The Very British Oligarchy

The British are beginning to notice that they are now ruled by an oligarchy…

…although it’s odd that they’ve taken so long.

Ferdinand Mount has just published a book about it and the middlebrow Daily Mail has given it an approving review.

A perfect example of oligarchy at work is provided by the current attempts by the British coalition government to ‘reform’ the House of Lords – the equivalent of the Senate.

The institutions of government are, of course, a matter for the people not their elected representatives, since if the the latter can change those institutions there is no obstacle to tyranny. That is why the Constitution of the United States goes to such pains to define its institutions and the checks and balances that prevent them being changed by, say, President Obama restructuring the House of Representatives so as to remove the current Republican majority.

Nevertheless a succession of British pols having been nibbling at the House of Lords for a decade, by changing its structure and by filling it with superannuated hacks.

Now the current coalition administration wants to take another bite, and the deputy PM’s logic illustrates the oligarchic mind. He argues that since all three parties included Lords reform in their prospectuses before the last election, the British people have preapproved it and thus their consent is not required. But, of course, that all-party support means that the British people had no choice, and a democracy would require that they now have one.

To hammer his point home, he threatens the oligarch’s nuclear option: unless all the other oligarchs line up behind him, he will call a referendum.

It follows that when a democracy degrades into oligarchy it can no longer peacefully beĀ  reformed by the people.

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