Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte was a kind of Paris Hilton of her day. She was famous because she was famous but used her fame to very good financial advantage unlike most women of her time. She was an ‘aristocrat’ in the early Republic and a monarchist at that when Americans where at best ambivalent about the idea of aristocracy. She’d divorced Jerome Bonaparte, the brother of Napolean, and supposedly attired herself in ways that scandalised the American prudes. In all, she’s perhaps far more interesting than any of America’s founding fathers and her excellent biography written by Charlene Boyer Lewis chronicles ambition at a time when American women weren’t supposed to be ambitious.
Why Elizabeth Bonaparte matters to us is because in one of her letters to her father she writes how it was silly to not have a King. The reason she says that, as Lewis implies, may be that she wanted to belong to an aristocracy. But she then goes on to make an observation in that letter that seems pertinent to the way our own feudal order works in India. She mentions that women had better rights in an aristocracy where order was established and the aristocrats weren’t threatened by women. But that in the republic where everyone had a vote, the prudishness and insecurity of the common people was forced on women.
That seems very relevant to the times we live in. Anecdotal evidence in India suggests there is growing intolerance in the past 30 years. The relevant correlate is that in this period democratic assertion in India spread to groups that weren’t part of the Nehruvian elite. And one is tempted to draw a parallel. The hypothesis that one could come up with is, as the previously marginalised sections of society get empowered, illiberalism is a counter-intuitive cost to pay. And the converse question one therefore might ask is: what is the extent of short term illiberalism that one can tolerate to undo the structural inequality imposed by having an entrenched elite?
The only honest position seems to be: that’s an impossible question to answer a priori.
Along those lines, the DMK is a prime example of lower caste assertion two generations ago. The BSP of Dalit assertion one generation ago. The SP, JD(S) in its current avtar, the JD(U), the SS and SAD all fall into this category one way or another. Heck even the BJP does, except in its case the assertion was from the under class amongst upper castes. And the only common thread among all of these parties seems to be that none of them had Macaulay’s children form their core. The AAP as the latest entrant is an interesting experiment in that long line of assertion. Arvind Kejriwal is no Macaulay’s child despite his degree from a government subsidised college; and his erstwhile collaborator Anna Hazare certainly wasn’t. But a few of their spokespeople seem to be. Perhaps some of their voters are, too. How this equilibria plays out and whether the equilibria’s current origin in the latest instance means the bottom of the caste pyramid has no more space for assertion are questions that are interesting in themselves. Whether AAP wins another election is not.
 – By all accounts she was spectacularly hot. As Lewis mentions, men of her time said she had the best shoulders in America. Though what kind of a man looks at a woman and thinks about shoulders? Perhaps that was euphemism I did not get, to think of it now.
 – Maybe that letter was to her son. I forget.
 – Of course she means incredibly wealthy women like herself.
 – The assumption of illiberalism being short term is made by rating that republic called the USA in the current day to be liberal in an intellectual sense, if not fiscal.