The rise of the political aristocracy

Posted on September 29, 2011 by

There was an interesting comment in a previous thread that deserves some further discussion:

” The vast majority of those women who were writers, judges, and legislators before the 1970′s came from the upper-class of white women. In other words, the females at that time (before the 19050′s) who were most powerful became powerful because they were related somehow to powerful white men and/or they came from a powerful family.”

Is it really any different today? Class mobility is not that great.

In fact, feminism seems to hinder social mobility. Back in the day, one reason men were preferred to women was because women would quit, get married and get pregnant. In lean times, nobody wanted to waste economic resources educating or employing women when they’d just take that knowhow back into home life anyway. Women themselves preferred their husbands, brothers and sons to have good career prospects.

Nowadays, careerist feminists (often from the upper classes) take positions that could otherwise be filled by more men from somewhat lower social classes.

Business leaders and politicians, who used to marry off their daughters (sometimes to rising upstart outsiders) to boost their own influence, may now run those daughters as candidates in their own right for political office or for a position on the board of directors. Is that really good for a society, to allow further concentration of power like that?

The Economist reported on this very phenomenon recently:

Ms Yingluck’s victory in Thailand’s general election on July 3rd is the latest example of an intriguing and, it seems, growing trend: for the sisters, daughters and widows of former leaders to take over the family political business on the death, retirement or—in Mr Thaksin’s case—exile of the founder. There are now more than 20 female relatives of former leaders active in national politics around the world. They include three presidents or prime ministers and at least half a dozen leaders of the opposition or presidential candidates (see table). There are no historical numbers for proper comparison, but it is hard to think of another period—certainly no recent one—when so much dynastic authority has been flowing down the female line.

Some of these women have made it on their own. Others are at last getting a fairer share of the dynastic privileges that used to accrue to men. Family name confers brand recognition, useful contacts and financial contributions—all of which are vital in democracies, and become more so as retail politics become more important. So America has not only its Bush and Kennedy clans, but the Daley family of Chicago, the Cuomos of New York, the Udalls of the Rocky Mountain states. As politics becomes more professional and specialised —with politicians increasingly knowing no other walk of life—the advantages of being brought up in its ways and wiles grow greater. Violet Bonham Carter, daughter of H.H. Asquith, a British prime minister, told Winston Churchill that her father had talked to her about affairs of state as a child. “I wish I could have had such talks with mine,” was Churchill’s reply, of his austere parent. Many of today’s political daughters have Lady Violet’s advantages.