Ochlocracy is the form of government characterized by being the popular mass who controls the Government. This, in an anarchic and violent way. It is a system that belongs to the Anacyclosis of Polybius.
Oclocracy is a term that comes from the Greek, etymologically it is composed of eight, crowd, and Kratos, can. Therefore, literally, this concept means the power of the crowd, that is, the Government that depends on the masses. We see that the term itself has a derogatory meaning, it refers to when the mass, the crowd or the crowd, has the power and exerts its force against the rest.
It's an interesting concept for a number of reasons. First, because it is one of the components of a cycle of government called anacyclosis. And, second, because it is a reformulation of the demagoguery proposed by Aristotle as a government degraded by democracy.
As Aristotle did years ago, establishing three ideal types and three degraded governments of those types, Polybius establishes his own cycle, Anacyclosis. This wheel is also composed of six types of Government: The monarchy (original system) that degrades into tyranny; the aristocracy that degrades into oligarchy; and democracy whose unwanted subsequent system is ochlocracy.
The monarchy is degraded when the kings, who are succeeding the original monarch, become corrupted and exert a despotic use of power. The aristocracy, the government of the most prepared, drifts into oligarchy when they begin to become corrupt and enjoy the achievements of their predecessors. Finally, democracy leads to oclocracy when the people begin to make decisions in a totally irrational and violent way.
One of the great problems that oclocracy presents, compared to the rest of the unwanted systems, is the overwhelming force of the crowd. Being a popular government, the components that support said government make up a large number of members. They also have a theoretical greater legitimacy, which causes greater difficulty when they carry out unjust or despotic actions.
Oclocracy according to Polybius
As we have pointed out previously, Polybius is the architect of this concept. Its origin and operation is explained in chapter IV of his book VI, belonging to his work «stories«.
According to the author, democracy arises after the collapse of the oligarchy and, not trusting to leave power back in the hands of a few people, citizens trust themselves and establish a government based on equality and freedom. Democracy is sustained for a few years thanks to the memory of oppression that its founders have, thus guaranteeing respect for freedom and equality.
But the problem comes when the power passes to their descendants, their grandchildren or other later generations. As they have not lived through times of despotism and oppression, they do not value democracy like their predecessors. And what they aspire to is to dominate others, a feeling especially found among those who possess the most wealth. Since it is impossible for them, they dedicate themselves to corrupting the people and establishing clientelistic networks and living off others. This scenario leads to death, exile and distribution of land. Finally, the oclocracy ends with the rise of a heroic monarch who defeats the mob and establishes himself on the throne.
Oclocracy and contemporary democracies
There are many parallels between the panorama described by Polybius in 140 BC. and what we live in contemporary democracies, especially in some Latin American countries.
Due to the collapse suffered by the regimes of the mid and late twentieth century, a kind of messiah has emerged, claiming absolute power backed by the people. In his name, they position themselves above the Law and do and undo as they please. All this, shielded by the fact that the popular will is above the control organs of democracies.
Obviously, not all countries experience the same degree as described. Stronger democracies experience a lesser degree and vice versa. But, in general, we do find certain similarities to the Polybian ochlocracy.