Meaning of Oligarchy

As an oligarchy it is called a political system or form of government in which power is concentrated in a small group of peopleusually belonging to the same family, social class, economic group or political party.

This small group is characterized by the fact that it tends to control the social and economic policies of the State in favor, above all, of its own interests.

The term is also applied to social groups that monopolize the economy, political power, and cultural influence of a country, regardless of whether democracy is the current political system. However, an oligarchic regime is more similar to a dictatorship or a tyranny than a democracy.

Thus, there are different types of oligarchy: financial oligarchywhich controls the economic system; landed oligarchymade up of the main landowners (such as, for example, that of the Porfiriato, in Mexico); creole oligarchyformed by families privileged by the colonial system.

Another example of oligarchy, very common in our times, occurs when members of the same political party hold the highest government positions and take over the highest ranking positions in public administration.

These oligarchic social schemes have existed throughout history in many civilizations, both European, African, Asian or American, and continue to exist in many parts of the world.

The word, as such, comes from the Greek ὀλιγαρχία (oligarchy), which is made up of the Greek roots ὀλίγος (oligos), which means ‘few’, and ἄρχω (arko), which we can translate as ‘govern’ or ‘command’. In short, it would come to mean “government of a few”.

See also Oligarch, Dictatorship and Tyranny.

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Oligarchy according to Plato

In Ancient Greece, Plato identified in the oligarchy a degenerate form of aristocracy. Aristocracy, which means in Greek ‘the government of the best’, was the political system where a small group of nobles, respectful of the laws, governed the State for the common good.

The oligarchy, on the other hand, was the degeneration of the aristocracy. It was also composed of a few, who were the ones who would direct the destinies of the State, but, unlike the aristocracy, they acted without respecting the laws, and seeking only to satisfy their personal ambitions.

See also: Aristocracy.