noblesse oblige

Noblesse oblige is a French expression used in English meaning that nobility extends beyond mere entitlements and requires the person who holds such a status to fulfill social responsibilities. For example, a primary obligation of a nobleman could include generosity towards those around him.

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the leadership of society was assumed by the aristocracy. Traditional conservatives at the time justified this form of elite rule on the grounds that it was natural since, for generations, the upper class had been raised to govern at all levels and had also been educated in the values of social obligation and public service. Another contemporary conservative justification put forward for aristocratic leadership was paternalism or noblesse oblige. The longstanding practice of elite rule ensured that those in positions of authority could draw on class and family traditions of leadership, duty and social responsibility, and this meant that they were best placed to make decisions on behalf of (and for the good of) society as a whole. Traditional conservatives would consider this to be a form of soft paternalism since, in their view, other social groups within an organic society accept (and thus give their consent) that the 'natural' leaders are uniquely equipped to act in the best interests of all.