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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 which power Power typically refers to: * Power ...
in which
power Power typically refers to: * Power (physics) In physics, power is the amount of energy transferred or converted per unit time. In the International System of Units, the unit of power is the watt, equal to one joule per second. In older works, p ...
rests with a small number of people. These people may or may not be distinguished by one or several characteristics, such as
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 ...
,
fame Fame is the quality of being well-known and in the public eye. Celebrities are famous by definition. Fame may also refer to: Places in the United States * Fame, Mississippi * Fame, West Virginia Books * ''Fame: an art project'', a 2013 book and s ...
,
wealth Wealth is the abundance of valuable financial asset A financial asset is a non-physical asset whose value is derived from a contractual claim, such as deposit (finance), bank deposits, bond (finance), bonds, and participations in companies' sh ...

wealth
,
education Education is the process of facilitating , or the acquisition of , s, , morals, s, s, and personal development. Educational methods include , , , and directed . Education frequently takes place under the guidance of educators; however, lea ...

education
, or
corporate A corporation is an organization—usually a group of people or a company A company, abbreviated as co., is a legal entity In law, a legal person is any person A person (plural people or persons) is a being that has certain capa ...

corporate
,
religious Religion is a - of designated and practices, , s, s, , , , , or , that relates humanity to , , and elements; however, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion. Different religions may or may not contain v ...
,
political Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions In psychology, decision-making (also spelled decision making and decisionmaking) is regarded as the Cognition, cognitive process resulting in the selection ...

political
, or
military A military, also known collectively as armed forces, is a heavily armed, highly organized force primarily intended for warfare War is an intense armed conflict between State (polity), states, governments, Society, societies, or pa ...

military
control. Throughout history, oligarchies have often been
tyrannical
tyrannical
, relying on public obedience or oppression to exist.
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
pioneered the use of the term as meaning rule by the rich, for which another term commonly used today is
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 ...
. In the early 20th century
Robert Michels Robert Michels (; 9 January 1876 – 3 May 1936) was a German-born Italian sociologist who contributed to elite theory by describing the political behavior of intellectual elites. He belonged to the Italian school of elitism. He is best kn ...
developed the theory that democracies, like all large organizations, have a tendency to turn into oligarchies. In his "
Iron law of oligarchy The iron law of oligarchy is a political theory Political philosophy is the philosophical study of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a State (polity), state. In ...
" he suggests that the necessary division of labor in large organizations leads to the establishment of a ruling class mostly concerned with protecting their own power.


Minority rule

The exclusive consolidation of power by a dominant religious or ethnic minority has also been described as a form of oligarchy. Examples of this system include South Africa under ''
apartheid Apartheid (: ; , segregation; lit. "aparthood") was a system of institutionalised that existed in and (now ) from 1948 until the early 1990s. Apartheid was characterised by an authoritarian political culture based on ' (or ), wh ...

apartheid
'',
Liberia Liberia (), officially the Republic of Liberia, is a country on the West Africa West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of Africa. The United Nations defines Western Africa as the 17 countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape ...

Liberia
under
Americo-Liberians Americo-Liberian people or Congo people or Congau people in Liberian English,Cooper, Helene, ''The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood'' (United States: Simon and Schuster, 2008), p. 6 are a Liberian ethnic group An e ...
, the
Sultanate of Zanzibar The Sultanate of Zanzibar ( sw, Usultani wa Zanzibar, ar, سلطنة زنجبار , translit=Sulṭanat Zanjībār), also known as the Zanzibar Sultanate, was a state controlled by the Sultan of Zanzibar, in place between 1856 and 1964. The Sul ...
, and
Rhodesia Rhodesia (, ), officially from 1970 the Republic of Rhodesia, was an unrecognised state in Southern Africa Southern Africa is the southernmost region of the African continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Gene ...

Rhodesia
, where the installation of oligarchic rule by the descendants of foreign settlers was primarily regarded as a legacy of various forms of
colonialism Colonialism is a practice or policy of control by one people or power over other people or areas, often by establishing colony, colonies and generally with the aim of economic dominance. In the process of colonisation, colonisers may impose the ...

colonialism
. The modern United States has also been described as an oligarchy because some literature has shown that economic elites and organized groups representing special interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.


Putative oligarchies

A business group might be defined as an oligarchy if it satisfies all of the following conditions: * Owners are the largest private owners in the country. * It possesses sufficient political power to promote its own interests. * Owners control multiple businesses, which intensively coordinate their activities.


Intellectual oligarchies

George Bernard Shaw George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950), known at his insistence simply as Bernard Shaw, was an Irish playwright, critic, polemic Polemic () is contentious rhetoric Rhetoric () is the art Art is a diverse range ...

