A city stands or falls by the quality of its “leading families” – families whose social, cultural, political, and economic influence is highly disproportionate to their numbers. The idea of leading families can be uncomfortable for Americans. The very notion smacks of aristocracy, which many believe we’re not supposed to have in this country. But even Thomas Jefferson with his Jacobin sympathies acknowledged the existence of a “natural aristocracy” among men. Therefore every city has its leading families, whether they be strong or weak, virtuous or corrupt, respected or despised.
What are the characteristics of a good leading family? Here are a few qualifications:
1. History. A leading family has a multi-generational history in the city, generally three adult generations at minimum. Cultural influence can be slow and needs time to percolate.
2. Religion. A leading family is motivated by faith, supportive of a local religious institution, and operates within a well-defined religious tradition.
3. Education. A leading family is not only an educated family, but in many cases a family of educators.
4. Fecundity. Members of leading families have more than the average number of children.
5. Civic participation. A leading family has a tradition of working for the betterment of the community through civic organizations. If such organizations don’t exist, a leading family is involved in founding them.
6. Patronage of the arts. A leading family is committed to the flourishing of music, literature, and the visual and performing arts. If they are not artists, writers, or musicians themselves, they do what they can to support and promote the arts in their city.
7. Politics. A leading family is knowledgeable about local political issues, serves on local governing bodies, and exercises political influence for the good.
8. Wealth. In most cases, a leading family has acquired enough wealth to financially support worthy causes in the community.
Now then, do you know who your city’s leading families are? Sometimes they are a blessing; oftentimes, not so much. If your city’s leading families are worthy, reach out to them, cooperate with them, volunteer with their organizations, and help them accomplish their goals. They can’t do it alone. Leading families often find it difficult to get things done and need to enlist the support of the greater community. You can be that support, and your city will be blessed for it.