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Oligarchy (from Greek ὀλιγαρχία (oligarkhía); from ὀλίγος (olígos), meaning 'few',and ἄρχω (arkho), meaning 'to rule or to command') is a form of power structure in which power rests with a small number of people. These people may be distinguished by nobility, wealth, education, corporate, religious, political, or military control. Such states are often controlled by families who pass their influence from one generation to the next, but inheritance is not a necessary condition of oligarchy.
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,for which another term commonly used today is plutocracy. 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.
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. [ 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). They even used lots for posts, such as judges and jurors in the political courts (nomothetai), which had the power to overrule the Assembly.
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 , 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.
The modern United States has also been described as an oligarchy because 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.
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.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and privatization 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.
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
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. The motto of ZANU-PF in Shona is "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.[ citation needed ]
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 and others, the top 400 wealthiest Americans "have more wealth than half of all Americans combined."
In 1998, Bob Herbert of 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 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."
A study conducted by political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University was released in April 2014,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. 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.
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 questioned the Page and Gilens study.
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 v. FEC ruling which effectively removed limits on donations to political candidates.Wall Street spent a record $2 billion trying to influence the 2016 United States presidential election.
Democracy is a form of government in which the people have the authority to choose their governing legislation. Who people are and how authority is shared among them are core issues for democratic theory, development and constitution. Some cornerstones of these issues are freedom of assembly and speech, inclusiveness and equality, membership, consent, voting, right to life and minority rights.
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, liberalism, socialism or anarchism, plutocracy is not rooted in an established political philosophy.
The United States is a federal constitutional republic, in which the President of the United States, Congress, and judiciary share powers reserved to the national government, and the federal government shares sovereignty with the state governments.
Aristocracy is a form of government that places strength in the hands of a small, privileged ruling class. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning 'rule of the best'.
An autocracy is a system of government in which an autocrat, defined as a single person or party, possesses supreme and absolute power. The decisions of this autocrat are subject to neither external legal restraints nor regularized mechanisms of popular control. Absolute monarchies and dictatorships are the main modern-day forms of autocracy.
Representative democracy, also known as indirect democracy or representative government, 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 unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy, France is a unitary semi-presidential republic, and the United States is a federal presidential republic.
Kleptocracy is a government with corrupt leaders (kleptocrats) that use their power to exploit the people and natural resources of their own territory in order to extend their personal wealth and political powers. Typically, this system involves embezzlement of funds at the expense of the wider population.
Democratization is the transition to a more democratic political regime, including substantive political changes moving in a democratic direction. It may be the transition from an authoritarian regime to a full democracy, a transition from an authoritarian political system to a semi-democracy or transition from a semi-authoritarian political system to a democratic political system.
A business oligarch is generally a business magnate who controls sufficient resources to influence national politics. A business leader can be considered an oligarch if the following conditions are satisfied:
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.
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.
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.
Liberal democracy is a liberal political ideology and a form of government in which representative democracy operates under the principles of classical liberalism. Also referred to as Western democracy, it is characterised by elections between multiple distinct political parties, a separation of powers into different branches of government, the rule of law in everyday life as part of an open society, a market economy with private property, and the equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties and political freedoms for all people. To define the system in practice, liberal democracies often draw upon a constitution, either codified,, or uncodified, to delineate the powers of government and enshrine the social contract. After a period of sustained expansion throughout the 20th century, liberal democracy became the predominant political system in the world.
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.
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 emerged on the economic and political scene of Ukraine following the 1991 Ukrainian independence referendum. This period saw Ukraine transitioning to a market economy with the rapid privatization of state-owned assets. These developments mirrored those of neighboring Post-Soviet states following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The influence of Ukrainian oligarchs on domestic and regional politics, and in particular their links to Russia, have been the source of criticism from pro-western sources critical of Ukraine’s lack of political reform, or action against corruption.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to politics and political science:
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.
A property-owning democracy is a social system whereby state institutions enable a fair distribution of productive property across the populace 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.
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