George Bernard Shaw
defined in his play
Major Barbara ''Major Barbara'' is a three-act English play by George Bernard Shaw George Bernard Shaw (; 26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950), known at his insistence simply as Bernard Shaw, was an Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and political acti ...
, premiered in 1905 and first published in 1907, a new type of Oligarchy namely the intellectual oligarchy that acts against the interests of the common people: “I now want to give the common man weapons against the intellectual man. I love the common people. I want to arm them against the lawyer, the doctor, the priest, the literary man, the professor, the artist, and the politician, who, once in authority, is the most dangerous, disastrous, and tyrannical of all the fools, rascals, and impostors. I want a democratic power strong enough to force the intellectual oligarchy to use its genius for the general good or else perish.”


Cases perceived as oligarchies


Russian Federation

Since
the collapse of the Soviet Union The dissolution of the Soviet Union, also negatively connoted as rus, Разва́л Сове́тского Сою́за, r=Razvál Sovétskovo Sojúza, ''Ruining of the Soviet Union''. (1988–1991) was the process of internal balkanization, ...
and
privatization Privatization (or privatisation in British English) can mean several different things, most commonly referring to moving something from the public sector into the private sector. It is also sometimes used as a synonym for deregulation when a heav ...
of the economy in December 1991, privately owned Russia-based multinational corporations, including producers of petroleum, natural gas, and metal have, in the view of many analysts, led to the rise of
Russian oligarch Russian oligarchs are business oligarchs of the former Soviet republics who rapidly accumulated wealth during the era of Russian privatization in the aftermath of the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. The failing Soviet state lef ...
s. Most of these are connected directly to the highest-ranked government officials, such as the
President President most commonly refers to: *President (corporate title) A president is a leader of an organization, company, community, club, trade union, university or other group. The relationship between a president and a Chief Executive Officer, chi ...
.


Ukraine

The Ukrainian oligarchs are a group of
business oligarch A business oligarch is generally a business magnate A business magnate is someone who has achieved great success and enormous wealth through the ownership of multiple lines of enterprise. The term characteristically refers to a wealthy entrepre ...
s that quickly appeared on the economic and political scene of
Ukraine Ukraine ( uk, Україна, Ukraïna, ) is a country in . It is the in Europe after , which it borders to the east and north-east. Ukraine also shares borders with to the north; , , and to the west; and to the south; and has a coastli ...

Ukraine
after its independence in 1991. Overall there are 35 oligarchic groups.


United States

Some contemporary authors have characterized current conditions in the United States as oligarchic in nature. Simon Johnson wrote that "the reemergence of an American financial oligarchy is quite recent", a structure which he delineated as being the "most advanced" in the world. Jeffrey A. Winters wrote that "oligarchy and democracy operate within a single system, and American politics is a daily display of their interplay." The top 1% of the U.S. population by wealth in 2007 had a larger share of total income than at any time since 1928. In 2011, according to
PolitiFact PolitiFact.com is an American nonprofit project operated by the Poynter Institute The Poynter Institute for Media Studies is a non-profit journalism school and research organization located in St. Petersburg, Florida. The school is the owner ...
and others, the top 400 wealthiest Americans "have more wealth than half of all Americans combined." In 1998,
Bob Herbert Robert Herbert (born March 7, 1945) is an American journalist, who has been an op-ed columnist for ''The New York Times ''The New York Times'' (''NYT'' or ''NY Times'') is an American daily newspaper based in New York City with a world ...
of ''
The New York Times ''The New York Times'' is an American daily newspaper based in New York City with a worldwide readership. Founded in 1851, the ''Times'' has since won List of Pulitzer Prizes awarded to The New York Times, 132 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of a ...

The New York Times
'' referred to modern American plutocrats as "The Donor Class" (list of top donors) and defined the class, for the first time, as "a tiny group—just one-quarter of 1 percent of the population—and it is not representative of the rest of the nation. But its money buys plenty of access." French economist
Thomas Piketty Thomas Piketty (; born 7 May 1971) is a French economist An economist is a professional and practitioner in the social science Social science is the Branches of science, branch of science devoted to the study of society, societies an ...

Thomas Piketty
states in his 2013 book, ''
Capital in the Twenty-First Century ''Capital in the Twenty-First Century'' is the ''magnum opus 's ''The Creation of Adam ''The Creation of Adam'' () is a fresco Fresco (plural ''frescos'' or ''frescoes'') is a technique of Mural, mural painting executed upon freshly laid (" ...
,'' that "the risk of a drift towards oligarchy is real and gives little reason for optimism about where the United States is headed." A 2014 study by political scientists Martin Gilens of
Princeton University Princeton University is a private Private or privates may refer to: Music * "In Private "In Private" was the third single in a row to be a charting success for United Kingdom, British singer Dusty Springfield, after an absence of nearly tw ...

Princeton University
and
Benjamin PageBenjamin Ingrim Page (born 17 September 1940) is the Gordon S. Fulcher professor of decision making at Northwestern University. His interests include American politics and U.S. foreign policy, with particular interests in public opinion and policy m ...
of
Northwestern University Northwestern University is a Private university, private research university in Evanston, Illinois. Founded in 1851, Northwestern is the oldest chartered university in Illinois and is ranked among the most prestigious academic institutions in ...

