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Updated 15 September 2004

Aristocracy is a name associated with Western Europe and the old days.  There was, for example, up until the midpoint of the Twentieth Century, an automatic assumption among the powers that be that there were two distinct classes:  Aristocracy and Commoners.  This attitude is reflected in Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical of Condemnation, which was issued against Freemasonry for holding, practicing and encouraging such heretical ideas as equality of human beings (male and female) in all aspects of life; including the right of commoners to remove heads of state and other high ranking officials by the rules of law.  Can you imagine his chagrin at the American Revolution!  

It’s important to note, however, that the Founding Fathers of the United States -- that bastion of radical thoughts such as “all men are created equal” -- these people were in the main, aristocrats.  Locally grown, perhaps, and without titles, but pretty much the elite.  They were also often Freemasons, but that’s another issue.  For the most part, they were the people with the money, power, social standing, connections, and family bloodlines.  Same old, same old.  And any pretense of the American Revolution being merely about the struggle of commoners against an outrageous aristocracy is flawed by a lack of not being the whole truth.  In fact, the American revolution was about an American aristocracy using commoners for cannon fodder in a common goal to supplant the English aristocracy and replace them with a home-grown version.  Some of the American aristocrats may have been doing what they thought best for the commoner, but these were rare individuals.  

There has since arisen an equally ludicrous concept that the aristocracies of old no longer have any real power.  In reality, aristocracies exist today which are in fact the powers that be -- even when for various and sundry diplomatic and deceptive reasons they may choose to not be addressed as lords, ladies, knights, earls, and esquires.  They may be positively demure in exhibiting themselves on the street or calling attention to themselves in any way.  

Dirk Wittenborn, in his delightful and entertaining novel, Fierce People [1], has one of his characters say, “The brilliance of the American aristocracy is they’ve convinced the world they don’t exist...  It’s safer that way.  Unlike us [the old European aristocracy], they’re invisible targets...”  Furthermore, “It’s very clever -- you teach them in America anyone can become rich, so that when they hate the rich, they hate themselves.  It paralyzes them.  All they can do is eat.”  

Wittenborn’s book is as Candace Bushnell has noted, “A riveting page-turner that offers a haunting and fascinating glimpse into the lives of the super-rich.”  In effect, the characters in the book are the American aristocracy, and also equivalent to the Fierce People -- more cutthroat than anything in any ghetto, slum, or grimy downtown street.  Think of Bill Gates with premenstrual syndrome and a government inspired migraine.  

The fascinating possibility is that Wittenborn was allegedly raised in a community similar to the one he describes in his fictional story.  In effect, the story is realistic to the core, and there is, according to Wittenborn and others, an American aristocracy which does in fact control all significant wealth and power in the country, regularly pass this wealth and power on to its progeny (including those who constitute the demented results of years of in-breeding), and in general do whatever they damn well please -- any and all laws, rules, regulations, and whatever notwithstanding.  They are the Lords of the Flies, and rules applicable to the commoners need never apply.  

These are the people whose children are raised in very private, exclusive schools, where their Education is about assuming their rightful places at the apexes of power.  These are the children who get to meet the astronauts up close and personal, who can receive an abortion by the best trained doctors in the world (regardless of the parents’ public stand on the issue or relevant State or local laws), who can avoid the draft with the dismissal wave of their hand, who will go to the best colleges and universities, and who ultimately can become most anything they want (barring the desires of their equally aristocratic peers) -- including becoming President of the United States.  

[As interesting aside is that President Bush (aka Shrub) recently had his administration argue in a court of law against any form of quota systems in college admissions.  The college, in question, was attempting to allow minorities (just by virtue of being a member of a minority) an extra 20 extra points out of a maximum of 150 -- as a means of giving them a headstart in the admissions lottery.  But when Shrub went to Yale, the admissions program was equivalent to giving him (as a son of President, CIA Director, etceteras) an extra 250 points out of, say, a total of 150.  Basically, Shrub got into college on a quota system -- his minority being his stereos in the aristocracy.  Irony is a wonderful thing.]

And speaking of presidents -- and their so-called elections -- the late breaking news (as of August 16, 2004) is that John Kerry will be elected in November 2004. Why? Because he has "more royal connections than his Republican [sic] rival". Straight from London, we have the news that Royal Researchers are predicting a Democratic [sic] victory simply "because of the fact that every presidential candidate with the most royal genes and chromosomes has always won the November presidential election", and that based on 42 previous presidents, the coming election "will go to John Kerry." Talk about an American Aristocracy! Of course, the polls since then have not been encouraging (or discouraging, depending upon your viewpoint). But who ever said that polls -- or for that matter, votes -- were the deciding factor in elections! I mean, get serious!

In a related touch of madness, Forbes Magazine has noted that -- if elected -- John Kerry will only be the third richest president in history, falling behind front runner George Washington and second place finisher, John F. Kennedy. [What might blow your mind is that good-ole-boy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, placed fourth in the presidential-financial sweepstakes! Never let it be said that Congress is not an enriching experience!]

So where are the surprises? The reality is that the Republic called the United States of America was founded by Aristocrats. The great distinguishing feature, however, was that these founders were a very rare breed of aristocrats -- individuals with true vision and a curious thing called a consciousness. Gordon S. Wood [1] has written:

"In fact, these 18th century figures were extraordinary men, products of a peculiar moment in our history when the forces of aristocracy and democracy were nicely balanced. Although most all of them were men of relatively modest origins, they were unabashed elitists who had a contempt for electioneering and popular politics. [Can you imagine their reaction to the presidential mud slinging bath of 2004?] They rejected blood and family as sources of status, however, and were eager to establish themselves by principles that could be acquired through learning and education. They struggled to internalize the new, Enlightened Man-made standards that had come to define what Jefferson called the 'natural aristocracy' -- politeness, sociability, compassion, virtue, disinterestedness and an aversion to corruption and courtlike behavior."

