IS HEREDITARY GOVERNMENT GOOD? In his review in the Wall Street Journal (May 11) of THE CREATION OF INEQUALITY by Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto says that his students in global history at Notre Dame have trouble understanding “societies that esteem birth more highly than wealth and rate breeding above achievement.” He begins the review by telling a story about the first Japanese ambassador to the United States in 1860 who was baffled that George Washington’s descendants were not “revered above all other families.” I have the same American preconception as his students. Choosing leaders by birth seems absurd to me. I am grateful for the society that produced Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman. I think of Henry III and Henry VI in English history as examples of the misfortunes a hereditary system can produce. Fernandez-Armesto praises heredity as rational and scientific. He doesn’t mention ancient Rome, but although Rome had elections and checks and balances, the leadership for hundreds of years came from the same aristocratic families. While I am thinking better of the Dark Ages, I will try to give some thought to the advantages of heredity.

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