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Aristocracy

Wikipedia Reference Information

The term aristocracy refers to a form of government where power is hereditary, and split between a small number of families. It is derived from two Ancient Greek words, "aristos" meaning the "best" and "kratein" "to rule" and so aristocracy originally meant "rule by the best". Aristocracies have most often been hereditary plutocracies (see below), with a belief in their own superiority. Aristocracies often include a monarch who although a member of the aristocracy rules over the aristocracy as well as the rest of society. Aristocracy can also refer to the highest class in society even if they do not rule directly.

As a government term, aristocracy can be compared with:

autocracy - "rule by a single individual", such as a dictator or absolute monarch.

meritocracy - "rule by those who most deserve to rule". While this appears to be the same as the original meaning of "aristocracy", the term "meritocracy" has usually implied a much more fluid form of government in which one is, at most, considered "best" for life, but must continually prove one's "merit" in order to stay in power. This power is not passed on to descendants.

plutocracy - "rule by the wealthy". In actual practice, aristocrats are often just plutocrats whose wealth allows them to portray their own virtues as the "best" ones. Usually, this wealth is passed down through inheritance, and in countries like England may be kept intact through primogeniture, in which the oldest child (usually first male) inherits the bulk of the wealth and titles.

oligarchy - "rule by the few". Whether an aristocracy is also an oligarchy depends entirely upon one's idea of what is a "few".

monarchy - "rule by a single individual". Historically, the vast majority of monarchs have been aristocrats themselves. However, they have also been very often at odds with the rest of the aristocracy, since it was composed of their rivals. The struggle between a ruling dynastic family and the other aristocratic families in the same country has been a central theme of medieval history.

democracy - "rule by the people". Democracy and aristocracy are incompatible as forms of government.

The complete, up-to-date and editable article about Aristocracy can be found at Wikipedia: Aristocracy
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristocracy




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