Obviously, American politics has been corrupted to a horrific extent -- but don't assume that they're done yet. With Dominionism rampant in the higher echelons, it can only get worse. There seem to be no constraints on the immorality of those in power. Which is a curious thing. As Jefferson once said [1]: "State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor; the ploughman will decide it as well, and often better, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules." It might perhaps be well for American politics to replace Ken Rove with a ploughman as President Bush's chief political advisor.

Meanwhile, the American Aristocracy has joined the old aristocracies in being the leaders of any and all generations.  It is perhaps to their credit (or to their practicality) that those born of lesser parents can sometimes be reluctantly admitted to the aristocratic club.  But such admissions are generally to the advantage of the club’s elder guard, who perceive a use or value in so and so enterprising (and likely manageable) fellow’s activities, and in no way need be considered to be a gesture of genuine Philanthropy.  

(6/22/06) A decidely more conspiratorial view of "the elite" is Nick Sandburg's "Blueprint for a Prison Planet". While this view may appear to be somewhat extreme, it is nevertheless built on some logical and rational foundation. Much of it is quite plausible. If nothing else it makes for a good, horror story. One of its more classic statements is: "America is the ultimate control fantasy - consensual incarceration - whole groups of people slowly driven to believe that there exists no way of securely living together other than by the giving up of personal freedom bit by bit." [emphasis added]

Fortune Magazine in 2002 had an interesting article on the aspect of the American and other aristocracies, whose premier members have finally caught on to the wisdom of Wittenborn’s character.  In effect, what was once considered a perk for CEOs (Chief Executive Officers of major corporations -- those who likely attained their position by family connection and wealth), to flaunt their success with new Trophy World Corporate Headquarters buildings, has now gone slightly out of fashion.  Such arrogance has proven to be a bit of an Achilles heel.  


How Trophies Lost Their Allure

These days, brand-name buildings are out and anonymity is in.


Monday, October 28, 2002

By Devin Leonard  

CEOs used to have an important rite of passage: When a company reached a certain level of grandeur, the chief executive hired a major architect to design a new headquarters, a trophy building symbolizing the company’s financial might and corporate style.  The skyline of every major American city is adorned with these wonders.  Chicago has the Sears Tower.  San Francisco boasts the Transamerica Pyramid.  New York City has monuments erected by Woolworth, Citicorp, Seagram, and Chrysler, to name just a few.  

Now corporate America’s love affair with the trophy building is waning.  Obviously there’s a concern that after 9-11-2001, buildings calling attention to themselves may be terrorist targets.  [And yet the City of New York is planning an even bigger target!]  Earlier this year DEGW, a consulting and design firm, surveyed real estate executives at large U.S. companies and found 41% were less interested in occupying high-profile buildings after Sept. 11.  Nearly a fifth said they would be happier in “anonymous” buildings.  Morgan Stanley, for example, passed on plans to move into a posh midtown tower, instead relocating hundreds of employees to Jersey City, where the tony firm is just another tenant in a nondescript building.  

It would be a mistake, however, to blame Sept. 11 entirely for the decline of trophy buildings.  Matthew Cullen, head of real estate for GM and chairman of CoreNet Global, an association of top real estate executives, says companies began forsaking trophy buildings nearly a decade ago when technological advances like the Inter Net and cell phones allowed employees to work anywhere, lessening the need for a fancy tower.  

Sandy Apgar, a director at the Boston Consulting Group who advises corporations on real estate, sees the same trend.  He counsels clients to follow the lead of AT&T, which cut costs and increased productivity in the early ‘90s when it left its posh, Philip Johnson-designed Manhattan headquarters, moved its executive offices to the Jersey suburbs, and encouraged employees to telecommute.  Sept. 11, says Apgar, has only accelerated things. Though a handful of companies like Ernst & Young and Reuters have recently moved into trophy-worthy digs, “the age of the corporate-icon building is passing,” he says.  “One of the great challenges facing the real estate industry is how to rethink and reuse the traditional corporate headquarters building for other purposes.  I know some people who are thinking, very quietly to be sure, about converting buildings in New York and elsewhere into condos.” Some companies--in particular, Random House and AOL Time Warner, parent of FORTUNE's publisher--are relinquishing the top floors of their under-construction Manhattan trophy buildings so that they can be sold as luxury condominiums rather than set aside for executive offices.  That tells you how much things have changed.  

So is this the end of a great corporate tradition?  Probably not.  Trophy buildings go up in boom times, not in downturns.  Merrill Lynch recently noted that there was currently a “complete absence of demand” for office space and expected paralyzing market conditions to last at least though 2003.  However, once the economy picks up, that sentiment may change.  For all their downsides, trophy buildings offer CEOs a form of immortality.  Few of the cars built by Walter Chrysler in the ‘20s survive, but the art deco spire he commissioned still looms majestically over Manhattan.  You’ll never make history for moving your employees into a nondescript suburban office building.  


The fact that the upcoming American Aristocracy may be less obvious in their corporate digs is not necessarily cause for celebration.  A covert conspiracy is often worse than an overt action -- although increasingly, there is no apparent attempt to conceal anything.   

Other than perhaps an aristocratic contempt for commoners.  As The Little King once said, when informed that the peasants were revolting, “They always have been.”  



[1] Gordon S. Wood, "Where Are the Jeffersons of Today?" Time Magazine, July 5, 2004.

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[1]  Dirk Wittenborn, Fierce People, Bloomsbury, New York and London, 2002.  



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