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, 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.
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. 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 of America has also been described as an oligarchy, with its Republican Party representing a minority of the population but securing control of the senate,(democrats control the house) the presidency and the Supreme Court. Migration to cities will likely see the Republican Party's hold over the Senate strengthen in subsequent elections, despite an expected demographic shift to a majority-minority population by 2045. And lifetime appointments of Supreme Court justices make that body's conservative majority a likelihood for at least eight years.
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 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.
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.
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 ruling, which effectively removed limits on donations to political candidates.
Aristocracy (Greek ἀριστοκρατία aristokratía, from ἄριστος aristos "excellent", and κράτος, kratos 'rule') 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-born".The term is synonymous with hereditary government, and hereditary succession is its primary philosophy, after which the hereditary monarch appoints officers as they see fit. At the time of the word's origins in ancient Greece, the Greeks conceived it as rule by the best qualified citizens—and often contrasted it favourably with monarchy, rule by an individual. In later times, aristocracy was usually seen as rule by a privileged group, the aristocratic class, and has since been contrasted with democracy. The idea of hybrid forms which have aspects of both aristocracy and democracy are in use in the parliament form.Aristocracy (class)
The aristocracy is a social class that a particular society considers its highest order. In many states, the aristocracy included the upper class of people (aristocrats) with hereditary rank and titles. In some—such as ancient Greece, Rome, and India—aristocratic status came from belonging to a military caste, although it has also been common, notably in African societies, for aristocrats to belong to priestly dynasties. Aristocratic status can involve feudal or legal privileges. They are usually below only the monarch of a country or nation in its social hierarchy. In modern European societies, the aristocracy has often coincided with the nobility, a specific class that arose in the Middle Ages, but the term "aristocracy" is sometimes also applied to other elites, and is used as a more generic term when describing earlier and non-European societies.Business oligarch
The term business oligarch is almost a synonym of the term business magnate, borrowed by the English-speaking and western media from post-Soviet parlance to label those businessmen who quickly acquired huge wealth in post-Soviet states (mostly Russia and Ukraine) during the privatization in Russia and in other post-Soviet states in the 1990s. Post-Soviet oligarchs are magnates who control sufficient resources to influence national politics. 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.
A typical example of a post-Soviet oligarch entity is the Privat Group - a large Ukraine-based transnational business conglomerate comprising dozens of industrial companies in several markets, controlled by only three stakeholders, and not through the stock exchange. For the history of business oligarchs in post-Soviet Union states see:
Ukrainian oligarchsMore generally, an oligarch is a "member of an oligarchy; a person who is part of a small group holding power in a state".
Aristotle gave the concept of oligarchy some negative connotations, but the term does not necessarily imply wealth.
Cronyism is the practice of partiality in awarding jobs and other advantages to friends, family relatives or trusted colleagues, especially in politics and between politicians and supportive organizations. For instance, this includes appointing "cronies" to positions of authority, regardless of their qualifications.Cronyism exists when the appointer and the beneficiary such as an appointee are in social or business contact. Often, the appointer needs support in his or her own proposal, job or position of authority, and for this reason the appointer appoints individuals who will not try to weaken his or her proposals, vote against issues, or express views contrary to those of the appointer. Politically, "cronyism" is derogatorily used to imply buying and selling favors, such as: votes in legislative bodies, as doing favors to organizations, giving desirable ambassadorships to exotic places, etc.Despotism
Despotism (Greek: Δεσποτισμός, Despotismós) is a form of government in which a single entity rules with absolute power. Normally, that entity is an individual, the despot, as in an autocracy, but societies which limit respect and power to specific groups have also been called despotic.Colloquially, the word despot applies pejoratively to those who abuse their power and authority to oppress their populace, subjects, or subordinates. More specifically, the term often applies to a head of state or government. In this sense, it is similar to the pejorative connotations that are associated with the terms tyrant and dictator.Dictatorship
