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Aristocracy ( grc-gre, ἀριστοκρατία , from 'excellent', and , 'rule') is a
form of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department ...
that places strength in the hands of a small, privileged
ruling class In sociology, the ruling class of a society is the social class A social class is a set of concepts in the social sciences and political theory Political philosophy is the philosophical study of government A government is the ...
, the
aristocrats Aristocracy ( grc-gre, ἀριστοκρατία , from 'excellent', and , 'rule') is a form of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state. In the case of its bro ...
. The term derives from the
Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of ...
''aristokratia'', meaning 'rule of the best'. At the time of the word's origins in
ancient Greece Ancient Greece ( el, Ἑλλάς, Hellás) was a civilization belonging to a period of History of Greece, Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of Classical Antiquity, antiquity ( AD 600). This era wa ...
, the Greeks conceived it as rule by the best-qualified citizens—and often contrasted it favorably with
monarchy A monarchy is a form of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a ...
, rule by an individual. The term was first used by such ancient Greeks as
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental quest ...

Aristotle
and
Plato Plato ( ; grc-gre, wikt:Πλάτων, Πλάτων ; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was an Classical Athens, Athenian philosopher during the Classical Greece, Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thoug ...

Plato
, who used it to describe a system where only the best of the citizens, chosen through a careful process of selection, would become rulers, and hereditary rule would actually have been forbidden, unless the rulers' children performed best and were better endowed with the attributes that make a person fit to rule compared with every other citizen in the polity. Hereditary rule in this understanding is more related to
Oligarchy Oligarchy (; ) is a form of power structure A power structure is an overall system of influence between any individual and every other individual within any selected group of people. A description of a power structure would capture the way in w ...
, a corrupted form of Aristocracy where there is rule by a few, but not by the best.
Plato Plato ( ; grc-gre, wikt:Πλάτων, Πλάτων ; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was an Classical Athens, Athenian philosopher during the Classical Greece, Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thoug ...

Plato
,
Socrates Socrates (; ; –399 BC) was a Greek philosopher from Athens Athens ( ; el, Αθήνα, Athína ; grc, Ἀθῆναι, Athênai (pl.) ) is the capital city, capital and List of cities in Greece, largest city of Greece. Athens domi ...

Socrates
,
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental quest ...

Aristotle
,
Xenophon Xenophon of Athens (; grc, Ξενοφῶν Xenophon of Athens (; grc-gre, Ξενοφῶν, , ''Xenophōn''; – 354 BC) was an Athenian , image_skyline = File:Athens Montage L.png, center, 275px, alt=Athens monta ...

Xenophon
and the
Spartans Sparta (Doric Greek Doric, or Dorian ( grc, Δωρισμός, Dōrismós) was an Ancient Greek dialect. Its variants were spoken in the southern and eastern Peloponnese as well as in Sicily, Epirus, Southern Italy, Crete, Rhodes, some ...
considered Aristocracy (the ideal form of rule by the few) to be inherently better than the ideal form of rule by the many (
Democracy Democracy ( gr, δημοκρατία, ''dēmokratiā'', from ''dēmos'' 'people' and ''kratos'' 'rule') is a form of government in which people, the people have the authority to deliberate and decide legislation ("direct democracy"), or to cho ...

Democracy
), but they also considered the corrupted form of Aristocracy (
Oligarchy Oligarchy (; ) is a form of power structure A power structure is an overall system of influence between any individual and every other individual within any selected group of people. A description of a power structure would capture the way in w ...
) to be worse than the corrupted form of
Democracy Democracy ( gr, δημοκρατία, ''dēmokratiā'', from ''dēmos'' 'people' and ''kratos'' 'rule') is a form of government in which people, the people have the authority to deliberate and decide legislation ("direct democracy"), or to cho ...

Democracy
(
Mob Rule Mob rule or ochlocracy ( el, ὀχλοκρατία, translit=okhlokratía; la, ochlocratia) is the rule of government by a mob or mass of people and the intimidation of legitimate authorities. Insofar as it represents a pejorative for majoritar ...
). This belief was rooted in the assumption that the masses could only produce average policy, while the best of men could produce the best policy, if they were indeed the best of men. Later
Polybius Polybius (; grc-gre, Πολύβιος, ; ) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic period The Hellenistic period covers the period of Mediterranean history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence of the ...

