You live in an oligarchy, not a democracy or republic

Posted on August 20, 2011


This is an interesting, easy to understand video describing the different types of power structure/rule. Although it is aimed at the US – describing how the US should be, but is no longer, a republic – it applies to most countries around the world.

I have been fed up with governments saying we live in a democracy for a long time – majority does not rule, and that wouldn’t be a good thing because it lacks control. Can we please put the word democracy to bed? It’s obvious that most people don’t seem to understand what it means, seeing as it is clear that is not the type of power structure we live with, but everyone is so quick to defend it.

Definition of Oligarchy
Oligarchy (from Greek ὀλιγαρχία, oligarkhía[1]) is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people could be distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, corporate, or military control. The word oligarchy is from the Greek words “ὀλίγος” (olígos), “a few”[2] and the verb “ἄρχω” (archo), “to rule, to govern, to command”.[3] Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who pass their influence from one generation to the next.

Throughout history, most oligarchies have been tyrannical, relying on public servitude to exist, although others have been relatively benign. Plato pioneered the use of the term in book eight chapter four of “The Republic” as a society in which wealth is the criterion of merit and the wealthy are in control. The actual literal translation from the Greek is “rule of the few”. However oligarchy is not always a rule by wealth, as oligarchs can simply be a privileged group, and do not have to be connected by bloodlines as in a monarchy. Some city-states from ancient Greece were oligarchies. A contemporary example of this that Robert Reich describes in chapter one of his recent book “Supercapitalism” is the environment in America from about 1945 till about 1970 when an oligarchy including government, labor, and big business, informally collaborated in such a way as to create a strong and stable economy.

Modern democracy as oligarchy

Robert Michels believed that any political system eventually evolves into an oligarchy. He called this the iron law of oligarchy. According to this school of thought, modern democracies should be considered as oligarchies. In these systems, actual differences between viable political rivals are small, the oligarchic elite impose strict limits on what constitutes an acceptable and respectable political position, and politicians’ careers depend heavily on unelected economic and media elites. Thus the popular phrase: there is only one political party, the incumbent party.

Corporate oligarchy is a form of power, governmental or operational, where such power effectively rests with a small, elite group of inside individuals, sometimes from a small group of educational institutions, or influential economic entities or devices, such as banks, commercial entities that act in complicity with, or at the whim of the oligarchy, often with little or no regard for constitutionally protected prerogative. Monopolies are sometimes granted to state-controlled entities, such as the Royal Charter granted to the East India Company, or privileged bargaining rights to unions (labor monopolies) with very partisan political interests.

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