It is taken for granted by many in the Dark Enlightenment that there exists a small proportion within humanity that are just (for lack of a better word) better than everyone else. The common term for this elite group is “The Natural Aristocracy”.
But what is this Natural Aristocracy really? It is not nearly so defined as other concepts like The Cathedral. Perhaps is is like masculinity, in that the concept itself is nebulous and most people have their own unique definitions. I sense this might be the case, but nonetheless, I shall provide my own examination, in the hopes of clarifying things further and stimulating greater discussion.
I believe that the Natural Aristocracy is defined by 6 traits, and that a failure to express or live up to any one of these characteristics necessarily excludes one from its ranks. They are:
- Industriousness – Really working hard is difficult. Extraordinarily difficult. Most people are just unwilling to work hard to achieve their goals. The rise of technology has only exacerbated this phenomenon. A true aristocrat is not afraid to work hard for the things that he or she desires.
- Ambition – Some are content to merely exist in life. As long as the television is on and beer is cheap, they are content with their lot in life. There is no yearning for something better, no urge to pursue more meaningful things in life, whatever those things may be for them (wealth, knowledge, family…etc). They are willing to let themselves get complacent, and they prefer their lives that way. A life of overcoming challenges and ascending to new heights of accomplishment and success is not for them. We call these people “peasants”.
- Intelligence – Like it or not, some people are smarter than others. With intelligence comes the capability to know and understand the world to a greater capacity than others, to reason and think, to analyze and comprehend. Intelligence is a building block for many other important and desirable traits, and is correlated with characteristics like self-control and low time preference. A keen mind is a noble trait indeed.
- Adventurousness – To venture for new lands, seek out new experiences, and to take that risk that no one else will take, is the inherent tendency of the adventurous individual. To stay within the confines of the familiar is not the way of the aristocratic soul. Whether it is traveling the world or simply delighting in trying new foods, pushing boundaries and exploring new territory is something that most people are loathe to do, and having a taste for it marks one as an elite and unique individual, superior to those too afraid to break from their comfort zones.
- Ability to handle freedom – Having freedom does not just mean having the freedom to succeed, but also having the freedom to fail, and to fall into things like drug addiction, poverty, obesity, and other afflictions. It is the freedom to lose all your money on a bad investment. It is the freedom to eat ice cream all day. It is the freedom to not get a job and live off welfare and bang out a bunch of children you cannot afford. It is the freedom to pursue a life of hedonism. The ability to handle this kind of freedom without degenerating into a pathetic excuse for a human being is one of the defining marks of the Natural Aristocracy. This could also be labelled as “Self-Control”.
- High Achievement – The Natural Aristocracy is that percentage of humanity doing great things and accomplishing feats beyond that of most mortals. While this may involve doing something like curing a deadly disease or building a great empire, other more-easily attained accomplishments like earning a black belt, being your school valedictorian, or becoming an Eagle Scout would still be sufficient to satisfy this aspect.
I’ve heard varying estimates as to the actual proportion of the population this aristocracy happens to be, but I suspect it is at most 10%. Is this aristocracy genetic? Perhaps. I am willing to believe that if you are not born with the potential to be a part of this aristocracy, you can never break into its ranks. I am also willing to believe that if you possess the capability to join this elite subset of humanity but fail to devote yourself to developing and applying your talents, you will never find a way into this echelon. I know several individuals who fit sadly fit this description…
But this is not all. I suspect that there are distinct subtypes within the Natural Aristocracy. After all, two individuals might be able to meet all of the above traits and yet go on to do very different things with their lives. Yet, with these 6 characteristics in mind let us consider the categories of the natural aristocracy. I have not yet decided whether to consider this a complete list, but among those persons whom I would describe as “aristocratic” according to the above classification, I have seen their talents manifested in these areas:
With a thirst for knowledge and a drive to uncover it wherever it may hide, The Scientist is willing to spend years or even decades puzzling over a perplexing question. They will stop at nothing to uncover how the universe works, and those with the most drive and passion often find a way to alter the worldview of the rest of humanity. Who could consider a mind like Newton’s or Galileo’s anything but aristocratic, noble, and inspiring?
A few more modern examples would be Richard Feynman, Marie Curie, or James Watson.
Similar to the scientist, the philosopher primarily seeks not knowledge, but wisdom. Tossing and turning ideas over in his mind, and burying himself in dense tomes, the philosopher seeks to understand the world of the abstract the same way the scientist devotes himself to study of the physical. Ethics, metaphysics, logic, epistemology, and more are all fair ground for this aristocratic lover of wisdom. The Scientist might find a cure for a deadly virus, but a Philosopher can create a virus of the mind far more nefarious and deadly than any creation of the scientist. You may disagree with Marx, but you simply cannot deny that he was influential…
It is into this category I would place individuals such as Socrates, Kant, and Nietzsche.
I use the term “Artist” here to refer to all types of artists, including painters, poets, writers, and musicians. Again, this is not to claim that all artists are part of the natural aristocracy by any stretch (nor all scientists, philosophers…etc), but to acknowledge that the talents of the Natural Aristocracy can manifest themselves in artistic form. Note that this is irrespective of medium. Comic strips and graphic novels are far from an aristocratic medium*, but the work of writers like Bill Waterson (of “Calvin and Hobbes” fame) should not be discounted merely because of the medium they chose to operate in.
(This should go without saying, but being a popular artist is not indicative of anything here. Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj are (somehow) popular artists, but anyone who would suggest that there is anything noble or aristocratic about them is horribly misguided and ought to correct that mistake by setting themselves on fire.)
Great examples include Beethoven, Goethe, Hemingway, Shakespeare, and Dali.
