Oligarchies are governed by a small number of individuals known as oligarchs, who have disproportionate power in society. Greek oligarkhia, which means the dominion of the few, is at the root of oligarch.
To achieve power via financial methods, oligarchs often donate large sums of money to politicians who then govern by the oligarchs’ wishes.
Although social status/nobility, celebrity, education, political, religious, or military ties may also help oligarchs achieve dominance.
Oligarchies ruled by a single family tend to see authority handed down the generations. Russia, China, and the United States are just a few contemporary nations that may be considered oligarchies.
Types of oligarchy
In reality, the word oligarchy embraces at least 13 distinct forms of rule by the few. On the other hand, the governing class of an aristocracy is made up of aristocrats and nobles.
In an oligarchy, the ruling class comprises a few highly rich people who use their wealth to influence public policy to increase their fortune.
Should we see oligarchies as good, bad, or indifferent?
An oligarchy is neither good nor bad in principle. An oligarchy, for example, when the ruling class constantly makes the same choices as the general public, would be governed by the people’s will. It would be considered a good oligarchy by most people.
According to Aristotle and Robert Michels, in the vast majority of circumstances in which a few individuals are granted authority over a larger population, those few choose to adopt policies that benefit themselves at the cost of the people as a whole.
To put it another way, an oligarchy is only considered evil when the oligarchs eliminate the checks and balances on their authority, violate (or disregard) the rule of law, and put their self-interests ahead of that of the country’s people.
People’s reactions to an oligarchy in government
Because of their self-interest, oligarchy governments tend to take on authoritarian practices, which may be harsh or exploitative in certain cases.
As money is concentrated in the hands of the ruling few at the expense of most of the population, the gap between the rich and the poor widens. In an age when the affluent are becoming wealthier, and the poor are getting poorer, the middle class is getting smaller.
Economic development and creative agility are also inhibited by a governing elite that prioritizes the preservation of the status quo at the cost of policies that would help the middle and lower classes.
Puppets leaders are politicians who seem powerful but are puppets of the same oligarchs who sponsored their election campaigns, which is another consequence of an oligarchy.
List of countries that are oligarchies*:
As a result of the subjective nature of the word oligarchy, no authoritative list of nations that are or are not oligarchies exists. However, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, the United States (debated), Venezuela, and Zimbabwe all have a compelling case.
Oligarchy isn’t always a one-size-fits-all phrase. The one-party system of North Korea might be considered an oligarchy, hereditary Stalinist dictatorship, or even an absolute monarchy, depending on your point of view.
With its long history of oligarchy control dating back to at least the 1400s, Russia is perhaps the best-known example.
From 1988 to 1991, when the Soviet Union fell apart, several affluent people (mainly bankers) gained control of many of the country’s most important resources and utilities. This was a particular hotbed for oligarchy (such as oil fields).
Politicians were in charge of their nation, while oligarchs were in charge of their politicians. Boris Yeltsin and his administration were influenced greatly by a small number of affluent oligarchs who funded his reelection in 1996.
They were able to profit financially from intimate knowledge of the government’s economic policies and activities.
Although the present administration has officially distanced itself from many of the former oligarchs, it is commonly believed that it has just replaced one group of oligarchs with another.
Rather than stepping down in 2024 when his term ended, Russian President Vladimir Putin led the charge for a constitutional revision in his country in 2020 that reset his term limit to allow him to serve as president until 2036.
Governments in an oligarchy are known for making this type of power-consolidation action.
And although Russia has elections, the oligarchs control every element of them: They dictate media coverage and political advertising before and during the event, get rid of specific opposition candidates (sometimes by dubious ways), count the real ballots, and so forth.
As a result of this arrangement, there are serious issues regarding Russia’s elections’ integrity. According to Freedom House’s 2021 evaluation of Russian citizens’ political rights, Russia received just 5 out of 40 points (and only 15 out of 60) and is characterized as a definite oligarchy.
As a result of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, the US Treasury published a list of Russian oligarchs in 2018, including 96 individuals and 114 political personalities.
To everyone’s surprise, it became out that the list of billionaires had merely cloned a Forbes magazine list and singled out those who claimed Russian citizenship or background as the reason for their inclusion.
Also See: OFAC Countries 2022
United States oligarchy
On the question of whether the United States may be regarded as an oligarchy, people have different views. Elections and the right to free expression are just two of the numerous benefits of living in a democracy in the United States.
However, there is abundant evidence that major businesses and wealthy people have a far greater impact on policymaking than the average citizenry.
There are no limits on how much corporations and even individuals can legally give to political campaigns, allowing their preferred candidates—often those who prioritize corporate profits ahead of the interests of lower-income voters or our planet—to spend far more on advertising, staff, and other resources (including disinformation campaigns) than their competitors.
Corporations and individuals may hire lobbyists to influence legislators who are already in office. Economists and scholars believe that, although the United States is a democracy in principle, it is an oligarchy in practice—or, at the very least, on the path to becoming one.