jonah goldberg wrote something a while back I found interesting:
Every age has its aristocrats, every society its elite. Even the communist countries which claimed to be ruled by the masses have their "vanguards of the proletariat," and other fancy terms used to describe greasy-palmed bureaucrats, party thugs, or ruling clans. Pure egalitarian societies are like unicorns. Everyone knows what they look like, but nobody has ever seen one. There has never been a community without a social hierarchy nor would we ever want to live in one. At their most basic level, hierarchies are necessary because they are efficient; too many chefs and all that.
Besides, it is an inevitable fact of human nature that some people will rise to the top. The male brain, after all, is hardwired to compete for status, power, and chicks. Originally, this was often done through the acquisition of shiny trinkets and sharp rocks. The shiny trinkets are exchanged for women and sharp rocks. The sharp rocks, by the way, are typically used by men to smite other men into relinquishing their women or their sharp rocks or the whole package. The female brain — as best science has been able to discern — works along much the same lines, though often women substitute guilt or guile for the sharp rocks.
The difference between the good society and the bad one is entirely defined by the rules which determine how this natural impulse to compete for respect and happiness should take place. A bad society is one where it is acceptable for people to attain status through violence or birthright. The good society is one where status is achieved through creativity, personal industriousness, and moral self-restraint. A bad society considers some groups ineligible to compete for trivial or superficial reasons. A good society believes everyone is free to pursue happiness equally. But all societies, good and bad, will have such competition for status and success. This is a universal truth.
while searching for it, I found a lefty blog that criticized Goldberg as a sort of canonical example of conservative idiocy. Frankly, I think he makes a fair amount of sense, which is disturbing to my liberal soul. In any case, the thing to do at this point is probably read Robert Wright's "The moral animal" and "non-zero", which I think are largely about these kinds of issues. someday, someday. . .