Democratic Aristocracy

The French still fawn over their aristocracy. Magazines like Paris Match unapolagetically report on comings and goings of the famous families of France. (Having a tangential connection to one of those families, I know of what I speak!) The Brits less so, but still the pages of Hello! are sprinkled with the foibles of various dukes and their ladies - often wedged between the antics of the Spice Girls or the latest football striker to land in jail for crashing his Ferrari.

But in America, since the days of George Washington, any emerging aristocracy has had to compete on its own terms in a social version of Shumpeterian Creative Distruction. Normally, this means the later generation "aristocrats" either end up as wastrels in some Columbus Avenue saloon or in an anonymous cublical at the Pew Charitable Trusts analyzing the latest push poll depicting the horrors of capitalism (all funded by Sun Oil stock, of course).

But fortunately for the North American publishing industry, we have Hollywood, and from there we can we fill our societal need for voyeurism. It is from there that we watch grown adults, preferably very attractive ones, acting out our dreams, playing to our scripts, acting in a form of "reality tv" that makes grown women cry and young men, well, less than men.

All this, according to Mark Steyn, is more healthy than the European version.

It is the genius of America to have disestablished not just the church but the aristocracy. Instead of the latter, we have pop peers and movie marquesses and video viscounts moving through the ersatz rituals of their class purely for the amusement of the masses.

But still, our Hollywood aristocracy has many of the features of the older, European version. Most notably, it requires the participants to live above the fray while showing great empathy for those battling out in the real world. And that, of course, would make them... Democrats. As Johah Goldberg notes about the famous "Let Them Eat Cake" quotation...

The rule about selling expensive bread at a loss if necessary to feed the poor was just one of a whole tangle of crazy regulations established by bleeding-heart French nobles to do "right" by the lower classes. From medieval times until the 1980s, the price of a baguette had been fixed to a specific formula. And, even today, bread prices, baking techniques and bread sizes are regulated in minute detail in France.

The intention behind these laws was largely goody-goody, nice-nice. In fact, Marie Antoinette was something of a limousine liberal (gilded carriage liberal?) who offended her fellow nobles by disdaining royal excess.

The problem was that since French bakers were denied the ability to make cheap bread at a profit, and forced to sell expensive bread at a loss, they did the only rational thing possible: They made very little bread at all. That's how we got bread riots and maybe even the French Revolution.

So, when the next useful idiot tells us that 9/11 was planned by Bush, or that the New Orleans levies were bombed, just thank your lucky stars for being an American. Just think, our Democratic Aristocracy could actually matter.