A dictatorship is an authoritarian form of government, characterized by a single leader or group of leaders with either no party or a weak party, little mass mobilization, and limited political pluralism. According to other definitions, democracies are regimes in which "those who govern are selected through contested elections"; therefore dictatorships are "not democracies". With the advent of the 19th and 20th centuries, dictatorships and constitutional democracies emerged as the world's two major forms of government, gradually eliminating monarchies, one of the traditional widespread forms of government of the time. Typically, in a dictatorial regime, the leader of the country is identified with the title of dictator, although their formal title may more closely resemble something similar to "leader". A common aspect that characterized dictators is taking advantage of their strong personality, usually by suppressing freedom of thought and speech of the masses, in order to maintain complete political and social supremacy and stability. Dictatorship and totalitarian societies generally employ political propaganda to decrease the influence of proponents of alternative governing systems.Elite
In political and sociological theory, the elite (French élite, from Latin eligere) are a small group of powerful people who hold a disproportionate amount of wealth, privilege, political power, or skill in a society. Defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, the "elite" are "those people or organizations that are considered the best or most powerful compared to others of a similar type."Elitism
Elitism is the belief or attitude that individuals who form an elite — a select group of people with a certain ancestry, intrinsic quality, high intellect, wealth, special skills, or experience — are more likely to be constructive to society as a whole, and therefore deserve influence or authority greater than that of others. In the United States, the term elitism often refers to the concentration of power in the Northeast Corridor and on the West Coast, where the typical American elite resides – journalists, lawyers, doctors, high-level civil servants, businesspeople, university lecturers, entrepreneurs, and financial advisors in the quaternary sector, often in established technological or political catchments of their higher education alma mater.Alternatively, the term elitism may be used to describe a situation in which power is concentrated in the hands of a limited number of people. Oppositions of elitism include anti-elitism, egalitarianism, populism and political theory of pluralism.
Elite theory is the sociological or political science analysis of elite influence in society: elite theorists regard pluralism as a utopian ideal. Elitism is closely related to social class and what sociologists call social stratification, which in the Anglo Saxon tradition have long been anchored in the "blue blood" claims of hereditary nobility. Members of the upper classes are sometimes known as the social elite. The term elitism is also sometimes used to denote situations in which a group of people claiming to possess high abilities or simply an in-group or cadre grant themselves extra privileges at the expense of others. This form of elitism may be described as discrimination.Ethnarch
Ethnarch, pronounced , the anglicized form of ethnarches (Greek: ἐθνάρχης), refers generally to political leadership over a common ethnic group or homogeneous kingdom. The word is derived from the Greek words ἔθνος (ethnos, "tribe/nation") and ἄρχων (archon, "leader/ruler"). Strong's Concordance gives the definition of 'ethnarch' as "the governor (not king) of a district."Government
A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, often a state.In the case of its broad associative definition, government normally consists of legislature, executive, and judiciary. Government is a means by which organizational policies are enforced, as well as a mechanism for determining policy. Each government has a kind of constitution, a statement of its governing principles and philosophy. Typically the philosophy chosen is some balance between the principle of individual freedom and the idea of absolute state authority (tyranny).
While all types of organizations have governance, the word government is often used more specifically to refer to the approximately 200 independent national governments on Earth, as well as subsidiary organizations.Historically prevalent forms of government include monarchy, aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, theocracy and tyranny. The main aspect of any philosophy of government is how political power is obtained, with the two main forms being electoral contest and hereditary succession.Government of Meiji Japan
The Government of Meiji Japan (明治政府, Meiji seifu) was the government that was formed by politicians of the Satsuma Domain and Chōshū Domain in the 1860s. The Meiji government was the early government of the Empire of Japan.
Politicians of the Meiji government were known as the Meiji oligarchy, who overthrew the Tokugawa shogunate.Iron law of oligarchy
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.Michels's theory states that all complex organizations, regardless of how democratic they are when started, eventually develop into oligarchies. Michels observed that since no sufficiently large and complex organization can function purely as a direct democracy, power within an organization will always get delegated to individuals within that group, elected or otherwise.
