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The 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.

Oligarchies have been tyrannical throughout history, being completely reliant on public servitude to exist.[citation needed] Although Aristotle pioneered the use of the term as a synonym for rule by the rich, for which the exact term is plutocracy; but 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.


Examples of oligarchies

Some examples include Vaishali, the French First Republic government under the Directory, and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (only the nobility could vote). In the time of the ancient Greeks, Sparta was an oligarchy that clashed with the democratic city-state of Athens, (these two nations eventually clashed in the Peloponnesian war in which Sparta defeated Athens causing the city state to rule much of Greece for some time). A modern example of oligarchy could be seen in South Africa during the twentieth century. Here, the basic characteristics of oligarchy are particularly easy to observe, since the South African form of oligarchy was based on race. After the Second Boer War, a tacit agreement or understanding was reached between English- and Afrikaans-speaking whites. Together, they made up about twenty percent of the population, but this small percentage ruled the vast non-white and mixed-race population. Whites had access to virtually all the educational and trade opportunities, and they proceeded to deny this to the black majority even further than before.

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