The surface of American society is, if I may use the expression, covered with a layer of democracy, from beneath which the old aristocratic colors sometimes peep.
This is a description of America democracy, by French aristocrat, Alexis de Toqueville, in Democracy in America I (1835), only 48 years after the founding of the United States. He explains that the vestiges of aristocracy still exist because the American majority is not familiar with civil law and does not question it:
Civil laws are only familiarly known to legal men, whose direct interest it is to maintain them as they are, whether good or bad, simply because they themselves are conversant with them … The body of the country is scarcely acquainted with them … and obeys them without premeditation.
In other words, there are civil laws (laws regulating private relations) in society that still reek of the English aristocracy because the majority of citizens never question them. So, what are these aristocratic civil laws of American society? According to Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America II (1840) the most aristocratic, civil structure of American society is the top-down business structure:
Manufacturers may possibly in their turn bring men back to aristocracy … When a workman is unceasingly and exclusively engaged in the fabrication of one thing, he ultimately does his work with singular dexterity; but at the same time he loses the general faculty of applying his mind to the direction of the work … as the workman improves the man is degraded … On the other hand, more considerable, wealthy and educated men come forward to embark in manufactures … The magnitude of the efforts required, and the importance of the results to be obtained, attract him. Thus at the very time at which the science of manufactures lowers the class of workmen, it raises the class of masters.
Whereas the workman concentrates his faculties more and more upon the study of a single detail, the master surveys a more extensive whole, and the mind of the latter is enlarged in proportion as that of the former is narrowed. In a short time the one will require nothing but physical strength without intelligence; the other stands in need of science, and almost of genius, to insure success. This man resembles more and more the administrator of a vast empire–that man, a brute. The master and the workman have then here no similarity, and their differences increase every day…the one is continually, closely, and necessarily dependent upon the other, and seems as much born to obey as that other is to command. What is this but aristocracy?
When workers focus only on the tasks at hand and do not apply their minds to the direction of the work they become narrow-minded and dependent. On the other hand, managers must see the big picture, be leaders, and envision the future. Over time, the divide becomes so large between managers and workers that managers despise workers’ lack of perspective and workers despise managers’ lack of empathy. This is aristocracy, and when the majority of citizens are in this environment, as is the case today, managers and executives are treated as kings and geniuses and paid hundreds of times more than workers. In the political arena, these same workers/citizens treat their political managers as kings and geniuses. Politicians become saviors and heroes that will rescue us and fix the problems of the people. These unfair expectations of our leaders cause deficient governance and nurture the seeds of aristocracy and the dependency of men. If left unchecked, America may fully become an aristocracy–or more appropriately a plutocracy (i.e., rule by the wealthy).
On a brighter note, de Tocqueville offered consolation. He saw that some Americans had “commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part.” At the beginning of our democratic experiment, many Americans could see as de Tocqueville did that entrepreneurially-minded, informed citizens that open their minds to opportunities and willingly take risks are necessary to maintain our democracy. Democracy cannot exist among human machines that have no vision of the future.
The top-down business structure is a trace of English aristocratic control that grooms the majority to be dependent upon business and political managers. Moreover, the top-down business structure (as defined by civil law) is one of the most difficult aspect of our society to change. If we are to change it and if we are to improve our democracy, we must gain vision and perspective. We must acquaint ourselves with civil law and ask, “Why?” We must expand our minds and believe as Thomas Jefferson did that “men can be trusted to govern themselves without a master.”