Using anecdotes from political parties and trade unions struggling to operate democratically to build his argument in 1911, Michels addressed the application of this law to representative democracy, and stated: "Who says organization, says oligarchy." He went on to state that "Historical evolution mocks all the prophylactic measures that have been adopted for the prevention of oligarchy."According to Michels all organizations eventually come to be run by a "leadership class", who often function as paid administrators, executives, spokespersons or political strategists for the organization. Far from being "servants of the masses", Michels argues this "leadership class," rather than the organization's membership, will inevitably grow to dominate the organization's power structures. By controlling who has access to information, those in power can centralize their power successfully, often with little accountability, due to the apathy, indifference and non-participation most rank-and-file members have in relation to their organization's decision-making processes. Michels argues that democratic attempts to hold leadership positions accountable are prone to fail, since with power comes the ability to reward loyalty, the ability to control information about the organization, and the ability to control what procedures the organization follows when making decisions. All of these mechanisms can be used to strongly influence the outcome of any decisions made 'democratically' by members.Michels stated that the official goal of representative democracy of eliminating elite rule was impossible, that representative democracy is a façade legitimizing the rule of a particular elite, and that elite rule, which he refers to as oligarchy, is inevitable. Later Michels migrated to Italy and joined Benito Mussolini's Fascist Party, as he believed this was the next legitimate step of modern societies. The thesis became popular once more in post-war America with the publication of Union Democracy: The Internal Politics of the International Typographical Union (1956) and during the red scare brought about by McCarthyism.Kodjabashis
The kodjabashis (Greek: κοτζαμπάσηδες, translit. kotzabasides; singular κοτζάμπασης, kotzabasis; Serbo-Croatian: kodžobaša, kodžabaša; from Turkish: kocabaṣı, hocabaṣı) were local Christian notables in parts of the Ottoman Balkans, most often referring to Ottoman Greece and especially the Peloponnese. They were also known in Greek as proestoi or prokritoi (προεστοί/πρόκριτοι, "primates") or demogerontes (δημογέροντες, "elders of the people"). In some places they were elected (such in the islands for example), but, especially in the Peloponnese, they soon became a hereditary oligarchy, who exercised considerable influence and held posts in the Ottoman administration.The title was also present in Ottoman Serbia and Bosnia, where it was known as starešina ("elder, chief") instead of the official Turkish name. The terms chorbaji (from Turkish çorbacı) and knez (a Slavic title) were also used for this type of primates, in Bulgaria and Serbia respectively.The equivalent of the kodjabashis in Orthodox villages was the mukhtar in Muslim villages, while mixed villages had both.During the Greek War of Independence, the antagonism between the Peloponnesian kodjabashis, who sought to retain their previous preponderance and power, and the military leaders drawn from the klephts, was one of the main driving forces behind the outbreak of the Greek civil wars of 1824–1825, in which the "aristocratic" faction comprising the kodjabashis, the wealthy shipowners of Hydra and the Phanariotes, prevailed.Meiji oligarchy
The Meiji oligarchy was the new ruling class of Meiji period Japan. In Japanese, the Meiji oligarchy is called the domain clique (藩閥, hambatsu).
The members of this class were adherents of kokugaku and believed they were the creators of a new order as grand as that established by Japan's original founders. Two of the major figures of this group were Ōkubo Toshimichi (1832–78), son of a Satsuma retainer, and Satsuma samurai Saigō Takamori (1827–77), who had joined forces with Chōshū, Tosa, and Hizen to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate. Okubo became minister of finance and Saigō a field marshal; both were imperial councillors. Kido Koin (1833–77), a native of Chōshū, student of Yoshida Shōin, and conspirator with Ōkubo and Saigō, became minister of education and chairman of the Governors' Conference and pushed for constitutional government. Also prominent were Iwakura Tomomi (1825–83), a Kyoto native who had opposed the Tokugawa and was to become the first ambassador to the United States, and Ōkuma Shigenobu (1838–1922), of Hizen, a student of Rangaku, Chinese, and English, who held various ministerial portfolios, eventually becoming prime minister in 1898.
To accomplish the new order's goals, the Meiji oligarchy set out to abolish the four divisions of society through a series of economic and social reforms. Tokugawa shogunate revenues had depended on taxes on Tokugawa and other daimyo lands, loans from wealthy peasants and urban merchants, limited customs fees, and reluctantly accepted foreign loans. To provide revenue and develop a sound infrastructure, the new government financed harbor improvements, lighthouses, machinery imports, schools, overseas study for students, salaries for foreign teachers and advisers, modernization of the army and navy, railroads and telegraph networks, and foreign diplomatic missions, such as the Iwakura mission.
