Difference Between Oligarchy and Plutocracy

Oligarchy vs Plutocracy
 

The exact status of the group that controls the government marks the whole difference between oligarchy and plutocracy. Before detailing this difference between oligarchy and plutocracy, give a truthful answer. Do you know what oligarchy and plutocracy mean? If someone asked us to define oligarchy and plutocracy, indeed, most of us would draw a blank. However, our lack of knowledge about the terms might be justified given that they are not frequently used or heard in ordinary parlance. In simple terms, Oligarchy and Plutocracy represent two forms of political systems or government. From a business perspective, they may be used in reference to the organizational structure of a company. They have their origins in the Greek language, deriving from the words ‘Oligarkhia’ and ‘Ploutokratia.’ Let’s examine this in detail.

What is Oligarchy?

As mentioned above, an Oligarchy is a type of political system or government. It is defined as a form of government controlled or ruled by a small and elite group of people. Thus, this small group of people has control of the government and, of course, the entire state. A nation that has this form of government or political system is also called an Oligarchy. The sovereign power of the state is vested in this small group of people comprising of landowners, wealthy people, royalty, noblemen, high-ranking military officers, renowned academics, or philosophers.

Oligarchy is derived from the Greek word ‘Oligarkhia’, which is translated to mean “rule or command by a few.” History indicates that rule by a few has led to tyranny and corruption, and more importantly, oppression. Although the above definition might suggest that an Oligarchy refers to control by a small group of wealthy people, it is not always the case. An Oligarchy simply means rule or governance by a privileged or favoured few. Ancient Sparta is a classic example of an Oligarchy wherein the majority of the population, the Helots, were excluded from voting. In more recent times, South Africa had an Oligarchy system based on race during the mid-20th century. This was during the period when the apartheid system was in force.

Difference Between Oligarchy and Plutocracy

Ancient Sparta is a classic example of an Oligarchy

What is Plutocracy?

The term Plutocracy derives from the Greek word ‘Ploutokratia.’ ‘Ploutos’ means “wealth” while ‘kratia’ means “rule or power.” Thus, the full translation of this word is the rule or command by the wealthy. Plutocracy is, therefore, defined as a state, society or government controlled and ruled by the wealthy or a wealthy class. This particular class of people govern a state or society because of their wealth, or rather, their power stems from their wealth. History illustrates that the wealthy class is most often the minority in a society. In essence, it is a small minority ruling or dominating the rest of the classes in society. Interestingly, in a Plutocracy, the wealthy group will exercise control and power either directly or indirectly. Thus, for example, government policies will be formulated in a way that benefits this wealthy group. Further, access to certain resources will only be available to this wealthy class thereby denying the rest of society certain resources and rights. Such a form of government inevitably results in inequality, unfairness, and injustice.

 Oligarchy vs Plutocracy

Rule by a group of wealthy people is plutocracy

What is the difference between Oligarchy and Plutocracy?

The definitions of Oligarchy and Plutocracy might lead some to think that the two systems are very similar. This is not far from accurate given that both represent two forms of government controlled by a minority or a very small group of people. However, the distinction lies in the type of people that exercise the control.

• Definition of Oligarchy and Plutocracy:

• An Oligarchy refers to a government or political system controlled and ruled by a small and elite group of people. This group is not limited to wealthy people alone but includes other privileged individuals or groups of people such as royalty, noblemen, landowners, academics or philosophers, and military officers.

• A Plutocracy, in contrast, refers to a government ruled by the wealthy class in society or governance by a wealthy group of people.

• People that exercise control:

• In Oligarchy, the group that controls the system is not limited to wealthy people alone but includes other privileged individuals or groups of people such as royalty, noblemen, landowners, academics or philosophers, and military officers.

• In Plutocracy, the group exercising control derives their authority or power from their wealth.

 

Images Courtesy:

  1. Location of Sparta by Marsyas (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  2. Polish magnates 1576-1586 via Wikicommons (Public Domain)