An aristocracy is based on the basic presumption that all men are not equal. This Buzzle article tells you the various characteristics of an aristocracy, along with the pros and cons of such a type of government.
Did You Know?
The Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle were the first ones to come up with the idea of an aristocracy.
When one hears the word ‘government’, the modern parliamentary system comes in mind, where we are allowed to vote for the candidate we like. This word also reminds us of our habit to criticize our policymakers for everything, ranging from jobs, rising prices, emissions, to environmental degradation. We often tend to take both these freedoms, and many more, for granted. Most people would be surprised when they are told that there was a time when, far from choosing our political leaders, one wasn’t even allowed to criticize them. This was because, only members of the upper social classes were allowed to rule, and they could pass whatever laws they wished, leaving citizens at their mercy. Sounds like terror? Well, the real name of such a government is aristocracy, which is explained below, with its advantages and disadvantages.
An aristocracy is a form of government where leaders are drawn from the elite classes of society. It is based on the presumption that only those with the highest moral and intellectual standards deserve to rule, and that the disorderly masses could not be expected to have the aptitude for political affairs. Additionally, it was thought that the members of such privileged classes possessed the valor for battle in their youth, and the ability to give valuable advice in old age. The term ‘aristocracy’ has been derived from the Greek word ‘aristokratia’, which is literally translated as ‘rule of the best’.
This form of government originated in ancient Greece, where, apart from the political clans and top clergymen, the population was largely illiterate, making highly-qualified men desirable. In addition to political, moral, intellectual, and military superiority, an aristocracy may also include members of the elite from wealthy or religious backgrounds. In these cases, it will be called a plutocracy and theocracy, respectively. In some places, age and experience plays an important role, resulting in councils formed by the senior-most members of society.
In historical times, this system was made up of a council of the privileged classes, either ruling by themselves or under a king. Though some aristocracies have existed independently of a monarch in history, in most cases, this system grew under the framework of a monarchy. This led to the rise of a noble class, members of which held official titles, like a Baron, Duke, Earl, and Lord, and assisted the king in ruling his kingdom. Sometimes, the monarch himself was selected from among the aristocratic classes.
In a majority of aristocracies, both historical and modern, the ruling classes appointed their own heirs as successors. This hereditary transfer of power was based on the belief that good leadership qualities were passed down the bloodline. Historical examples of aristocracies include, the governments of ancient Greek city-states like Athens, 17th to 19th century England, and the Chinese Shang Dynasty. The Saudi Arabian government is an example of a modern aristocracy, where the king is the supreme ruler, and is assisted by officials who come from the royal family, or are appointed by the king himself.
Now, we’ll have a look at the various pros and cons of an aristocracy government.
- This form of government intends to give the leadership into the hands of highly-qualified people, which is laudable.
- It prevents the rise of a single dictator, by distributing power between members of a council.
- The patronage of the ruling classes has led to the blossoming of arts and culture in historical kingdoms ruled by aristocrats.
- The less number of leaders involved increases the efficiency of the government, by reducing chances of political deadlocks and disagreements.
- Ideally, well-intentioned leaders in an aristocracy can do what is best for the country, without getting swayed by public opinion.
- This form of government is advantageous in cases of military conflict, since it results in a well-organized chain of command.
- An aristocracy is the rule by a few privileged classes, and may not reflect the wishes of the general public, as they are not allowed to vote.
- The leaders in such a government are not accountable for their actions, as there are no checks and balances.
- Countries ruled by an aristocracy are marked by the lack of civil liberties and privileges, as the sole control of such a government lies with nobles and their families who have the freedom to pass unjust laws. The rights, properties, and even the lives of ordinary citizens are at the disposal of the nobles.
- Such a government may work selfishly for its own interests, by maintaining an economic divide between the rich and the poor, and oppressing the masses to cement their own status.
- The hereditary transition of power in an aristocracy sidelines merit has no guarantee of success, i.e., the son of a reputed leader may not be equally talented. It can also place people of questionable character in power, which can have catastrophic consequences for the state.
- An aristocracy gives no chance to talented members of the general public to rise up the social order. The ruling elite may try to hold elections among themselves, or appoint their family members, with an intention of restricting power among themselves.
- It is highly possible that factional feuds may break out between leaders thirsting for ultimate power, which has been observed in the past. Each warring leader will end up forming a rival clan, comprising loyal followers ready to do their leader’s bidding.
The founders of the American Constitution decisively kept all elements of a hereditary aristocracy out of the new government, seeking to learn a lesson from the historical misadventures of Europe. But, they also wanted to avoid mob rule at all costs, which comes with a direct democracy, heeding the words of Plato and Aristotle. So, they set up a representative democracy, where citizens can choose the best people to form the government, which avoids both, the hereditary transfer of power of an aristocracy, and the mediocrity of mob rule.