Estate of the Realm

If there were a singular word to be said of old age, it is the word “admission”. The uncomplimentary thrust of the word must not defeat its liberalism or scope. Being free to acknowledge the realities of life is for me a welcome change.  Nor is the reality one which somehow contaminates the whole.  Nor one which I regret saying in the first place. The admission is not that life is bad; rather that life is indeed short, that we should endeavour to enjoy every minute of it and that nobody needs to hear your medical history once again.

One of the realities of life is that we are not, contrary to the Declaration of Independence, born equal. The good news is that no matter on what side life finds you (Church, peerage, Commons), the inalterable advantage of old age is to be spared the approbation. No matter where one stands, this is really it, no time for generous thanks or any more fooling around. Or, as I have heard it said less whimsically, “Nobody’s listening; nobody cares!”

Estate (also estate of the realm): a class or order regarded as forming part of the body politic, in particular (in Britain), one of the three groups constituting Parliament, now the Lords spiritual (the heads of the Church), the Lords temporal (the peerage) and the Commons. They are also known as the three estates.

This business of oligarchical government is nothing new.

Throughout history, power structures considered to be oligarchies have often been viewed as coercive, relying on public obedience or oppression to exist. Aristotle pioneered the use of the term as meaning rule by the rich, contrasting it with aristocracy, arguing that oligarchy was the perverted form of aristocracy.

At the time of the word’s origins in ancient Greece, the Greeks conceived it as rule by the best-qualified citizens—and often contrasted it favorably with monarchy, rule by an individual. The term was first used by such ancient Greeks as Aristotle and Plato, who used it to describe a system where only the best of the citizens, chosen through a careful process of selection, would become rulers, and hereditary rule would actually have been forbidden, unless the rulers’ children performed best and were better endowed with the attributes that make a person fit to rule compared with every other citizen in the polity.

So the general rule became: Rule by the best not by the few. Interestingly however the ancient Greek philosophers considered a corrupt aristocracy (oligarchy) to be worse than a corrupt democracy (mob rule).

But the clan had been made insignificant by the insignificance of the chief. The Marquess was the falsest, the most fickle, the most pusillanimous, of mankind. Already, in the short space of six months, he had been several times a Jacobite, and several times a Williamite. Both Jacobites and Williamites regarded him with contempt and distrust, which respect for his immense power prevented them from fully expressing.

Thomas Babington Macaulay
“The History of England, from the Accession of James II — Volume 3.”

Leadership like so many other commodities has lately become an international theme.  There is increasingly talk that the entire globe is affected by what is labelled far right or conservative interests. Wherever elections are imminent, they attract an unusual interest in outcome, not so much political as psychological. Suddenly everybody is looking for Superman, someone to take command, someone who really knows what they’re doing. But it’s just a reminder that all this other chatter about the importance of democracry is not without its foundation.  Oligarchy by any other name is very often a powerful admission.