Oligarchy

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Oligarchy (from Greek ὀλιγαρχία (oligarkhía); fromὀλίγος (olígos), meaning 'few',andἄρχω (arkho), meaning 'to rule or to command') [1] [2] [3] is a form of power structure in which power rests with a small number of people. These people may be distinguished by nobility, wealth, family ties, education or corporate, religious, political, or military control. Such states are often controlled by families who typically pass their influence from one generation to the next, but inheritance is not a necessary condition for the application of this term.

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

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 or authority is distributed between people within groups such as a government, nation, institution, organization, or a society. Such structures are of interest to various fields, including sociology, government, economics, and business. A power structure may be formal and intentionally constructed to maximize values like fairness or efficiency, as in a hierarchical organization wherein every entity, except one, is subordinate to a single other entity. Conversely, a power structure may be an informal set of roles, such as those found in a dominance hierarchy in which members of a social group interact, often aggressively, to create a ranking system. A culture that is organised in a dominance hierarchy is a dominator culture, the opposite of an egalitarian culture of partnership. A visible, dominant group or elite that holds power or authority within a power structure is often referred to as being the Establishment. Power structures are fluid, with changes occurring constantly, either slowly or rapidly, evolving or revolutionary, peacefully or violently.

Power (social and political) ability to influence the behavior of people with or without resistance

In social science and politics, power is the capacity of an individual to influence the conduct (behaviour) of others. The term "authority" is often used for power that is perceived as legitimate by the social structure. Power can be seen as evil or unjust. This sort of primitive exercise of power is historically endemic to humans; however, as social beings, the same concept is seen as good and as something inherited or given for exercising humanistic objectives that will help, move, and empower others as well. In general, it is derived by the factors of interdependence between two entities and the environment. In business, the ethical instrumentality of power is achievement, and as such it is a zero-sum game. In simple terms it can be expressed as being "upward" or "downward". With downward power, a company's superior influences subordinates for attaining organizational goals. When a company exerts upward power, it is the subordinates who influence the decisions of their leader or leaders.

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Throughout history, oligarchies have often been tyrannical, relying on public obedience or oppression to exist. Aristotle pioneered the use of the term as meaning rule by the rich, [4] for which another term commonly used today is plutocracy.

A tyrant, in the modern English-language usage of the word, is an absolute ruler unrestrained by law, or one who has usurped legitimate sovereignty. Often portrayed as cruel, tyrants may defend their position by oppressive means. The original Greek term, however, merely meant an authoritarian sovereign without reference to character, bearing no pejorative connotation during the Archaic and early Classical periods. However, Plato, the Greek philosopher, clearly saw tyrannos as a negative word, and on account of the decisive influence of philosophy on politics, its negative connotations only increased, continuing into the Hellenistic period.

Aristotle philosopher in ancient Greece

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, the founder of the Lyceum and the Peripatetic school of philosophy and Aristotelian tradition. Along with his teacher Plato, he has been called the "Father of Western Philosophy". His writings cover many subjects – including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics and government. Aristotle provided a complex synthesis of the various philosophies existing prior to him, and it was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be a subject of contemporary philosophical discussion.

A plutocracy or plutarchy is a society that is ruled or controlled by people of great wealth or income. The first known use of the term in English dates from 1631. Unlike systems such as democracy, capitalism, socialism or anarchism, plutocracy is not rooted in an established political philosophy. Plutocracy is linked to the term dynastic wealth. The concept of plutocracy may be advocated by the wealthy classes of a society in an indirect or surreptitious fashion, though the term itself is almost always used in a pejorative sense.

In the early 20th century Robert Michels developed the theory that democracies, as all large organizations, have a tendency to turn into oligarchies. In his "Iron law of oligarchy" 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.

Robert Michels German sociologist

Robert Michels 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 known for his book Political Parties, published in 1911, which contains a description of the "iron law of oligarchy." He was a friend and disciple of Max Weber, Werner Sombart and Achille Loria. Politically, he moved from the Social Democratic Party of Germany to the Italian Socialist Party, adhering to the Italian revolutionary syndicalist wing and later to Italian Fascism, which he saw as a more democratic form of socialism. His ideas provided the basis of moderation theory which delineates the processes through which radical political groups are incorporated into the existing political system.

