Difference Between Oligarchy and Democracy

Oligarchy vs Democracy

Who gets the power to rule and how it is gotten are that make the difference between oligarchy and democracy. Both oligarchy and democracy refer to different types of ruling systems. Oligarchy is a ruling system in which only a few number of privileged people get the power over ruling and decision-making in a political system. These few number of people usually represented the wealthy or royal family ties. Democracy, in contrast, is a political system where general public gets the opportunity to select the suitable candidates for the power. Moreover, the general public can select as well as dismiss any person whom they think is not suitable enough to rule the country. Let us look at each term in detail before analyzing the difference between them.

What is Oligarchy?

Oligarchy is the ruling system where the power is divided among a few number of people. Oligarchy is derived from a Greek word which gives the meaning “a few to rule or command.” Here, this ruling party is not selected by the general public but it could be inherited or gained by people because of wealth, education or military power, etc. However, generational inheritance is not a main characteristic of oligarchy. Those who have money, education, family connections, military power, etc. may be able to gain the ruling power of the particular nation. The general public has no control over these selections and sometimes oligarchs are said to be tyrannical. Oligarchy differs from monarchy because this does not have a bloodline inheritance always. Oligarchy could be a privileged group in the particular society as well.

Difference Between Oligarchy and Democracy

Oligarchy is when there is only a few to rule or command

What is Democracy?

As mentioned above, democracy is a ruling system where general public selects suitable people for the government. This depends on the interests of the common people. The main feature of the democratic ruling system is that it is, by the people, of the people and for the people. In this system, there is an election and eligible candidates can apply for this. Then, in this election, common people get the chance to vote for their interested candidate for the government. Those who get higher number of votes may go to the parliament and they become the ruling and decision-making party in the country. There are mainly two types of democracies; direct democracy and democratic republic. In the current world, many countries practice democratic republic system. Further, democratic ruling system considers the common people as the primary source of the political power. Also, the party which gets the majority number of selected candidates would come to the power whereas the other parties may have to be in the opposition.

Oligarchy vs Democracy

People choose the leaders in a democracy

What is the difference between Oligarchy and Democracy?

• Definition of Oligarchy and Democracy:

• Oligarchy is a power structure in which only a few number of affluent people enjoy the ruling authority.

• Democracy entertains candidates who are chosen by the general public to rule and make decisions in the authority.

• Selection of people for the power:

• In an oligarchy, the selection is sometimes inherited and in some cases wealth, education, military power, family connections, etc. bestow the ruling authority. Here, the choice of general public is disregarded.

• In a democracy, it is the choice of the common people and the candidates are selected through an election.

• Nature of power:

• Sometimes oligarchy becomes similar to a monarchy where there is tyrannical power.

• Democracy is based on peoples’ choice and they have the freedom to select as well as to dismiss the candidates if necessary.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Polish magnates 1697-1795 via Wikicommons (Public Domain)
  2. Vote sign by Tom Arthur (CC BY-SA 2.0)