We explain what the oligarchy is, how it originated and examples of this regime. Also, what are its characteristics and consequences.

What is the Oligarchy?

Oligarchy is understood as a regime or form of government in which power resides in the hands of a few , generally belonging to the same class or social stratum, called  oligarchs .

It is a term close to that of aristocracy , with which it presents differences since the oligarchy does not start from the precept of being the ideal class to hold power, but simply holds it.

It is often used as a synonym for oligocracy , the rule of a minuscule minority compared to the social universe.

The oligarchy consists of the political control of the State by a minority sector, which may well be a political, economic, ethnic or military elite , as long as it possesses the instruments to exercise a monopoly of power and perpetuate itself in command.

Origin of the term

Origin of the term

The term comes from the Greek:  olĂ­gos  translates as "few" and  arko  as "command" , which together would mean "the mandate of a few".

The first to use it was Plato , the Greek philosopher, who valued aristocracy as the government of the best and fittest, but saw in it the risk of degenerating into an oligarchy or oligocracy, since the aristocrats would inherit power to their offspring who he would not necessarily share his wisdom and principles, but he would retain power.

history of oligarchy

The oligarchy has accompanied humanity throughout its political history , since power always seems to be held by a privileged minority, with access to the tools to forge society at will.

Such is the case of the leaders and emperors who were erected in antiquity and who governed in favor of their relatives and close friends, or the castes of the Florentine bourgeoisie of the Renaissance such as the Medici, who accumulated political power thanks to their influence in the international trade and enrichment.

The oligarchy as a social scheme

The oligarchy as a social scheme

One speaks of oligarchy not only when the government of a State is exercised : also when there is a monopoly of the resources of a demanded good, one can speak of an economic, business, etc. oligarchy. It is a social scheme of concentration of powers, which can occur in any area and at any time.

Even in communist regimes , supporters of forced collectivization and the abolition of private property , paradoxically arise oligarchies around the single government party and the State bureaucracy that concentrates all power on itself.

examples of oligarchy

Throughout history there are many examples of oligarchies. A possible example is the famous  South African apartheid  , in which the white minority governed the black majority and imposed segregationist, impoverishing laws on them , which did not allow them to develop as human beings .

A final case is, paradoxical as it may seem, that of the Castro brothers , dictatorial rulers of the island of Cuba since the mid- 20th century , who have perpetuated themselves in power through the single ruling party of their communist regime.

Consequences of the oligarchy

Consequences of the oligarchy

The possible consequences of a prolonged oligarchy are:

  • Impoverishment of the monopolized economic sector, since no one can compete with the oligarchs.
  • Inequity in the distribution of goods , since many times the oligarchy is made up of landowners, politicians or large capitalists.
  • Resentment of sectors marginalized by the oligarchy.
  • Weakening of democratic or republican structures, if any.
  • Corruption and injustice.

Fight against the oligarchies

It has often been said that every republican government has to fight against the oligarchies within it, seeking a fair and equitable distribution of wealth and property , renewing its government positions frequently and promoting comptrollership and combating impunity. However, this task seems to go against human nature itself, which tends to selfishness and the benefit of a few despite the discomfort of many.

Differences with democracy

Differences with democracy

The oligarchy and democracy are clearly distinguished in the form of exercising power , since the latter allows the majority to express their desire by voting , even to designate those who ultimately make decisions .

While an oligarchic government, even if it is the result of a democratic election, will tend to concentrate power in a minority and obey its interests and not those of the people in general.

Differences with tyranny

An oligarchy is said to be the tyranny of a few , so it is actually quite close to this despotic and imperative political model.

However, the oligarchy distributes power to a caste or an elite , a small circle of privileged ones, rather than a single figure or chieftain. It is more akin, if you will, to the aristocracy.



Most oligarchies function on the basis of a monopoly , that is, the captive management, sometimes mafia, of some type of good or some specific power.

For example, business oligarchies concentrate economic power, usually through monopolies in their corporate branch, which are obtained thanks to political influence in the state.

Conflicts between oligarchies

It sometimes happens that different oligarchies confront each other for control of nations , as happened in some civil wars, such as the Venezuelan Federal War.

In it , two forms of oligarchy fought: the conservative and the liberal , both represented by minority and well-to-do parties whose country models were mutually exclusive.

The above content published at Collaborative Research Group is for informational and educational purposes only and has been developed by referring reliable sources and recommendations from technology experts. We do not have any contact with official entities nor do we intend to replace the information that they emit.


Passionate about understanding and contributing to a world that does not stop changing. New forms of Work, Sustainability and Technology. For many years he has worked as a creative for large international companies. He has a Ph.D. in information technology and he has been doing quantitative research in the interdisciplinary areas of information systems, cyber security, data analytics and artificial intelligence. He continue to look for creative solutions through technology to help companies to be more humane and sustainable..

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