Iron law of oligarchy political theory, claims that all complex organisations (regardless of how democratic they started) will become oligarchies

The iron law of oligarchy is a political theory, first developed by the German sociologist Robert Michels in his 1911 book, Political Parties. It asserts that rule by an elite, or oligarchy, is inevitable as an "iron law" within any democratic organization as part of the "tactical and technical necessities" of organization.

This was already recognized by the Athenians in the fourth century BCE: After the restoration of democracy from oligarchical coups, they used the drawing of lots for selecting government officers to counteract that tendency toward oligarchy in government. [5] [ page needed ] They drew lots from large groups of adult volunteers to pick civil servants performing judicial, executive, and administrative functions (archai, boulē, and hēliastai). [6] They even used lots for posts, such as judges and jurors in the political courts (nomothetai), which had the power to overrule the Assembly. [7]

Democracy system of government in which citizens vote directly in or elect representatives to form a governing body, sometimes called "rule of the majority"

Democracy is a system of government where the citizens exercise power by voting. In a direct democracy, the citizens as a whole form a governing body and vote directly on each issue. In a representative democracy the citizens elect representatives from among themselves. These representatives meet to form a governing body, such as a legislature. In a constitutional democracy the powers of the majority are exercised within the framework of a representative democracy, but the constitution limits the majority and protects the minority, usually through the enjoyment by all of certain individual rights, e.g. freedom of speech, or freedom of association.

In governance, sortition is the selection of political officials as a random sample from a larger pool of candidates, a system intended to ensure that all competent and interested parties have an equal chance of holding public office. It also minimizes factionalism, since there would be no point making promises to win over key constituencies if one was to be chosen by lot, while elections, by contrast, foster it. In ancient Athenian democracy, sortition was the traditional and primary method for appointing political officials, and its use was regarded as a principal characteristic of democracy.

Minority rule

The exclusive consolidation of power by a dominant religious or ethnic minority has also been described as a form of oligarchy. [8] Examples of this system include South Africa under apartheid , Liberia under Americo-Liberians, the Sultanate of Zanzibar, and Rhodesia, where the installation of oligarchic rule by the descendants of foreign settlers was primarily regarded as a legacy of various forms of colonialism. [8]

A dominant minority, also called elite dominance is a minority group that has overwhelming political, economic, or cultural dominance in a country, despite representing a small fraction of the overall population. Dominant minorities are also known as alien elites if they are recent immigrants.

Apartheid system of racial segregation based on skin colour common in South Africa

Apartheid was a system of institutionalised racial segregation that existed in South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia) from 1948 until the early 1990s. Apartheid was characterised by an authoritarian political culture based on baasskap, which encouraged state repression of Black African, Coloured, and Asian South Africans for the benefit of the nation's minority white population. The economic legacy and social effects of apartheid continue to the present day.

Liberia republic in West Africa

Liberia, officially the Republic of Liberia, is a country on the West African coast. It is bordered by Sierra Leone to its northwest, Guinea to its north, Ivory Coast to its east, and the Atlantic Ocean to its south-southwest. It covers an area of 111,369 square kilometers (43,000 sq mi) and has a population of around 4,900,000. English is the official language and over 20 indigenous languages are spoken, representing the numerous ethnic groups who make up more than 95% of the population. The country's capital and largest city is Monrovia.

The modern United States of America has also been described as an oligarchy, [9] with its Republican Party representing a minority of the population but securing control of the Senate, the Presidency, and the Supreme Court, while the Democratic Party has control of the House. Migration to cities will likely see the Republican Party's hold over the Senate strengthen in subsequent elections, [10] despite an expected demographic shift to a majority-minority population by 2045. [11] And lifetime appointments of Supreme Court justices make that body's conservative majority a likelihood for at least eight years. [12]

Putative oligarchies

A business group might be defined as an oligarch if it satisfies the following conditions:

(1) owners are the largest private owners in the country (2) it possesses sufficient political power to promote its own interests (3) owners control multiple businesses, which intensively coordinate their activities. [13]