Colombus. Magellan. Marco Polo. What is the common trait among these three men? A taste for adventure, a yearning to see what was beyond the next horizon, and the willingness to travel to the ends of the earth. Edmund Hillary did not climb Everest for any “rational” reason, but because his soul yearned to know what it was like at the top of the world.
Such a drive is the distinguishing feature of this class of aristocrat.
Admittedly, this might seem to be a bit of an odd category, but bear with me. To focus ones’ aristocratic tendencies toward success in the market is a perfectly sensible thing to do in most modern, western economies. Just as the highest levels of success in art or philosophy require the aristocratic traits, so too does success in the world of business.
Love him or hate him, Richard Branson is the ultimate modern example of this subtype.
Noble, valiant, and courageous, the warrior engages in conflict and fights battles on behalf of principles he believes in. Violence is simply a fact of life, and The Warrior understands this. As George Orwell said, good men sleep well at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.
This term applies to both those who fight personally, like Miyamoto Musashi, and those who command armies, like Erwin Rommel.
Part of the responsibility of the Aristocracy was always to rule and govern the masses. Even if we define our modern aristocracy not by blood, land, or titles, but by innate characteristics, there will still be those Aristocrats that need to take it upon themselves to rule the masses. Granted, this responsibility ought to be accompanied by a sort of noblesse oblige and strict moral codes of conduct, as well as a system that incentivizes rulers to actually provide for and protect their subjects, but that is a topic for another time.
Churchill was probably the last great statesman, even if he foreshadowed the kind of corrupt and immoral decision-making we see all to frequently today. Still, even statesmen like Pericles had to resort to trickery and subterfuge at time. Politics is just not a clean business. The most “pure and noble” example might be Frederick the Great.
Frequently found in conjunction with other types (The Scientist and the Entrepreneur are natural partners for The Inventor, and such combinations are often found in the same individual), The Inventor is the individual who designs and tinkers until something completely novel and unique is created where there was nothing new before. Without these individuals creating and inventing, humanity would be at a technological standstill, at the mercy of disease, the elements, and without any advanced means of transportation and communication.
I would be remiss if I did not highlight Nikola Tesla as the archetype for this classification.
I don’t mean your stereotypical meat-head here (remember the factors listed above). Historically, members of the aristocracy would have been expected to be proficient in things like fencing, horseback riding, and other athletic endeavors. Nowadays, we live in a time that really does place less emphasis on physical capability, but this does not mean that aristocratic talent cannot manifest itself in this sphere. In this day and age, fitness itself is an accomplishment, and when you place an Olympic athlete next to your average American, the former appears like a demi-god in relation to the other.
This is of course, not to say that any artist, athlete, or whatever is a member of the Natural Aristocracy, but I am heavily implying that the most successful, recognized, and talented people within these categories certainly are.
It is quite possible that one individual may be a mix of two or more types. Leonardo da Vinci was probably equal parts Artist, Scientist, and Inventor. Plato’s “Philosopher-Kings” were a mixture of the Philosopher, Statesmen, and Warrior subtypes. The Athlete and Warrior subtypes are often found together in the same individual, due to the inherently physical nature of war.
It should also be mentioned that these types do not necessarily have to be at odds with each other (indeed, it is more beneficial for all if they co-operate). I recall that a statesmen once corralled some explorers, scientists, and inventors (and their respective followers) into putting a man on the moon not just once, but several times…
I must admit, I debated whether to add in the additional qualification that a member of the Natural Aristocracy must also possess a certain nobility of spirit, a certain je ne sais quoi, perhaps that which could be called an aristocratic soul, but I decided not to complicate things further. To consider such a possibility would make this a far nebulous system of classification, and yet it does seem that there is something different in the spirit of the Natural Aristocrats than those of the common folk. I personally suspect this to be the case, but I shall avoid examination of this possibility for now.
I also weighed the merits of adding confidence and/or boldness to my little litmus test, but at the end of the day felt that while it was certainly a distinguishing characteristic, it wasn’t a make-or-break sort of thing, the way I think the other 6 traits are. Most of the Natural Aristocracy is naturally confident, but one need not be confident to be a part.
To repeat myself, this is a rough classification at best, and I still have some work to do before I’m ready to call it fully fleshed-out, but I think it still has some utility. Life would be so much easier if there still existed relevant genetic aristocracies in most Western countries, but in the absence of easily-found answers, we must seek them out on our own.
Note: Some might contend that concepts of chivalry and other honor codes are also hallmarks of the Natural Aristocracy. While I agree that this has been true of historic aristocracies, like the European Knights and the Japanese Samurai, I view this as more of a cultural development instead of a manifestation of innate qualities, which is what I would argue is the true mark of such an elite cadre of individuals. Aristocracies should have strict honor codes backed up the the threats of losing reputation, risk of being ostracized, and duels to the death, but if asked whether I believe that members of the Natural Aristocracy would be chivalrous in the absence of any honor codes or cultural codes of conduct, I would hesitatingly say “no”, although my mind on this matter is not quite settled.
I applied similar reasoning when considering whether to cover any sort of moral code. While I do believe that members of the Natural Aristocracy should act morally (I’m not too picky about whether that means Christian principles, secular ethical systems, Buddhist philosophy, or what have you as long as there’s something and it’s hard to live up to), but I wanted to discuss the concept in amoral terms, without consideration of the ethical responsibilities that come with such gifts.
I realize this was a longer post than usual, so if you have made it this far, I congratulate you on your industriousness and intelligence.
*This is of not, of course, a blanket statement disapproving of all comic books or graphic novels. Graphic novels like “The Dark Knight Returns”, “Watchmen”, and “Persepolis” are deeply thoughtful works that are well-written and intellectually stimulating, and the same could be said of comic strips like “Calvin and Hobbes” and “The Far Side”.