Establishment Elitism: The Downfall of Republican Virtue

After the American Revolution, the most prominent colonial minds of the late 18th century embarked on a journey into uncharted political territory. Imbibed with a newfound sense of postwar American exceptionalism, the Constitutional Framers incorporated political virtuosity and morality into the scaffolding of American democracy. These principles, largely stemming from a Western resurgence of classical republicanism, implied a necessary embrace of citizenship, patriotism, and “republican virtue”. Today, the wealthiest Americans hold increasingly disproportionate power over government faculties, undermining the institution of an egalitarian republic that our framers originally intended.

Contemporary elite theory easily describes the state of current U.S. politics. As growing wealth and income inequality stratifies the American public, the über-wealthy funnel money into special interest groups, super PACs, and dark money organizations, which, via generous donations, influence legislators to forward certain agendas. Relentless campaign costs often force candidates to wade into ethically murky waters in collaboration with the super-rich, handing ordinary Americans the short end of the proverbial policy stick.

These questionable practices are abundant even in the 2016 election season. For example, Hillary Clinton has recently been plagued with allegations of corruption, both during her time working with the Clinton Foundation as Secretary of State, and working with campaign donors. In both major parties, a power-hungry ‘establishment elite’ carries enormous political clout at the expense of the vast American majority.

In The American Revolution: A History, Gordon Wood provides a striking take on just how much the success of a fledgling American government hinged upon steadfast republican virtue: “If republics were to have order, it would have to come from below, from the people themselves, from their consent and their virtue, that is, from their willingness to surrender their personal desires to the public good.” The ‘establishment elite’ of modern-day government have removed virtue and eliminated the possibility of consent from the political equation for the sake of gaining and maintaining power over less affluent Americans. The Founders must be rolling in their graves.