Oligarchy

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Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. ... Private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights. ~ Albert Einstein

Oligarchy (ὀλιγαρχία (oligarkhía); ὀλίγος (olígos), few; ἄρχω (arkho), to rule or to command) is a form of power structure in which power rests with a small number of people or elite. These people might be distinguished by nobility, wealth, family ties, education or corporate, religious or military control. Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who typically pass their influence from one generation to the next, but inheritance is not a necessary condition for the application of this term.

Throughout history, oligarchies have often been tyrannical, relying on public obedience or oppression to exist. Aristotle pioneered the use of the term as a synonym for rule by the rich, for which another term commonly used today is plutocracy.

Quotes[edit]

  • Controversy may rage as long as it adheres to the presuppositions that define the consensus of elites, and it should furthermore be encouraged within these bounds, thus helping to establish these doctrines as the very condition of thinkable thought while reinforcing the belief that freedom reigns.
  • Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.
  • When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.... [T]he preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.
    • Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens" Perspectives on Politics." (2014).[1]
  • I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in it's birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.
    • Thomas Jefferson, letter to George Logan (12 November 1816). The Works of Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes, ed. Paul Leicester Ford, 1904, Vol. 12, pp. 43-44.
    • Widely paraphrased as "I hope we shall crush...", without reference to an example.
  • Reagan's story of freedom superficially alludes to the Founding Fathers, but its substance comes from the Gilded Age, devised by apologists for the robber barons. It is posed abstractly as the freedom of the individual from government control — a Jeffersonian ideal at the roots of our Bill of Rights, to be sure. But what it meant in politics a century later, and still means today, is the freedom to accumulate wealth without social or democratic responsibilities and license to buy the political system right out from everyone else.
    • Bill Moyers, in his "For America's Sake" speech (12 December 2006), as quoted in Moyers on Democracy (2008), p. 17.
  • The sponsor of an hour's television program is not buying merely the six minutes devoted to commercial message. He is determining, within broad limits, the sum total of the impact of the entire hour. If he always, invariably, reaches for the largest possible audience, then this process of insulation, of escape from reality, will continue to be massively financed, and its apologist will continue to make winsome speeches about giving the public what it wants, or "letting the public decide."
  • It was of the utmost importance to me that people in western Europe should see the Soviet regime for what it really was. Since 1930 I had seen little evidence that the USSR was progressing towards anything that one could truly call Socialism. On the contrary, I was struck by clear signs of its transformation into a hierarchical society, in which the rulers have no more reason to give up their power than any other ruling class.
    • George Orwell, in his original preface to Animal Farm; as published in George Orwell : Some Materials for a Bibliography (1953) by Ian R. Willison.
  • What about oligarchic cities? Don't you see beggars in them?
    Almost everyone except the rulers is a beggar there.
    • Plato, Socrates and Adeimantus in The Republic, 552d, G. Grube and C. Reeve, trans., Plato: Complete Works (1997), p. 1164.
  • If, on the other hand, unjust government is exercised, not by one man alone, but by several banded together in a clique, such a state of affairs is called an oligarchy or rule by the few. This can happen when a few rich men take advantage of their wealth to oppress the rest of the people; and such government differs from tyranny only in the fact that the oppressors are many.
  • It is easy to imagine a state wherein each science would claim jurisdiction over its specific terrain, leaving no proper place for the political as such. Such a movement is then effectively the replacement of democracy with an oligarchy of supposed experts.
    • Jan De Vos, “From La Mettrie’s voluptuous machine man to the perverse core of psychology,” Theory and Psychology, vol. 21, no. 1 (February 2011), pp. 67-85.

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External links[edit]

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