Russian Federation

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and privatisation 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 oligarchs. [14]

Ukraine

The Ukrainian oligarchs are a group of business oligarchs that quickly appeared on the economic and political scene of Ukraine after its independence in 1991. Overall there are 35 oligarchic groups [13]

Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwean oligarchs are a group of liberation war veterans; who form the Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front, a colonial liberation party. The philosophy of the Zimbabwean government is that Zimbabwe can only be governed by a leader who took part in the pre-independence war. ZANU-PF has a theme motto in Shona "Zimbabwe yakauya neropa" meaning Zimbabwe was born from the blood of the sons and daughters who died fighting for its independence. The born free generation (born since independence in 1980) has no birthright to rule Zimbabwe.

United States

Some contemporary authors have characterized current conditions in the United States as oligarchic in nature. [15] [16] 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. [17] Jeffrey A. Winters wrote that "oligarchy and democracy operate within a single system, and American politics is a daily display of their interplay." [18] 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. [19] In 2011, according to PolitiFact and others, the top 400 wealthiest Americans "have more wealth than half of all Americans combined." [20] [21] [22] [23]

In 1998 Bob Herbert of The New York Times referred to modern American plutocrats as "The Donor Class" [24] [25] (list of top donors) [26] and defined the class, for the first time, [27] 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." [24]

French economist Thomas Piketty states in his 2013 book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, that "the risk of a drift towards oligarchy is real and gives little reason for optimism about where the United States is headed." [28]

A study conducted by political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University was released in April 2014, [29] which stated that their "analyses suggest 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. [30] 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 and association, and a widespread (if still contested) 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. [31]

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. [32] Other studies have questioned the Page and Gilens study. [33] [34] [35]

In a 2015 interview, former President Jimmy Carter stated that the United States is now "an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery", due to the Citizens United ruling, which effectively removed limits on donations to political candidates. [36]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Representative democracy Democracy where citizens elect a small set of people to represent them in decision making

Representative democracy is a type of democracy founded on the principle of elected officials representing a group of people, as opposed to direct democracy. Nearly all modern Western-style democracies are types of representative democracies; for example, the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy, France is a unitary state, and the United States is a federal republic.

Participatory democracy emphasizes the broad participation of constituents in the direction and operation of political systems. Etymological roots of democracy imply that the people are in power and thus that all democracies are participatory. However, participatory democracy tends to advocate more involved forms of citizen participation and greater political representation than traditional representative democracy.

Business oligarchs are generally business magnates who control sufficient resources to influence national politics.

<i>Political Parties</i> 1911 social sciences book by Robert Michels

Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy is a book by the sociologist Robert Michels, published in 1911 and first introducing the concept of iron law of oligarchy. It is considered one of the classics of social sciences, in particular sociology and political science. It was translated to Italian as Sociologia del partito politico nella democrazia moderna: studi sulle tendenze oligarchiche degli aggregati politici by Alfredo Polledro in 1912, and then translated from the Italian to English by Eden Paul and Cedar Paul for Hearst's International Library Co. in 1915.

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 left the ownership of state assets contested, which allowed for informal deals with former USSR officials as a means to acquire state property. Historian Edward L. Keenan has drawn a comparison between the current Russian phenomenon of oligarchs and the system of powerful boyars which emerged in late-Medieval Muscovy.

The resource curse, also known as the paradox of plenty, refers to the paradox that countries with an abundance of natural resources, tend to have less economic growth, less democracy, and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources. There are many theories and much academic debate about the reasons for, and exceptions to, these adverse outcomes. Most experts believe the resource curse is not universal or inevitable, but affects certain types of countries or regions under certain conditions.

Noocracy, or "aristocracy of the wise", as originally defined by Plato, is a system of governance where decision making is in the hands of philosophers, similar to his idea of Philosopher kings. The idea was further expanded upon by geologist Vladimir Vernadsky, and philosophers Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Édouard Le Roy, and their concept of the Noosphere.

