Elitism seems to be the natural state of mankind. For millennia we have believed that certain people are endowed with special dispensations.. divine privileges to lead & rule over the lessor humans. Physical might used to be an indicator of human superiority, & is still highly regarded. Egyptian Pharaohs were considered to be gods, as were the Roman emperors. The concept of 'divine right of Kings' was widely believed for thousands of years in Europe & in most of the world. Chinese Emperors & even African tribal lords were seen as being empowered with special privilege by the gods, or were gods themselves.
But then came the Reformation. Martin Luther & others reasoned against the concepts of special human privilege by the clergy. They had no power to absolve sin, or to declare someone pardoned or grant 'indulgences' for a price. Salvation came through faith, alone, & had nothing to do with any human hierarchy or pontifications. There was an allegiance between the religious leaders & the aristocracy, & most clergy were part of the elite. But as reformation thought burned through Europe, the lofty view of the clergy came down, & along with them their secular enablers. What were kings but mere mortal men? They lived & died like anyone else, & were mere humans.
As the Reformation morphed into the Enlightenment, and the 'Age of Reason' took hold, the logical consequences of this line of thinking brought the idea of the Equality of Man. There was nothing special about the nobility. Kings were mere men. The aristocracy were just elitists who lived off the labors of the working man. The commoner labored in poverty to keep the royal classes in opulence. They began to evaluate the purpose of human governance. Locke, Rousseau & many others reasoned that man was endowed with Natural Rights to life, liberty, & property. Locke said that govt had no other purpose than the preservation of property. Montesquieu reasoned that govt should be split into separate powers of the legislative, judicial, & executive branches. Jefferson, Franklin, & Paine stirred them all together & the American Experiment was born.
But even then, there were some differences. Hobbes believed man was stupid & brutish, & needed a strong central govt to keep him in line. Many believed in 'manifest destiny', or the duty of the white race to control & manage the rest of the world. But this was in opposition with the basic idea of human equality, & caused a conflict. Eventually, slavery was outlawed by the people where enlightenment thought was dominant. Even in the wilds of America, a great civil war was fought to settle this issue. The idea of the dignity & equality of Man, had become mainstream. Monarchies were relinquishing power, & representative governments were replacing them, either peacefully or by force.
The foundation of this view was in that of a Creator. Man was endowed by his creator with unalienable rights, as Jefferson put it in the declaration of independence. But even for the Deists & naturalists of the time, 'Nature' or 'Nature's God' also worked as the source of these natural rights. 3 of the most significant philosophical leaders in the American theater were Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, & Thomas Paine, all deists. They did not believe in Christianity or the Bible, but still saw the divine empowerment of the individual with basic, equal rights, granted by Natural Law.
But the enlightenment did not usher in an era of peace & utopia. The French revolution was a disaster, with mob rule & bloodshed seeming to confirm Hobbes's analysis:
"During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man. To this war of every man against every man, this also in consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues. No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." ~Thomas Hobbes
The American thinkers concluded that their experiment in self rule could only succeed if the people were moral.
"Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters." ~Benjamin Franklin
"We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." ~John Adams
But the correlation between a 'moral & religious people' & the equality of man are clear. Without morality & a sense of a higher 'Law', only force matters. Force is not equal, but favors the ruthless & amoral. So the view of man as equal & having inherent rights is incumbent upon a moral & religious people. To the enlightenment thinkers, force was something for a moral people to own & control, to secure their rights, not to be used for despotism & exploiting your fellow man.
But as the enlightenment era drew to a close, new thought was beginning, rooted in the works of Karl Marx & Charles Darwin. These were anti-enlightenment concepts, based on a naturalistic view of man & nature, & moved man back to a more elitist view. They undermined the power of religion & morality, declaring religion to be the opiate of the people, not a force for social good. Man was not a created being, in the image of God, but a mere brute.. an animal evolved from lower forms with no moral law or purpose other than survival. Both of these concepts laid the foundation for the Russian revolution, based on Marxism, & the rise of the Nazis, based on the evolution of the Master Race. The equality of man took a big hit in this time, as powerful elitists pushed their own agenda, empowered by their acquired force. Even in the American Experiment, progressives were gaining power, based on their elitist view. They were duty bound by the cosmos to manage & control the huddled masses, & of course should be provided for lavishly for their administration. Eugenicists like Margaret Sanger & other progressives hailed the virtues of elitist central power. They would engineer society & end all injustice. FDR compiled his 'second bill of rights', which is a collectivist, central power agenda, not one of individual freedom & Natural Law. Progressives need an elite of superior intellect & zoo like management skills to control the workers, which is what they have worked tirelessly toward for decades.
And here we are, in the death throes of the enlightenment, with the dignity & equality of Man slowly dying. Natural Law gives way to imperial decree, & we are plodding a steady return to elitist rule. We are in a convoluted blend of enlightenment memory concepts of Higher Truth & morality, & the conflicting conclusion of a world without God, purpose, or higher law. And with the death of Natural Law, so goes the concept of the equality of Man. Social engineers might give lip service to it, for propaganda purposes, but it is not inherent in their basic world view. They are elitists, & view the inferior beings with contempt. It is a short ride to genocide from this collectivist village. They worship only power, as there is nothing higher than that to the naturalist elites. They view the principles of the enlightenment as charmingly quaint, but completely irrelevant in their brave new world of elitist control. The achievements we have made in women's suffrage, abolition, worker's rights, & due process will all give way to imperial rule by a New King.
So is that it? Will the values from centuries of progress toward self rule, human equality, & natural law give way to another ruling elite? This time, they don't claim Divine Ordination, but are appointed by the god of power, to rule over the pathetic lower race of men. Will we revert back to the dark ages? Will we surrender what has taken millennia of blood, sweat & tears to arrive at, only to see it tossed aside for a lie?
"The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite." ~Thomas Jefferson