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{{short description|Form of power structure in which power rests with a small number of people}}{{use dmy dates|date=September 2017}}{{basic forms of government}}Oligarchy ({{etymology|el|(wikt:ὀλιγαρχία|ὀλιγαρχία) (oligarkhía)}}; {{etymology||(wikt:ὀλίγος|ὀλίγος) (olígos)|few||(wikt:ἄρχω|ἄρχω) (arkho)|to rule or to command}})"ὀλίγος", Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library"ἄρχω", Liddell/Scott."ὀλιγαρχία". Liddell/Scott. 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 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.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,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'." 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.Hansen, Mogens Herman (1991). The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes. Oxford: Blackwell. {{ISBN|978-0631180173}}. {{OCLC|22809482}}{{page needed|date=July 2014}} They drew lots from large groups of adult volunteers to pick civil servants performing judicial, executive, and administrative functions (archai, boulē, and hēliastai).Bernard Manin. Principles of Representative Government. pp. 11–24 (1997). They even used lots for posts, such as judges and jurors in the political courts (nomothetai), which had the power to overrule the Assembly.Manin (1997), pp. 19–23.

Minority rule

The exclusive consolidation of power by a dominant religious or ethnic minority has also been described as a form of oligarchy.BOOK, Coleman, James, Rosberg, Carl, Political Parties and National Integration in Tropical Africa, 1966, 681–683, University of California Press, Los Angeles, 978-0520002531, 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,Gilens, M., & Page, B. (2014). Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens. Perspectives on Politics, 12(3), 564-581. doi:10.1017/S1537592714001595 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,WEB,weblink In about 20 years, half the population will live in eight states, despite an expected demographic shift to a majority-minority population by 2045.WEB,weblink The US will become 'minority white' in 2045, Census projects, 2018-03-14, Lifetime appointments of Supreme Court justices could also make that body's conservative majority a likelihood for at least eight years.WEB,weblink How Long Will the Supreme Court's Conservative Bloc Survive?, 2018-07-19,

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.JOURNAL, Chernenko, Demid, Capital structure and oligarch ownership, Economic Change and Restructuring, 2018, 1–29, 10.1007/S10644-018-9226-9,weblink

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.BOOK, Scheidel, Walter, Walter Scheidel, The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century, Princeton University Press, 2017, 978-0691165028, 51 & 222–223,


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. 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