<i>Never at War</i> book

Never at War: Why Democracies Will Not Fight One Another is a book by the historian and physicist Spencer R. Weart published by Yale University Press in 1998. It examines political and military conflicts throughout human history and finds no exception to one of the claims made by the controversial democratic peace theory: well-established liberal democracies have never made war on one another. In addition to the democratic peace, Weart argues that there is also an oligarchic peace and provides a new explanation for both the democratic and oligarchic peace. The book is often mentioned in the academic debate and has received both praise and criticism.

Keith Dowding British political scientist

Keith Martin Dowding, is Professor of Political Science in Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia arriving from the London School of Economics, UK in 2007. He has published widely in the fields of public choice, public administration, public policy, British politics, comparative politics, urban political economy, positive political theory and normative political philosophy. His work is informed by social and rational choice theories. He edited the Journal of Theoretical Politics (Sage) from 1996 to 2012.

In political science and sociology, elite theory is a theory of the state that seeks to describe and explain power relationships in contemporary society. The theory posits that a small minority, consisting of members of the economic elite and policy-planning networks, holds the most power—and that this power is independent of democratic elections. Through positions in corporations or on corporate boards, and influence over policy-planning networks through financial support of foundations or positions with think tanks or policy-discussion groups, members of the "elite" exert significant power over corporate and government decisions. The basic characteristics of this theory are that power is concentrated, the elites are unified, the non-elites are diverse and powerless, elites' interests are unified due to common backgrounds and positions and the defining characteristic of power is institutional position.

The Classical Greek philosopher Plato discusses five types of regimes. They are Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny. Plato also assigns a man to each of these regimes to illustrate what they stand for. The tyrannical man would represent Tyranny, for example. These five regimes progressively degenerate starting with Aristocracy at the top and Tyranny at the bottom.

Wealth inequality in the United States

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Criticism of democracy is grounded in democracy's purpose, process, and outcomes. Since Classical antiquity and through the modern era, democracy has been associated with "rule of the people," "rule of the majority," and free selection or election either through direct participation or elected representation respectively, but has not been linked to a particular outcome.

The Ukrainian oligarchs are a group of business oligarchs that quickly appeared on the economic and political scene of Ukraine after its independence in 1991, just as happened in neighboring post-Soviet state Russia. In 2008, the combined wealth of Ukraine's 50 richest oligarchs was equal to 85% of Ukraine's GDP. In November 2013 this number was 45%. By 2015, due to the Ukrainian crisis, the total net worth of the five richest and most influential Ukrainians had dropped from $21.6 billion in 2014 to $11.85 billion in June 2015.

Benjamin Ingrim Page 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 making, the mass media, empirical democratic theory, and political economy. In 2014, Page, alongside co-author Martin Gilens, appeared on The Daily Show to discuss their study that found the policy-making process of American politics is dominated by economic elites.

Property-owning democracy

A property-owning democracy is a social system whereby state institutions enable a fair distribution of productive property across the populous generally, rather than allowing monopolies to form and dominate. This intends to ensure that all individuals have a fair and equal opportunity to participate in the market. It is thought that this system is necessary to break the constraints of welfare-state capitalism and manifest a cooperation of citizens, who each hold equal political power and potential for economic advancement. This form of societal organisation was popularised by John Rawls, as the most effective structure amongst four other competing systems: laissez-faire capitalism, welfare-state capitalism, state socialism with a command economy and liberal socialism. The idea of a property-owning democracy is somewhat foreign in Western political philosophy, despite issues of political disenfranchisement emerging concurrent to the accelerating inequality of wealth and capital ownership over the past four decades.

References

  1. "ὀλίγος", Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  2. "ἄρχω", Liddell/Scott.
  3. "ὀλιγαρχία". Liddell/Scott.
  4. Winters (2011) p. 26-28. "Aristotle writes that 'oligarchy is when men of property have the government in their hands... wherever men rule by reason of their wealth, whether they be few or many, that is an oligarchy, and where the poor rule, that is a democracy'."
  5. Hansen, Mogens Herman (1991). The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN   978-0631180173. OCLC   22809482
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  7. Manin (1997), pp. 19–23.
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  10. "In about 20 years, half the population will live in eight states".
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  30. "Major Study Finds The US Is An Oligarchy". businessinsider.com.
  31. Gilens & Page (2014) p. 6
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Further reading