Polybius
in his analysis of the
Roman Constitution The Roman Constitution was an uncodified set of guidelines and principles passed down mainly through precedent.Byrd, 161 The Roman constitution was not formal or even official, largely unwritten and constantly evolving. Having those characteristics ...
used the concept of aristocracy to describe his conception of a
republic A republic () is a form of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a month ...

republic
as a mixed form of government, along with democracy and monarchy in their conception from then, as a system of
checks and balances Separation of powers refers to the division of a state (polity), state's government into branches, each with separate, independent power (social and political), powers and responsibilities, so that the powers of one branch are not in conflict ...
, where each element checks the excesses of the other. In practice, aristocracy often leads to hereditary government, after which the hereditary monarch appoints officers as they see fit. In
modern timesModern Times may refer to modern history. Modern Times may also refer to: Music * Modern Times (band), a band from Luxembourg * Modern Times (Al Stewart album), ''Modern Times'' (Al Stewart album), a 1975 album by Al Stewart * Modern Times (Bob Dy ...
, aristocracy was usually seen as rule by a privileged group, the
aristocratic class The aristocracy is a social class that a particular society considers its highest order. In many states, the aristocracy included the upper class of people (aristocrats) with hereditary rank and titles. In some, such as ancient Greece, Rome, or ...
, and has since been contrasted with
democracy Democracy ( gr, δημοκρατία, ''dēmokratiā'', from ''dēmos'' 'people' and ''kratos'' 'rule') is a form of government in which people, the people have the authority to deliberate and decide legislation ("direct democracy"), or to cho ...

democracy
.


Concept

The concept evolved in Ancient Greece, whereby a council of leading citizens was commonly empowered and contrasted with
representative democracy Representative democracy, also known as indirect democracy, is a type of democracy where elected persons represent Represent may refer to: * Represent (Compton's Most Wanted album), ''Represent'' (Compton's Most Wanted album) or the title song, ...
, in which a council of citizens was appointed as the "senate" of a
city state A city-state is an independent sovereign Sovereign is a title which can be applied to the highest leader in various categories. The word is borrowed from Old French Old French (, , ; Modern French French ( or ) is a Romance la ...
or other political unit. The Greeks did not like the concept of monarchy, and as their democratic system fell, aristocracy was upheld. In the 1651 book ''
Leviathan Leviathan (; , ) is a sea serpent A sea serpent or sea dragon is a type of dragon A dragon is a large, snake, serpentine, legendary creature that appears in the folklore of many cultures worldwide. Beliefs about dragons vary consid ...
'',
Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes ( ; sometimes known as Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury; 5 April 1588 – 4 December 1679) was an , considered to be one of the founders of modern . Hobbes is best known for his 1651 book ', in which he expounds an influential form ...
describes an aristocracy as a commonwealth in which the representative of the citizens is an assembly by part only. It is a system in which only a small part of the population represents the government; "certain men distinguished from the rest". Modern depictions of aristocracy tend to regard it not as the ancient Greek concept of rule by the best, but more as an
oligarchy Oligarchy (; ) is a form of power structure A power structure is an overall system of influence between any individual and every other individual within any selected group of people. A description of a power structure would capture the way in w ...
or
plutocracy A plutocracy ( el, πλοῦτος, ', 'wealth' and , ', 'power') or plutarchy is a society that is ruled or controlled by people of great wealth Wealth is the abundance (economics), abundance of Value (economics), valuable financial asse ...
—rule by the few or the wealthy. The concept of aristocracy per
Plato Plato ( ; grc-gre, wikt:Πλάτων, Πλάτων ; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was an Classical Athens, Athenian philosopher during the Classical Greece, Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thoug ...

Plato
, has an ideal state ruled by the philosopher king. Plato describes these "philosopher kings" as "those who love the sight of truth" (
Republic A republic () is a form of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a month ...
475c) and supports the idea with the analogy of a captain and his ship or a doctor and his medicine. According to him, sailing and health are not things that everyone is qualified to practice by nature. A large part of the Republic then addresses how the educational system should be set up to produce these philosopher kings.