Northwestern University
stated that "majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts." The study analyzed nearly 1,800 policies enacted by the US government between 1981 and 2002 and compared them to the expressed preferences of the American public as opposed to wealthy Americans and large special interest groups. It found that wealthy individuals and organizations representing business interests have substantial political influence, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little to none. The study did concede that "Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections,
freedom of speech in London, 1974 Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom Freedom, generally, is having the ability to act or change without constraint. Something is "free" if it can change easily and is not constrained in its present state ...
and
Association Association may refer to: *Club (organization), an association of two or more people united by a common interest or goal *Trade association, an organization founded and funded by businesses that operate in a specific industry *Voluntary association ...
, and a widespread ( if still contested)
franchise Franchise may refer to: Business and law * Franchising, a business method that involves licensing of trademarks and methods of doing business to franchisees * Franchise, a privilege to operate a type of business such as a cable television pro ...

franchise
." Gilens and Page do not characterize the US as an "oligarchy" per se; however, they do apply the concept of "civil oligarchy" as used by Jeffrey Winters with respect to the US. Winters has posited a comparative theory of "oligarchy" in which the wealthiest citizens – even in a "civil oligarchy" like the United States – dominate policy concerning crucial issues of wealth- and income protection. Gilens says that average citizens only get what they want if wealthy Americans and business-oriented interest groups also want it; and that when a policy favored by the majority of the American public is implemented, it is usually because the economic elites did not oppose it. Other studies have criticized the Page and Gilens study. Page and Gilens have defended their study from criticism. In a 2015 interview, former President
Jimmy Carter James Earl Carter Jr. (born October 1, 1924) is an American politician, businessman, and philanthropist who served as the 39th president of the United States from 1977 to 1981. A member of the Democratic Party (United States), Democratic Par ...

Jimmy Carter
stated that the United States is now "an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery" due to the '' Citizens United v. FEC'' ruling which effectively removed limits on donations to political candidates.
Wall Street Wall Street is an eight-block-long street in the Financial District This is a list of financial districts in cities around the world. Background A financial district is usually a central area in a city where financial services firms suc ...

Wall Street
spent a record $2 billion trying to influence the
2016 United States presidential election The 2016 United States presidential election was the 58th quadrennial presidential election A presidential election is the election An election is a formal group decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual or mul ...
.


See also

*
Aristocracy 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: Ar ...
*
Dictatorship A dictatorship 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 legislature ...
*
Inverted totalitarianism The political philosopher Sheldon Wolin coined the term inverted totalitarianism in 2003 to describe what he saw as the emerging form of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generall ...
*
Iron law of oligarchy The iron law of oligarchy is a political theory Political philosophy is the philosophical study of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a State (polity), state. In ...
*
Kleptocracy Kleptocracy (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 ...
*
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 ...
*
Military dictatorship A military dictatorship is a dictatorship in which the military exerts complete or substantial control over political authority, and the dictator is often a high-ranked military officer. The reverse situation is to have civilian control of the m ...
*
Minoritarianism In political science Political science is the scientific study of politics Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations between individuals, such ...
*
Nepotism Nepotism is a form of favoritism which is granted to relatives and friends in various fields, including business, politics, entertainment, sports, fitness, religion, and other activities. The term originated with the assignment of nephews to im ...
*
Netocracy Netocracy was a term invented by the editorial board of the American technology magazine ''Wired'' in the early 1990s. A portmanteau A portmanteau (, ) or portmanteau word (from "Portmanteau (luggage), portmanteau") is a Blend word, blend of wo ...
*
Oligopoly An oligopoly (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 mi ...
* Oligarchical collectivism *
Parasitism Parasitism is a close relationship between species In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, physical structure, Biochemistry, chemical processes, Molecular biology, ...
*
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 of valuable financial asset A financial asset is a non-physical as ...
*
Political family Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations between individuals, such as the distribution of resource A resource is a source or supply from which a ben ...
*
Power behind the throne The phrase "power behind the throne" refers to a person or group A group is a number A number is a mathematical object used to counting, count, measurement, measure, and nominal number, label. The original examples are the natural numbers 1, ...
*
Stratocracy A stratocracy (from στρατός, ''stratos'', "army An army (from Latin ''arma'' "arms, weapons" via Old French ''armée'', "armed" eminine, ground force or land force is a fighting force that fights primarily on land. In the broadest sens ...
* Synarchism *
Theocracy Theocracy is a form of government in which one or more deities A deity or god is a supernatural The supernatural encompasses supposed phenomena or entities that are not subject to the laws of nature. This term is attributed to non-phys ...

Theocracy
*
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 ...


References


Further reading

* * * * * Ostwald, M. ''Oligarchia: The Development of a Constitutional Form in Ancient Greece (''Historia'' Einzelschirften; 144)''. Stuttgart: Steiner, 2000 (). * * * *


External links

{{authority control Authoritarianism Political culture