The Problem Of Elite Regulation
There is a long standing problem in political theory that can be best summed by the Latin phrase “Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?” which roughly translates to “Who will guard the guards themselves?” (Juvenal 347-8). This refers to the idea of any government-like body needing a certain set of rules that dictate how the body can function, thus keeping its members’ supremacy in control. Hence, the problem of elite regulation, in its bare form, is that while a subset of authoritative figures is essential for society to function, it is their very authority that can harm the society that they govern, and thus they need to be delimited in ways that have positive, rather than negative, effects on said society.
First, it is necessary to think about the framework and background of elite regulation. It can be thought of as the second level of proper order. It is not something that is unique to East Asian political theory, rather it transcends boundaries, even into supposedly purely democratic societies. The need for this sort of regulation was summed by Lord Acton, 19th century British parliamentarian, when he said, “The tendency of power is to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Elite regulation deals with the reduction in motivation for this sort of corruption that can wreak havoc on socio-economic systems. Regulation in Acton’s world can take the form of an enforced constitution, the press, or even the power of public opinion. (Magagna 10/26)
From the East Asian perspective, questioning the elite can be traced to the times of Confucius and Mencius. Mencius, in fact, asked the king if the blood of the people killed by the government or due its inadequacies was on the king’s hands, since he...
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...and the difference between good and bad. They would not want to take advantage of the people, and they feel a responsibility towards society even though they understand that they ideally would not face much music for making the wrong decision.
The Confucian solution has multiple methods of implementation, such as civil service examinations, and the creation of an informal elite such as the Chinese Gentry. However, it also focuses on teaching morals to public leaders to build their character (Magagna 10/28). Since Confucians understand that for any society to function, the elite are necessary, they give a lot of importance to the fact that corrupt leaders can cause as much harm as model leaders can cause good. The elite then, must be regulated, because they are necessary, but without any checks, they can exploit the people and can cause society to collapse.
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