Differentiation

In contrast to its original conceptual drawing in
classical antiquity Classical antiquity (also the classical era, classical period or classical age) is the period of cultural history History (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ...
, aristocracy has been associated in the
modern era Human history, or world history, is the narrative of humanity Humanity most commonly refers to: * Human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread species of primates, characterized by bipedality, opposable thumbs, ...
with its more general and degenerated form of
oligarchy Oligarchy (; ) is a form of power structure A power structure is an overall system of influence between any individual and every other individual within any selected group of people. A description of a power structure would capture the way in w ...
, specifically an aristocracy class based oligarchy, with entitled
nobility Nobility is a social class normally ranked immediately below Royal family, royalty and found in some societies that have a formal aristocracy (class), aristocracy. Nobility has often been an Estates of the realm, estate of the realm that p ...
as in
monarchies A monarchy is a form of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state. In the case of its broad associative definition, government normally consists of legisl ...
or aristocratic
merchant republic The maritime republics ( it, repubbliche marinare) of the Mediterranean Basin were Thalassocracy, thalassocratic city-states in Italy in the Middle Ages, Italy and Dalmatia during the Middle Ages. The best known among them were Republic of Venic ...
s. Its original
classical Classical may refer to: European antiquity *Classical antiquity, a period of history from roughly the 7th or 8th century B.C.E. to the 5th century C.E. centered on the Mediterranean Sea *Classical architecture, architecture derived from Greek and ...

classical
understanding has been taken up by the modern concepts that can be loosely equivalent to
meritocracy Meritocracy (''merit'', from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the powe ...
or
technocracy Technocracy is a system of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a State (polity), state. In the case of its broad associative definition, government normally consists ...
.


History

Aristocracies dominated political and economic power for most of the medieval and modern periods almost everywhere in Europe, using their wealth, control of the best land, and control of their tenants to form a powerful political force. In the 18th century the rising middle class produced rich businessmen, many of whom use their money to buy into the aristocracy. However, after the 1830s, in country after country, the aristocracies tended to lose their historic dominance over wealth and political power. The
French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) was a period of radical political and societal change in France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a country primarily located in Western Europe, consi ...

French Revolution
in the 1790s forced many aristocrats into exile, relieving them of their lands and power. After the defeat of
Napoleon Napoléon Bonaparte (15 August 1769 – 5 May 1821) was a French military and political leader. He rose to prominence during the French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) refers to the period that began with the Estates General o ...

Napoleon
in 1814, however, the exiles returned but they never recovered all their lands and never wielded as much political power. Beginning with Britain, Belgium, and Germany, industrialization in the 19th century brought urbanization, with the wealth increasingly concentrated in the cities, which increasingly took political power. Before 1789, aristocracies were typically closely associated with the church, especially the Catholic Church, but in the 19th century wave after wave of attacks on the Catholics weakened that element of the aristocratic coalition. As late as 1900, aristocrats maintained political dominance in Britain, Germany, Austria and Russia, but it was more precarious. World War I had the effect of dramatically reducing the power of the aristocrats in all major countries. In Russia they were expelled by the Communists. After 1900, Liberal and socialist governments levied heavy taxes on landowners, spelling their loss of economic power.David Cannadine, ''The decline and fall of the British aristocracy'' (1990)


See also

*
Elitism Elitism is the belief or notion that individuals who form an elite—a select group of people perceived as having an intrinsic quality (philosophy), quality, high intellect, wealth, power (social and political), power, notability, special Skill, ...
*
Gentry Gentry (from Old French Old French (, , ; Modern French French ( or ) is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Ga ...
*
Nobility Nobility is a social class normally ranked immediately below Royal family, royalty and found in some societies that have a formal aristocracy (class), aristocracy. Nobility has often been an Estates of the realm, estate of the realm that p ...
*
Old money Old money (french: vieux riche ) is "the inherited wealth of The Establishment, established upper class, upper-class families (i.e. gentry, patrician (post-Roman Europe), patriciate)" or "a person, family, or lineage possessing inherited wealth ...
*
Timocracy A timocracy (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 mil ...
*
Tyranny A tyrant (from Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided into the following peri ...


References


Further reading

* Bengtsson, Erik, et al. "Aristocratic wealth and inequality in a changing society: Sweden, 1750–1900." ''Scandinavian Journal of History'' 44.1 (2019): 27–52
Online
* Cannon, John. ''History'', Oxford University Press, 1997, * Liu, Jia. "Study on the Decline of the British Aristocracy from the Perspective of Modernization." ''2018 4th International Conference on Economics, Management and Humanities Science'' (2018)
Online
* Schutte, Kimberly. ''Women, Rank, and Marriage in the British Aristocracy, 1485-2000: An Open Elite?'' (Springer, 2014). * Wasson, Ellis. ''Aristocracy in the Modern World'', Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. {{DEFAULTSORT:Aristocracy (Government) Ancient Greek government Oligarchy Social classes Social groups