Aristocracy - formerly also best rule - describes in political science the rule of a small group of particularly capable individuals, whereby the type of ability is not specified. The original word meaning is "rule of the best" ( gr. Ἀριστοκρατία , aristokratía from ἄριστος , aristos : Best and κρατεῖν , kratein : reign , in the same sense . Lat , such as in Cicero , civitas optimatum to Optimat [s] and Optimat domination ). In practice, the quality of belonging to "the best" was often equated with belonging to a noble upper class, which is why the term aristocracy is often understood to mean the rule of a dynastically legitimized group. Understood in this way, it is a variant of the oligarchy , but without the negative connotation , but turned in a positive way.
In historical studies , the term aristocracy is often used synonymously with nobility as the totality of all aristocrats in a certain geographic area, whereby every hereditary nobility is an aristocracy, but not every aristocracy is a hereditary nobility , since membership of the ruling elite can also be meritocratic ( see nobility ). Conversely, hereditary group membership can also be important apart from a nobility, so there were also bourgeois-aristocratic systems such as that of the patricians in medieval cities ( urban aristocracy ) or clericalist priestly aristocracies . In a figurative sense , the terms labor aristocracy and money aristocracy are used.
Etymology and Definition
The word comes from the ancient Greek aristocracy aristokratia (άριστον = the best, excellence and κράτο = power) and arrived in the 16th century in the German language, where it was used in political theory writings. Since the 17th century it has also been used to describe the entirety of the nobility. Since then, the adjective derived from it can mean aristocratic in addition to "concerning the aristocracy", also "noble" or "noble" with regard to attitude and character.
Aristocracy therefore means:
- in classical constitutional typology of Aristotle , the rule of the best , of virtue or ability. In contrast, according to Aristotle, is the oligarchy (literally: rule of a few ) the exercise of power by a minority who have seized power and are looking for their own advantage. (The Greek aristocrats linked this quality with the claim to heroic or divine descent, the Roman aristocrats more with political success.)
- a form of rule in which the nobility (also within the framework of a senate as a senate aristocracy ) or another upper class such as the bourgeoisie in the urban aristocracy or priests in the priestly aristocracy exercise power. Here, the “best” are usually those who are authorized by their origins or by their official appointment in offices.
- in modern times a term for the members of the nobility (in connection with the French Revolution the second estate ), in contrast to clergy ( first estate ) and bourgeoisie ( third estate ).
The aristocracy in Plato (427–347 BC) is the ideal type of rule of the best oriented towards the common good . This idea was first developed further by his student Aristotle (384-324 BC) and later by the Greek historian Polybius (around 200 BC to about 118 BC). Like the oligarchy , it falls under the rule of the few, with the oligarchy being defined as a form of rule geared towards self-interest.
In the ancient theory of the state there was basically the idea that every form of rule oriented towards the common good ( monarchy or basileia , aristocracy , politics or democracy ) has a degenerate counterpart that is only oriented towards the interests of the rulers ( tyranny , oligarchy , democracy or ochlocracy ) . This constitutional cycle is abstracted from the observation and analysis of the politics of ancient Greek city-states . In contrast, empirically, the authors found mixed forms.
Basic forms of constitutions (after Polybios)
Recognizing that these six basic forms of constitution are necessarily unstable, Polybius in particular developed the idea of the constitutional cycle, which relates these forms of rule to one another. Almost all democratic forms of government found in Europe today are based on country-specific, aristocratic predecessor models, in which the aristocracy, the affluent bourgeoisie or church representatives had a say in tax collection, questions of the separation of powers or the election of rulers. The transition from aristocratic to democratic forms of government took place mostly in the form that first of all citizens a right to vote was granted and later differences in the weighting of votes ( census suffrage ), or exclusions of civil rights for individual population groups ( slaves , women , ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities ).
- Helene Walterskirchen : aristocrats. Life between tradition and modernity . Ueberreuter, Vienna 2000, ISBN 3-8000-3778-5 .
- Das Staats-Lexikon: Encyclopedia of all political sciences for all classes , Volume 1, edited by Carl von Rotteck and Karl Theodor Welcker, in the Altonaverlag by Johann Friedrich Hammerich, 1845, page 659; see also in the Google book search , u. a. with "best rule or aristocracy" (in broken letters )
- dwds.de: Aristocracy
- Erich Bayer (ed.): Dictionary of history. Terms and technical terms (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 289). 4th, revised edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1980, ISBN 3-520-28904-0 , p. 34.
- Plato, Politicus , 291c-303d.
- Wilfried Nippel : Political Theories of Greco-Roman Antiquity. In: Hans-Joachim Lieber (ed.): Political theories from antiquity to the present. Federal Agency for Civic Education, Bonn 1993, pp. 29 ff. And 39 ff.
- Polybios 1, 1, 6, 3-10.