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The oligarchy (from ancient Greek ὀλιγαρχία oligarchia "rule of a few", composed of ὀλίγοι oligoi "few" and ἀρχή archē "rule, leadership") is the degeneration of the aristocracy in the classical (ancient) constitutional theory . The term oligocracy (Greek κρατία kratía “power, strength, domination”) is used today to distinguish from this meaning and to reflect the actual meaning of the word .

Historical theorizing

Basic forms of constitutions (according to Polybios ):

Number of rulers Common good Selfishness
One monarchy Tyranny
Some aristocracy oligarchy
All democracy Ochlocracy

The oligarchy of Plato (427–347 BC) is the lawless rule of the rich who are only interested in their self- interest. Like the aristocracy, it falls under the rule of the few, whereby this is regarded as lawful rule oriented towards the common good . This idea was first developed further by his pupil Aristotle (384–324 BC) and later by the Greek historian Polybius (around 200 BC – about 118 BC). In the ancient theory of the state since Plato the idea existed that every form of rule oriented towards the common good (monarchy [also: Basileia ], aristocracy, democracy) has a degenerate counterpart oriented only towards the interests of the rulers (tyranny , oligarchy , ochlocracy) .

Based on the assumption 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.

The Hungarian historiography uses the term oligarchs for the influential nobles of the 13th and 14th centuries, which ultimately up to the 1320s years the rule of 1301 have their own little kingdoms gained.

Use of the term in the present

Today the term oligarchy is mostly used in the broader, literal sense: In every complex society there is a division of the fields of activity, including the political order and management functions. In this way a ruling class emerges that does not always have to be characterized by statesmanship (as “aristocracy”), but often only stands out from the others through its origins, property or functions. Robert Michels (1876–1936), following Gaetano Mosca, speaks of an “ iron law of oligarchy ”. In modern states, such power elites include, in particular, the top functionaries of the political parties, who are usually also members of the government, senior officials of the state bureaucracy, high military officials, major shareholders, financial magnates , industrial managers , leading trade union officials, press czars, senior editors of influential mass media and holders of high religious offices . One of the most important structural features of the oligarchies is the extent to which they are either open to an addition from the general population or tend to become encrusted, in particular to solidify through inheritance. Karl Loewenstein in particular emphasized that representative democracy is strongly interspersed with oligarchic components .

In Russia and in other successor states of the Soviet Union , the term oligarch has also been used since the 1990s to denote entrepreneurs who the general public believes will lead to great wealth and political wealth in various ways in the chaotic time after the dissolution of the Soviet Union Influence came. The term was taken up by the German and international media in relation to Russia, but also to Ukraine since the presidential elections in 2004 .


Web links

Wiktionary: Oligarchy  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Plato, Politicus, 291c-303d
  2. Bernd Guggenberger : Democracy / Democracy Theory . In: Dieter Nohlen (Ed.): Lexicon of Politics, Volume 1: Political Theories . Directmedia, Berlin 2004, p. 36.
  3. Polybios 1, 1, 6, 3-10
  4. Erik Fügedi: Castle and society in medieval Hungary (1000-1437) . Budapest 1986, pp. 50-99
  5. Reinhold Zippelius , Allgemeine Staatslehre, 17th edition, CH Beck, Munich 2017, § 25 II.
  6. Reinhold Zippelius, Allgemeine Staatslehre, 17th edition, CH Beck, Munich 2017, § 25 III
  7. ^ Zippelius, Allgemeine Staatslehre, 17th edition, § 22 I.
  8. ^ Zippelius, Allgemeine Staatslehre , 17th edition, § 22 II
  9. ^ Archives of Public Law 1951/52, p. 431; see. Zippelius, Allgemeine Staatslehre, 17th edition, § 23 II 3