Difficult economic times, manifested by increasing incidents of agrarian rioting, led to calls for social reforms. In addition to the old high rents, taxes, and interest rates, the average citizen was faced with cash payments for new taxes, military conscription, and tuition charges for the newly introduced compulsory education. The people needed more time for productive pursuits while correcting social abuses of the past. To achieve these reforms, the old Tokugawa class system of samurai, farmer, artisan, and merchant was abolished by 1871, and, even though old prejudices and status consciousness continued, all were theoretically equal before the law. Actually helping to perpetuate social distinctions, the government named new social divisions: the former daimyō became peerage nobility, the samurai became gentry, and all others became commoners. Daimyō and samurai pensions were paid off in lump sums, and the samurai later lost their exclusive claim to military positions. Former samurai found new pursuits as bureaucrats, teachers, army officers, police officials, journalists, scholars, colonists in the northern parts of Japan, bankers, and businessmen. These occupations helped stem some of the discontent this large group felt; some profited immensely, but many were not successful and provided significant opposition in the ensuing years.
The 1873 Korean crisis resulted in the resignation of military expedition proponents Saigō and Councillor of State Etō Shimpei (1834–74). Etō, the founder of various patriotic organizations, conspired with other discontented elements to start an armed insurrection against government troops in Saga, the capital of his native prefecture in Kyūshū in 1874. Charged with suppressing the revolt, Ōkubo swiftly crushed Etō, who had appealed unsuccessfully to Saigō for help. Three years later, the last major armed uprising—but the most serious challenge to the Meiji government—took shape in the Satsuma Rebellion, this time with Saigō playing an active role. The Saga Rebellion and other agrarian and samurai uprisings mounted in protest to the Meiji reforms had been easily put down by the army. Satsuma's former samurai were numerous, however, and they had a long tradition of opposition to central authority. Saigō, with some reluctance and only after more widespread dissatisfaction with the Meiji reforms, raised a rebellion in 1877. Both sides fought well, but the modern weaponry and better financing of the government forces ended the Satsuma Rebellion. Although he was defeated and committed suicide, Saigō was not branded a traitor and became a heroic figure in Japanese history. The suppression of the Satsuma Rebellion marked the end of serious threats to the Meiji regime but was sobering to the oligarchy. The fight drained the national treasury, led to serious inflation, and forced land values—and badly needed taxes—down. Most important, calls for reform were renewed.Plato's five regimes
The Classical Greek philosopher Plato discusses five types of regimes (Republic, Book VIII). 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.Plutocracy
A plutocracy (Greek: πλοῦτος, ploutos, 'wealth' + κράτος, kratos, 'power') 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. 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.Russian oligarch
Russian oligarchs (see the related term "New Russians") 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 (mostly in Russia and Ukraine) 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 first modern Russian oligarchs emerged as business-sector entrepreneurs under Mikhail Gorbachev ( General Secretary 1985–1991) during his period of market liberalization. The term "oligarch" derives from the Ancient Greek word ὀλιγάρχης (oligárkhēs), a derivative itself from oligarchy ὀλιγαρχία (oligarkhia) meaning literally "the rule of the few".Swing producer
Swing producer is a supplier or a close oligopolistic group of suppliers of any commodity, controlling its global deposits and possessing large spare production capacity. A swing producer is able to increase or decrease commodity supply at minimal additional internal cost, and thus able to influence prices and balance the markets, providing downside protection in the short to middle term. Examples of swing producers include Saudi Arabia in oil, Russia in potash fertilizers, and, historically, the De Beers Company in diamonds.Timocracy
A timocracy (from Greek τιμή timē, "price, worth" and -κρατία -kratia, "rule") in Aristotle's Politics is a state where only property owners may participate in government. The more extreme forms of timocracy, where power derives entirely from wealth with no regard for social or civic responsibility, may shift in their form and become a plutocracy where the wealthy rule.