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Oligarchy and Organization

Dieter Rucht


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In the classical Greek period, oligarchy (literally, the rule by a few) usually had a negative connotation. In Aristotle's typology of political systems, oligarchy refers to a rule that mainly serves the interests of the rich at the expense of the large majority of the community. By contrast, aristocracy, though also being a rule by a small minority, was understood as a government of “the best” in service of the public good. In common language from the Roman Empire to the Middle Ages to the present, oligarchy denotes a political regime in which the power is concentrated in the hands of a small group, regardless of whether this power is based on wealth (usually referred to as a plutocratic system), weapons, or other sources of influence and control. In line with Aristotle's understanding, many political theorists and sociologists use the term oligarchy in a pejorative sense, denoting a degenerate rule to the disadvantage of the political community at large. Other theorists consider oligarchy to be inevitable, at least in large and complex societies. Because human beings, by nature and/or due to opportunities, differ in their capacities to accumulate resources, power always will be distributed unevenly. Therefore, oligarchy is not the exception but the rule, regardless of whether the political system is called a democracy, an aristocracy, or something else. In this view, oligarchy ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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