No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

The Nobility

The nobility is an intermediary social structure, which holds a dual position in society. It's positioned between the ruling power and the general population, serving both as a barrier and a mediator. Unlike the middle class, which is open to movement between social strata, the nobility is generally closed off from both higher and lower classes, although historically it has sometimes opposed the ruler or acted independently.

The nobility's distinct social role comes with both privileges and burdens. For example, in medieval Florence and the Thurgau Canton of Switzerland, nobles faced specific legal restrictions and penalties. This duality is also evident in the nobility's criminal justice system, where nobles could face harsher penalties for crimes due to their higher social standing.

Historically, the nobility has often included families of foreign origin, indicating a form of international aristocratic solidarity. This solidarity helped maintain their collective status and influence across different regions and political landscapes, such as the Adelskette association among German nobles post-French Revolution and the cohesive role of the Austrian nobility in unifying the diverse parts of the Austrian monarchy.

'Noblesse oblige' - nobility involves not just privileges but also stringent duties and restrictions, highlighting their distinct and exclusive social role. The nobility's homogeneity in social traits across different regions and historical periods stresses its enduring influence and cohesion as a social class.

Nobility extends beyond superficial traits and power to a deeper collective value that benefits each member. The nobility operates on a principle where the highest values and merits of the group uplift every individual within it. This structure contrasts with other social groups, where typically the level of the least capable member sets the standard for the whole group. In the nobility, the achievements of the most outstanding members enhance the status of all, creating a sense of collective honor and prestige that each individual shares.

The nobility's essence is like the enduring value of noble metals like gold and silver, which retain their worth despite being reshaped. This comparison highlights the nobility's resilience and continuity, with each member representing a new form of an enduring substance of value. This creates a unique sense of immortality and historical continuity within the noble group.

This collective identity fosters a sense of equality among nobles and a tendency towards endogamy (marriage within the group) to preserve the hereditary privileges and values. This endogamy ensures that each member shares in the collective power and prestige of the group, reinforcing its unity and self-sufficiency.

However, this rigid structure can lead to decadence if individual members lack the personal strength to uphold and enhance the collective values. In such cases, the focus shifts to merely maintaining the group's honor rather than achieving new merits.

The nobility has a historical aversion to 'real' work that directs energy towards an impersonal objective. Instead, nobles engage in activities like war and hunting, which emphasize the subjective testing of personal strength. This aligns with Schiller's distinction between nobles, who value being, and commoners, who value doing.

There are different societal approaches to nobility, such as in China and Tahiti, where nobility either gradually decreases or transfers fully to the next generation, respectively. These variations illustrate how different cultures handle the accumulation and transmission of noble status.

Ultimately, the nobility represents a unique synthesis of predetermined social inheritance and individual freedom. Its structure promotes the collective values of the group while aiming to enhance the power, independence, and significance of each individual member. This balance between the whole and the individual, the collective heritage, and personal achievement defines the nobility's historical uniqueness and social function.


Simmel, G. (1908), Exkurs über den Adel, in: Soziologie, p. 732—746, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot.