Oligarchy is a term used to describe a form of government where the majority of political power is de facto held by a small part of society. Usually, people who have the most wealth, military power or political influence. The word “Oligarchy” comes from the Greek – oligos (small, few) and arkho (rule), which as a result forms – oligarchy (rule by a few).
What is OLIGARCHY – meaning and definition in simple words
A simple, clear answer: An oligarchy is when in a country, all power, explicitly or implicitly, belongs to a small group of people. This may be a specific individual, a family, or several families united in a cartel or oligarchic clan. It also happens that the power may belong to one or several large corporations that have actually monopolized all spheres of life in the country, due to which they can influence any political processes.
Who is an Oligarch?
An oligarch is a representative of the ruling “elites” in the country. As a rule, this is a very rich and influential person who has formed his financial capital and influence thanks to political connections and, most often, corrupt practices.
It is worth noting that the word “Oligarch” is usually used absolutely incorrectly, applying it to almost all millionaires and billionaires. The fact is that almost every oligarch is a millionaire, but not every millionaire is an oligarch. If a person earned his capital as a successful businessman, without using political connections, then he is not an oligarch. So for example, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Elon Musk – all these people are great and talented businessmen. But their success is not due to political connections and corruption.
History of the oligarchy.
If you think that the oligarchy, as a form of government, is something new, then you are deeply mistaken. This practice of government has existed for at least several millennia. So, for example, back in the 600s BC, all Greek city-states were ruled by representatives of the aristocracy. This is very clearly seen in the example of Sparta or Athens. Also, fourteenth-century Venice can serve as a good example. As you know, almost all power there belonged to the patricians (wealthy nobles), who actually controlled all political and financial processes in the city-state.
It is also worth noting that all communist regimes are oligarchies. The thing is that despite the benevolent slogans, under communism, all decisions are made by a small circle of people, or by a specific person.
Causes of the Oligarchy.
If we talk about the reasons for the emergence of the oligarchy, it should be noted that this is a very extensive topic for research. Nevertheless, if we simplify everything and reduce the issue to more modern realities, then several relevant reasons can be formed:
- Weak government and its leader. With a weak, unprofessional government, the oligarchs have more and more power over it. As a rule, oligarchic clans can influence such a government using their financial influence. Quite often, representatives of the oligarchy independently form an absolutely puppet government through which they decide their business interests.
- Low political education of citizens. In cases where citizens are not interested in what is happening in their own country, the power of the oligarchy arises. Through the media, the ideal president, the ideal government, and so on are being imposed on the citizens. There are even democratic elections, where the right person-puppet comes to power under the influence of propaganda.
- Lack of public control over the government. Quite often it happens that society absolutely does not react in any way to the actions of the authorities to increase their own powers. Thus, the government becomes an irreplaceable oligarchic clan with full power.
Forms (types) of oligarchy with examples.
Since we have already learned from the definition what an oligarchy is, it’s time to figure out what its forms are.
Now let’s take a look at these forms in a little more detail:
- Classic oligarchy. If a small group of persons seizes power in a country, this is called a classical oligarchy. As a rule, such governments are very corrupt and selfish. Because their leader is committed to improving their own situation and the lives of loved ones or confidants. Cuba, North Korea and China are examples of countries that currently practice oligarchy;
- Aristocracy. This is a government ruled by a small privileged class, often made up of hereditary nobles. In many cases, because of their wealth, intelligence or rank, these people are considered superior to others;
- Autocracy (dictatorship, monarchy, tyranny, totalitarianism). There are two main forms of autocracy: dictatorships and monarchies. In an autocracy, the main power is in the hands of one person. As a rule, this person does not adhere to any legal standard. This means that he can do anything. Nazi Germany is a fine example of autocracy;
- Ethnocracy is defined as “the power of an ethnic group”. This type of political regime uses a certain ethnic group of people that dominates in order to gain more power and resources. Examples of ethnocracy are: Israel, Serbia and Sri Lanka;
- A geniocracy is a government run by geniuses. For example, if Tesla and Einstein form a government, it will be called a geniocracy because of the intelligence of these two people. Modern countries practicing geniocracy include Canada and Germany. True, it is worth noting that this form of government is very conditional and difficult to determine;
- Gerontocracy is the power of the elderly. It is practiced in such countries as: the Vatican, Hungary, Ireland, Iran, Cuba, and others;
- In a theocracy, a particular deity is the source of all power, so religious leaders are in positions of authority. In simple words, Theocracy is the power of religious structures;
- Plutocracy is a situation where all power belongs exclusively to the rich;
- Technocracy. This is a type of government in which the rulers are people with technical knowledge. In other words, it can be said that the country is run by those who have some technical knowledge, usually scientists and other technical experts. Among the countries practicing this form of government are Canada, Germany, and Greece.
Pros and cons of oligarchy as a form of government.
Benefits of an oligarchy:
- Accelerated decision-making. Due to the small number of people involved in real governance, political decisions can be made much faster than with other forms of government, such as democracy;
- Life unencumbered by politics. Since the right people make the major decisions, citizens can live the life they want. Instead of focusing on politics, people can focus on their work, friends, hobbies, and their daily lives.
Disadvantages of an oligarchy:
- The ruling class controls politics and legislation, thanks to which it receives much more wealth than the rest of society;
- As the ruling class gains more and more power, it seeks to exclude outsiders from its structure;
- There are no prospects for rapid development of the country;
- The government can restrict the economy, hinder the basic functions of supply and demand;
- Under an oligarchy, there are uprisings and riots when people feel that they cannot join the ruling class and live like them.
The Iron Law of the Oligarchy – what is it, and how does it sound?
The iron law of oligarchy states that any organization or society will eventually become an oligarchy. This is because people who learn how to succeed in an organization gain a competitive edge. The larger and more complex the organization, the greater the benefits for the elite. Oligarchs communicate only with those who share their ideas. Thus, they become an organized minority as opposed to an unorganized majority. They also always train protégés who share their values and goals. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the average person to get into the elite group.