Oligarchy Facts

There are various ways through history that ways of states or countries have been created and have ruled their citizens.

What is an oligarchy?

Oligarchy is a political philosophy. It means rule of the few. In ancient Greece, political observers used oligarchy to denote a decrepit form of aristocracy.

In an oligarchy, those who are most rich and powerful run the government and call the shots. Sometimes the oligarchs are elected and other times they take control by force. Other times, they're born into it-the proverbial silver spoon.

Historically, oligarchies have sprung up when the governing elites came only from a ruling class. That class may have been typified by a particular religion, language, race or economic status.

The problem with an oligarchy is that those in charge don't care about the rest of the citizenry. They make decisions that only benefit the ruling group.

One point of view says that all governments are really run by a small group of its citizens. If that's your belief, then the major difference between a democracy and an oligarchy is that in a democracy, elite groups compete with one another. They consolidate and gain power by winning over the public. Barriers to joining the elites can be considerable.

One type of oligarchy is corporate oligarchy. That's when an elite group of people from influential economic entities or universities act in concert, ignoring the rule of law.

In the political realm, there's a theory of oligarchy called The Iron Law of Oligarchy. It was developed by Robert Michels, a sociologist. Michels promulgated this view in a book published in 1911 titled Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy.

Michels was born to a rich German family. He was a socialist and academic who taught in universities in Italy and Switzerland.

Michels said that oligarchies are inevitable, even in democratic organizations. In his later works, Michels postulated that this elitist rule was desirable. His ideas worked themselves into his life. After World War I, he joined Italy's Fascist Party. He died in 1936 in Italy.

Examples of oligarchy

In ancient times, Sparta is an example of an oligarchy. It excluded the majority of the population, the Helots, from the vote. Policy was dictated by two kings and 28 men over the age of 60. Their proposals were presented by this elders council to free adult men.

But it was only window dressing because the free men had limited power to change the proposals. Votes were basically a rubber stamp of what the elders already decreed.

South Africa earlier in the 20th century could be considered ruled by an oligarchy. It was based on race. At one point, an unwritten agreement to rule was reached between different ruling groups of South African whites who only made up about one-fifth of the population. Apartheid was voted out in South Africa in 1994 after it was established after World War II, in 1948.

Is the United States an oligarchy? Some would argue yes. They say that oligarchy and democracy coexist in our society.

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