noun, plural ol·i·gar·chies.
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Words nearby oligarchy
What does oligarchy mean?
Oligarchy is a term for a government in which power is held by a select few individuals or a small class of powerful people.
This can mean that these few people are the actual leaders, or that they influence or control the decisions that the leaders make (that they’re the ones “pulling the strings” behind the scenes).
Oligarchy is never used as an official term for a form of government (like monarchy is, for example)—it’s almost always applied as a criticism of such situations. It is frequently used as a way of pointing out the influence of the wealthy and powerful in politics and government—an influence that’s typically used to benefit themselves.
A country that is thought to have an oligarchic government can also be referred to as an oligarchy, as in Many outsiders view the nation as an oppressive oligarchy.
Oligarchy can also refer to the class of people who have the power in this kind of system, as in The country was run by an oligarchy consisting of a few powerful industrialists.
One of the select few who rules or influences leaders in an oligarchy can be called an oligarch.
Example: The members of just three families have run the country as an oligarchy for decades, serving only their own interests.
Where does oligarchy come from?
The first records of the word oligarchy come from the 1570s. It comes from the Greek oligarchía and is formed from oligo-, meaning “few,” and -archy, meaning “rule” (the same ending is used in words like monarchy and anarchy).
The word oligarchy does not imply a specific political doctrine or philosophy. Instead, it’s based on the fact that only a few powerful people control things. In this sense, oligarchy can be thought of as the opposite of democracy—at least based on the roots of each word. While oligarchy is the “rule of the few,” democracy is thought of as the “rule of the many”—demo– means “people” and –cracy means “rule.” (A dictatorship is the “rule of the one.”)
People considered oligarchs are often thought to be part of a small group of powerful, elite people whose power comes through wealth, connections, or some other status that makes them highly influential. Though there are few of them, the ruling or influential members of an oligarchy may not always act in agreement and may even oppose each other. However, the fact that they are among the few who have real power makes them members of an oligarchy. Referring to a government, country, or system as an oligarchy usually implies that such a system involves corruption and oppression—no matter what the official form of government is or what the specific politics of its leaders are.
Oligarchy is often used alongside other critical terms for forms of government thought to be corrupt or unjust, such as plutocracy (a government ruled by or influenced by the wealthy) and autocracy (a government in which one person has unlimited power).
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What are some other forms related to oligarchy?
What are some words that share a root or word element with oligarchy?
What are some words that often get used in discussing oligarchy?
How is oligarchy used in real life?
Oligarchy is almost always used in a critical way. It usually implies that rule by only a few always results in corruption and oppression.
Toscano: Iran is an oligarchy, more centers of power to remove. Egypt had 1 dictator, 1 focus.
— Joanne Stocker جوآن (@joanne_stocker) March 25, 2011
See, it's totally okay for China's oligarchy to use Instagram, enjoy things like sending their children to study in more open societies…
— Melissa Chan (@melissakchan) September 30, 2014
Useless and embarrassing political gerontocracy. Rapid slide towards economic oligarchy. It's hard to tell if the United States is at Russia 1982, or we're already at 1992
— Vincent Bevins (@Vinncent) September 30, 2020
Try using oligarchy!
Which of the following people are most likely to hold power in a government considered an oligarchy?
A. a queen
B. an elected prime minister
C. a dozen wealthy businesspeople
D. a parliament elected by the people
Example sentences from the Web for oligarchy
Instead we have witnessed the emergence of the Age of Oligarchy.Dawn of the Age of Oligarchy: the Alliance between Government and the 1%|Joel Kotkin|June 28, 2014|DAILY BEAST
“Some say America is an oligarchy for the multinationals,” he said.
The second wave of Russian oligarchy is different from the first in another way, too.
Certainly they would be better off under a reformist government, rather than the smothering absolutism of the oligarchy.
As the war went on it became clearer that it was a struggle between two rival political creeds, democracy and oligarchy.Authors of Greece|T. W. Lumb
Nor was it obvious that a genuine kingship would have been worse than the oligarchy of the great Whig families.Political Thought in England from Locke to Bentham|Harold J. Laski
The oligarchy of parvenus which arose after the Punic wars could not be respected as the Roman senate had been.General Bramble|Andr Maurois
The oligarchy was infatuated to the point of finding any place a fit place.What Will People Say?|Rupert Hughes
The rise of the Oligarchy will always remain a cause of secret wonder to the historian and the philosopher.The Iron Heel|Jack London
British Dictionary definitions for oligarchy
noun plural -chies
Derived forms of oligarchyoligarchic or oligarchical, adjectiveoligarchically, adverb
Word Origin for oligarchy
Cultural definitions for oligarchy
A system of government in which power is held by a small group.