An oligarchy is one of the ways in which a particular government can present itself. Thus, we speak of a political system in which power rests with a small group of people.

In the oligarchy, power is concentrated in a group of people, usually of the same social class, sector, economic or political group. Based on the interests of these, a system in which the oligarchy is practiced bases its policies on satisfying the interests of said ruling class. This system is based on the principles that are opposed to meritocracy, since it advocates a clearly superior aristocratic class, which can control all the power of the State.

The oligarchies are usually tyrannical. That is, they take the form of dictatorship.

Origin of the oligarchy

The concept "oligarchy" comes from the Greek ὀλιγαρχία (oligarchía), which is made up of the Greek roots ὀλίγος (olígos), which means ‘few’, and ἄρχω (arko), which we can translate as ‘govern’. In short, it would come to mean "government of a few."

The oligarchy and oligarchic systems have many years of history. Since the appearance of the first civilizations, the oligarchy has been present as a system of government and organization in many parts of the world, such as Ancient Greece, for example. For this reason, Plato, in Ancient Greece, was already dealing with the oligarchy and its implications in Athens. A situation that, in the same way, occurs with Aristotle, who spoke of the oligarchy to refer to the government of the rich; what is known as plutocracy.

On the other hand, Africa has also been a continent that has had oligarchic systems. Throughout history, African villages have been ruled by a set of leaders that consisted of wise elders, or the elite class of the colonial era.

Also, in Renaissance Italy, the Medici are an example of how oligarchic systems coexist with other systems, influencing the decisions of the rulers through pressure groups or lobbying.

Therefore, the oligarchy does not have a specific origin, but has been occurring throughout the planet, throughout history. These social schemes have occurred throughout history in a multitude of civilizations, both European, African, Asian or American, and they continue in force in many parts of the world. Some oligarchies that, on many occasions, were masked dictatorships in a failed attempt at democracy.

Types of oligarchy

The term can also be applied to refer to those social groups that try to monopolize political, economic and cultural power in a country. In this way, they take advantage of their influences to obtain benefit and satisfy their interests.

Among the types of oligarchy that exist we can highlight three types:

  • Financial or economic: Where control falls on the economic system.
  • Land or landowner: Where control falls on the land and its main owners.
  • Creole or colonial: Where control falls on the most powerful families of the colonial era.

Difference between oligarchy and dictatorship

Although both concepts could be considered synonymous, we must know that we are not talking about the same thing. Since, in their definition, they present clear differences that should be highlighted.

In this sense, while the oligarchy is a political system in which power rests on a privileged few, in dictatorship, power rests on a single person: the dictator.

For this reason, we talk about the fact that they have many similarities, but one main difference when it comes to political leadership.

Consequences of the oligarchy

The oligarchy is a political system that has great negative connotations. In this sense, the implementation of the laws and the corruption exercised end up perverting the economic and social system in the country.

For this reason, the following are the most negative consequences of said system of government:

  • Loss of competitiveness of companies in the country, based on monopoly systems.
  • Inefficiency in the allocation of resources.
  • Greater economic inequality.
  • Tension and social fragmentation.
  • Weakening of democratic structures.
  • Presence of corruption and embezzlement.
  • Unfair and equitable systems.

Example of oligarchy

One of the best known examples of oligarchy is South African apartheid. In this, the white minority ruled the black majority, imposing their laws to enrich themselves at their expense.

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