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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Aristocracy is a form of government in which a few of the most prominent citizens rule. The term is derived from the Greek aristokratia, meaning "rule of the best".[1] See Aristocracy for the historical roots of the term. The concept evolved in Ancient Greece, where by a council of prominent citizens was commonly used and contrasted with monarchy, in which an individual king held the power.[2] Later, aristocracies primarily consisted of an elite aristocratic class, privileged by birth and wealth. Since the French Revolution, aristocracy has generally been contrasted with democracy, in which all citizens hold some form of political power.[2]

See also


  1. ^ The Oxford Companion to British History, John Cannon (Editor), Oxford University Press, 1962, ISBN 9780198661764
  2. ^ a b "Craic". Oxford English Dictionary. December 1989. Retrieved December 22, 2009. 


  • History, John Cannon (Editor), Oxford University Press, 1997, ISBN 9780198661764[[hr:Aristokracija][

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ARISTOCRACY (Gr. iipcaros, best; Kparia, government), etymologically, the "rule of the best," a form of government variously defined and appreciated at different times and by different authorities. In Greek political philosophy, aristocracy is the government of those who most nearly attain to the ideal of human perfection. Thus Plato in the Republic advocates the rule of the "philosopher-king" who, in the social scheme, is analogous to Reason in the intellectual, and alone is qualified to control the active principles, i.e. the fighting population and the artisans or workers. Aristocracy is thus the government by those who are superior both morally and intellectually, and, therefore, govern directly in the interests of the governed, as a good doctor works for the good of his patient. Aristotle classified good governments under three heads - monarchy, aristocracy and commonwealth (iroXcTEia), to which he opposed the three perverted forms - tyranny or absolutism, oligarchy and democracy or mob-rule. The distinction between aristocracy and oligarchy, which are both necessarily the rule of the few, is that whereas the few apcaroc will govern unselfishly, the oligarchs, being the few wealthy ("plutocracy" in modern terminology), will allow their personal interests to predominate. While Plato's aristocracy might be the rule of the wise and benevolent despot, Aristotle's is necessarily the rule of the few.

Historically aristocracy develops from primitive monarchy by the gradual progressive limitation of the regal authority. This process is effected primarily by the nobles who have hitherto formed the council of the king (an excellent example will be found in Athenian politics, see Archon), whose triple prerogative - religious, military and judicial - is vested, e.g., in a magistracy of three. These are either members of the royal house or the heads of noble families, and are elected for life or periodically by their peers, i.e. by the old royal council (cf. the Areopagus at Athens, the Senate at Rome), now the sovereign power. In practice this council depends primarily on a birth qualification, and thus has always been more or less inferior to the Aristotelian ideal; it is, by definition, an "oligarchy" of birth, and is recruited from the noble families, generally by the addition of emeritus magistrates. From the earliest times, therefore, the word "aristocracy" became practically synonymous with "oligarchy," and as such it is now generally used in opposition to democracy (which similarly took the place of Aristotle's 7roXCTELa), in which the ultimate sovereignty resides in the whole citizen body.

The aristocracy of which we know most in ancient Greece was that of Athens prior to the reforms of Cleisthenes, but all the Greek city-states passed through a period of aristocratic or oligarchic government. Rome, between the regal and the imperial periods, was always more or less under the aristocratic government of the senate, in spite of the gradual growth of democratic institutions (the Lat. optimates is the equivalent of hpcarot). There is, however, one feature which distinguishes these aristocracies from those of modern states, namely, that they were all slave-owning. The original relation of the slavepopulation, which in many cases outnumbered the free citizens, cannot always be discovered. But in some cases we know that the slaves were the original inhabitants who had been overcome by an influx of racially different invaders (cf. Sparta with its Helots); in others they were captives taken in war. Hence even the most democratic states of antiquity were so far aristocratic that the larger proportion of the inhabitants had no voice in the government. In the second place this relation gave rise to a philosophic doctrine, held even by Aristotle, that there were peoples who were inferior by nature and adapted to submission (Oka SOUXo); such people had no "virtue" in the technical civic sense, and were properly occupied in performing the menial functions of society, under the control of the tipto-roc. Thus, combined with the criteria of descent, civic status and the ownership of the land, there was the further idea of intellectual and social superiority. These qualifications were naturally, in course of time, shared by an increasingly large number of the lower class who broke down the barriers of wealth and education. From this stage the transition is easy to the aristocracy of wealth, such as we find at Carthage and later at Venice, in periods when the importance of commerce was paramount and mercantile pursuits had cast off the stigma of inferiority (in Gr. favavvia). It is important at this stage to distinguish between aristocracy and the feudal governments of medieval Europe. In these it is true that certain power was exercised by a small number of families, at the expense of the majority. But under this system each noble governed in a particular area and within strict limitations imposed by his sovereign; no sovereign authority was vested in the nobles collectively.

Under the conditions of the present day the distinction of aristocracy, democracy and monarchy cannot be rigidly maintained from a purely governmental point of view. In no case does the sovereign power in a state reside any longer in an aristocracy, and the word has acquired a social rather than a political sense as practically equivalent to "nobility," though the distinction is sometimes drawn between the "aristocracy of birth" and the "aristocracy of wealth." Modern history, however, furnishes many examples of government in the hands of an aristocracy. Such were the aristocratic republics of Venice, Genoa and the Dutch Netherlands, and those of the free imperial cities in Germany, Such, too, in practice though not in theory, was the government of Great Britain from the Revolution of 1689 to the Reform Bill of 1832. The French nobles of the Ancien Regime, denounced as "aristocrats" by the Revolutionists, had no share as such in government, but enjoyed exceptional privileges (e.g. exemption from taxation). This privileged position is still enjoyed by the heads of the German mediatized families of the "High Nobility." In Great Britain, on the other hand, though the aristocratic principle is still represented in the constitution by the House of Lords, the "aristocracy" generally, apart from the peers, has no special privileges.

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Simple English

Aristocracy is a kind of government. In Ancient Greek, the word aristocracy means the rule of the best. There are many different kinds of aristocracy with many different ways the government is set up. What all of them have in common is that a small group of people have the political and legal power over a larger group. In history, most aristocracies are hereditary. Members of the ruling group have been able to put their children in the ruling group. Aristocracy can be combined with other kinds of government.

How it works

  • autocracy - (all power in one person) Aristocracies in an autocratic society tend to be very small, usually only the autocrat's family or close friends.
  • meritocracy - (rule by those who most deserve to rule) The aristocracy is usually a group of people with special credentials or those who went to a particular school. It is possible to lose your place in the ruling group because someone with better skills replaced you.
  • plutocracy - (rule by the wealthy) The aristocracy is usually made up of the richest people. Sometimes it is not enough just to be rich, you must also be from a special family or ethnic group.
  • oligarchy - (rule by the few) All aristocracies are also oligarchies.
  • monarchy - (inherited rule by a single individual) The monarch and his or her relatives are usually the aristocracy. Also, the monarch has the power to make anyone he or she chooses part of the ruling group. Sometimes the current monarch is replaced by another aristocrat and their family.
  • democracy - (rule by the people) There are usually not official groups of aristocrats in a democracy. However, rich and famous people sometimes informally form a group of people who get special treatment with the consent of everyone else.


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