We will always have a ruling class. Our economy and nation are just too large to manage without delegated authority. Our great experiment with democracy is about whether the people can be trusted to select their leaders wisely.
The aristocracy of Europe ruled based on class and heredity, but usually understood the needs of the lower classes. Inequality was accepted; the rich were entitled, and the poor accepted their position.
The equality in the United States created a permanent state of agitation. Anyone could get rich and everybody tried. The ability to create a heaven on earth led us to impatience and materialism. Religion became more powerful by its separation from the state.
In America the rich and the poor worked alongside each other and knew each other. Social barriers between the classes disappeared. But Alexis de Tocqueville observed that when the rich of the United States visited Europe, they sought the company of Europe’s wealthiest.
De Tocqueville also thought that equality made us equally weak and drew us to a strong leader. John Adams, derided as a monarchist by Jefferson, thought a strong president was required to protect the people from the aristocracy. Jefferson as an aristocrat himself did not acknowledge the threat. John Adams felt personally slighted by the aristocrats of Boston. The Constitution recognized the role to be played by the executive, the aristocracy and the people. It balanced restraint of concentrated central power with the restraint of the passions of unfettered democracy.
Congress was a place where issues were debated and compromised, buffered from the passions of democratic majoritarianism. The Supreme Court was even further removed from the passions of the majority. The Courts were to protect the individual rights from the tyranny of the majority. As the Progressive Era sought greater democracy, the Supreme Court was pressured more to uphold the majority than the rights of the individual.
Individualism was demonized in the Progressive Era. Self-interest properly understood lost its qualifier. In an egalitarian democracy we are all the same because we are all unique.
The progressive effort to remove the obstacles to democracy exposed the its faults . The administrative state moved law making power away from the accountability of an electorate. Deliberation and debate were replaced by referendums and mobs. In frustration the voters sought their objectives from the courts and the executive. It should be no surprise that those contests have become so hostile.
Greater democracy gave us a stronger executive and a weaker aristocracy or elite. Trump’s rise was a victory over the elite. This was the wish of the early Progressives, a strong executive protecting the will of the people from the elite. This was how John Adams envisioned the executive role. What has changed is that after a century of progressivism the progressives have become the elite.
We debate which features and principles of the Constitution still apply, and which ones should be modified and how best they should be changed. While the requirements a modern society places on any system of government may evolve, human nature remains subject to the same faults since man appeared, and these faults exist in our commercial institutions as well as the government institutions that regulate them. This was the central truth that guided the construction of our Constitution. As noted by Madison in Federal #51. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”