It’s an ancient chestnut of political thought that the distribution of power follows the distribution of wealth. If and when wealth becomes more concentrated, so does power. That’s the story of the classical commonwealths, of the formerly participatory city-states of medieval Germany and Italy. If Kling is right, won’t it be the story of the United States too? How long can an economic oligarchy remain a political democracy? Why would it? Wouldn’t the oligarchs be reckless to permit it?
I’m not suggesting here that anyone will overthrow the Constitution or anything like that. The forms of American constitutionalism will remain intact, just as the forms of the British monarchy remain intact. We’ll still have elections, just as the British have royal weddings. (Indeed, many have noted that royal weddings have become more splendid and expensive exactly as power has ebbed from the monarchy. Back when monarchs ruled, the weddings were much less extravagant affairs.)
And after all, the Constitution that is now cherished as the bedrock of democracy served for three-quarters of a century to shield the economic interests of the Southern slaveocracy. If tightly restricted political power could be consistent with the Constitution from 1787 to 1861 it could be well be rendered so again.
Forms after all are much more conservative than realities. And in reality, the distribution of power tends to follow the distribution of wealth. If only a comparative few own, then only a comparative few will rule.