The aristocracy is a system of government in which the governmental direction falls on a few people, who identify themselves as the most prepared.

Etymologically, the word aristocracy comes from the Greek and is composed on one side of aristos which means "the best" and on the other hand Kratos whose meaning is "government". In this way, aristocracy literally means the rule of the best.

In this form of government, the direction falls on a few people, those considered to be the wisest, most capable and diligent. That they would be in charge of making the appropriate decisions for the benefit and interest of the rest of the inhabitants of the State.

Origin of the aristocracy

The origin of the term is found in Ancient Greece. It is Plato who defends this form of governmental organization in his utopia of the ideal state. Plato, in the development of this utopia, defends that the social division has to be made into three great classes. On the one hand, the artisans and peasants, immediately above would be the warriors, and at the top of the pyramid the philosophers.

The latter are identified by Plato as those in charge of directing the government of a certain territory. Therefore, we clearly see that it is an aristocracy.

Aristotle, a disciple of Plato, makes an important objection to him. He argues that it should not be forgotten that every form of government can degenerate into another, and the aristocracy is no exception.

In this sense, Aristotle establishes three pure forms of government: the monarchy, the aristocracy and democracy, these are those that seek the common good of the group of the governed. However, each one can degenerate into others, the impure forms: tyranny, oligarchy and demagoguery.

That said, the aristocracy can degenerate into an oligarchy, where the common good is no longer sought, but rather the enrichment and satisfaction of the interests of the ruling class.


Polybius, a Greek historian from the 2nd century BC, developed a concept called anacyclosis, also drawing on the earlier writings of Aristotle and Plato. Anacyclosis is a kind of wheel in which a certain form of government is exposed followed by its degeneration. This would be followed by another desirable form and its degeneration. And so on with the six models of government that existed at the time.

The aristocracy stands as the desirable form that arises after tyranny. According to Polybius, the most illustrious and closest people to the tyrant are those who would lead the revolts against him. Thus, the people would entrust the new government to its saviors.

In the same way, the aristocracy is also the prelude to the oligarchy, and this step would be produced by the inheritance of the government in the descendants of the ruling elites. Inappropriate to rule, they become corrupted and indulge in the enjoyment of inherited work. Thus establishing the oligarchy.

Characteristics of the aristocracy

Taking into account the definition and origin of the term, we can summarize that an aristocracy has three main characteristics:

  • The government falls to a few people.
  • Rulers are the most prepared and capable people.
  • The succession is carried out in a hereditary way, as in the monarchy.

Examples of aristocracy

The example of the aristocracy as a form of government is found in the city-state of Sparta, in Ancient Greece. The government was carried out by the two Spartan kings plus a council composed of twenty-eight elders, called Gerusía, and they were elected by the people. This body was in charge of carrying out legislative and judicial functions.

Finally, it should be noted that from feudal times to the present day, the word aristocracy refers to the upper or noble classes of a country. Nobles, counts and marquises, whose title was granted by the monarchy in past centuries and which have been inherited over the years.

During feudalism, being an aristocrat meant having enormous fiscal, political and social privileges among many others. But for a long time its meaning only denotes recognition and prestige. Since over the years and the creation of new forms of State, privileges have been disappearing.

Tags:  Business biography other 

Interesting Articles