Noblesse Oblige

In thinking about leadership, and who will run things in the future, one wonders about that classic phrase, “noblesse oblige” – that the rich and powerful have serious responsibilities, keeping with their privileges.    The classic Wikipedia article on this has an interesting take on this – the concept may be reinforcing the idea of a nobility, and allowing them to exist:

Noblesse oblige, while seeming to impose on the nobility a duty to behave nobly, thereby apparently gives the aristocracy a justification for their privilege. Their argument is “as nobles, we have rights, but we have duties also; so such duties validate our rights.”

OK, we’ve got it; ‘noblesse oblige’ is the obligation part, but it might be a reason for the nobles/elites to stay in power.  This week’s essay is short, because frankly, it seems a bit of a coin toss if an elite that truly believes and acts for the benefit of society is a bad thing or a good thing.

Like it says on the tin, “More questions than answers.”


  • When did noblesse oblige go out of style?
  • Why did it end?
  • Will it come back, in some form, or does it have to die (with attendant pitchforks and torches) before it rises up?
  • Do the elites ever learn?
  • Should we care if there are elites and powerful folks, if they do good work, and lead nobly?
  • If a leader is truly a good one, believes in their mission, and acts accordingly (the casualty rate of nobles who fought in Rome’s wars was higher than regular folks, at least in the beginning), then should we be complaining?   Or does an elite always devolve into a greedy plutocracy?  Seems like it always has, but could this change?

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