{{further|Wealth inequality in the United States|Income inequality in the United States#Impact on democracy and society}}Some contemporary authors have characterized current conditions in the United States as oligarchic in nature.NEWS, Andy, Kroll, The New American Oligarchy, 2 December 2010, Truthout,weblink TomDispatch, 17 August 2012, dead,weblink" title="">weblink 22 January 2012, dmy-all, JOURNAL,weblink America on the Brink of Oligarchy, The New Republic, 2012-08-24, 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.JOURNAL, The Quiet Coup, The Atlantic, May 2009, Simon, Johnson, Simon Johnson (economist),weblink 17 August 2012, Jeffrey A. Winters wrote that "oligarchy and democracy operate within a single system, and American politics is a daily display of their interplay." JOURNAL, Oligarchy and Democracy,weblink The American Interest, November–December 2011, 28 September 2011, Jeffrey A., Winters, 7, 2, 17 August 2012, 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.JOURNAL, Tax Data Show Richest 1 Percent Took a Hit in 2008, But Income Remained Highly Concentrated at the Top. Recent Gains of Bottom 90 Percent Wiped Out,weblink Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 25 May 2011, 30 May 2014, In 2011, according to PolitiFact and others, the top 400 wealthiest Americans "have more wealth than half of all Americans combined."NEWS, Kertscher, Tom, Borowski, Greg, The Truth-O-Meter Says: True – Michael Moore says 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined,weblink 10 March 2011, PolitiFact, 11 August 2013, NEWS, Moore, Michael, Michael Moore, America Is Not Broke,weblink 6 March 2011, Huffington Post, 11 August 2013, WEB, Moore, Michael, Michael Moore, The Forbes 400 vs. Everybody Else,weblink 7 March 2011,, dead, 9 March 2011, 2014-08-28,weblink" title="">weblink NEWS, Pepitone, Julianne, Forbes 400: The super-rich get richer,weblink 22 September 2010, CNN, 11 August 2013, In 1998, Bob Herbert of The New York Times referred to modern American plutocrats as "The Donor Class"NEWS, Herbert, Bob, Bob Herbert, The Donor Class,weblink 19 July 1998, The New York Times, 10 March 2016, NEWS, Confessore, Nicholas, Cohen, Sarah, Yourish, Karen, The Families Funding the 2016 Presidential Election,weblink 10 October 2015, The New York Times, 10 March 2016, (list of top donors)NEWS, Lichtblau, Eric, Confessore, Nicholas, From Fracking to Finance, a Torrent of Campaign Cash – Top Donors List,weblink 10 October 2015, The New York Times, 11 March 2016, and defined the class, for the first time,NEWS, McCutcheon, Chuck, Why the 'donor class' matters, especially in the GOP presidential scrum,weblink 26 December 2014, "The Christian Science Monitor, 10 March 2016, 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."Piketty, Thomas (2014). Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Belknap Press. {{ISBN|067443000X}} p. 514A study conducted by political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University was released in April 2014,JOURNAL, Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens, Martin Gilens, Benjamin I. Page, yes, Perspectives on Politics, 2014, 12, 3, 564–581, 10.1017/S1537592714001595,weblink 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.WEB,weblink Major Study Finds The US Is An Oligarchy,, 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 & Page (2014) p. 6Gilens 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.Prokop, A. (18 April 2014) "The new study about oligarchy that's blowing up the Internet, explained" Vox Other studies have questioned the Page and Gilens study.JOURNAL, Testing Inferences about American Politics: A Review of the "Oligarchy" Result, Research & Politics, 1 October 2015, 2053-1680, 2053168015608896, 2, 4, 10.1177/2053168015608896, en, Omar S., Bashir, JOURNAL, Relative Policy Support and Coincidental Representation, Perspectives on Politics, 1 December 2015, 1541-0986, 1053–1064, 13, 4, 10.1017/S1537592715002315, Peter K., Enns, JOURNAL, Reconsidering the Middle: A Reply to Martin Gilens, Perspectives on Politics, 1 December 2015, 1541-0986, 1072–1074, 13, 4, 10.1017/S1537592715002339, Peter K., Enns, 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.WEB,weblink Jimmy Carter: U.S. Is an ‘Oligarchy With Unlimited Political Bribery’, Kreps, Daniel, Rolling Stone, 31 July 2015,

See also

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Further reading

  • {{citation | contribution = Comparative Oligarchy: Russia, Ukraine and the United States | title = CASE Network Studies and Analyses No. 296 | first = Anders | last = Aslund | publisher = Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | year = 2005 | doi = 10.2139/ssrn.1441910 | url =weblink }}
  • JOURNAL, Gordon, Daniel, Hiring Law Professors: Breaking the Back of an American Plutocratic Oligarchy, Widener Law Journal, 2010, 19, 1–29, 1412783,
  • BOOK, Hollingsworth, Mark, Lansley, Stewart, Londongrad: From Russia with Cash: The Inside Story of the Oligarchs, Fourth Estate, 12 August 2010, 978-0007356379,
  • BOOK, Aristotle and Xenophon on democracy and oligarchy, J. M. Moore, University of California Press, 978-0-520-02909-5, 1986,
  • Ostwald, M. Oligarchia: The Development of a Constitutional Form in Ancient Greece (Historia Einzelschirften; 144). Stuttgart: Steiner, 2000 ({{ISBN|3-515-07680-8}}).
  • BOOK, Ramseyer, J. Mark, Rosenbluth, Frances McCall, The Politics of Oligarchy: Institutional Choice in Imperial Japan, Cambridge University Press, 28 March 1998, 978-0521636490,
  • BOOK, Tabachnick, David, Koivukoski, Toivu, On Oligarchy: Ancient Lessons for Global Politics, University of Toronto Press, 20 January 2012, 978-1442661165,
  • BOOK, Whibley, Leonard, Greek oligarchies, their character and organisations, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1896,weblink
  • BOOK, Winters, Jeffrey A., Jeffrey A. Winters, Oligarchy, Cambridge University Press, 2011, Northwestern University, Illinois, 978-1107005280,

External links

{{Wiktionary|oligarchy}}{{authoritarian types of rule}}{{extreme wealth}}{{authority control}}

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