quite difficult (even in our own day, and, somewhat ironically, the US is more difficult than the UK). The aristocracy/social elite tends to stay at an elevated social status, enjoying greater leisure and comfort (and sometimes government-supported benefits), while the rest of the society tends to remain at or below the income/status level of preceding family generations. One is, in a real sense, locked-in.

In the days leading up to the American Revolution, people like Thomas Paine saw this issue. In the additional PowerPoint is Paine’s view. One of the most interesting occurrences after the American Revolution is that the abbreviation “gent.” (gentleman) disappears from names, for example, in county lists (if studying George Washington, this change is quite apparent).

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