The term has its etymological origin in the Greek word “oligarkhia” which can be translated as the government of a few. Thus, nowadays, oligarchy is defined as a form of government in which power is in the hands of a small group of people who are part of the same social class , economic group or political party .
Generally speaking, it can be understood as a group of people of privileged status who exercise important power over a particular area or sector.
The oligarchy in classical thought
As mentioned above, the concept of oligarchy has its origins in Classical Greece. Plato considered it to be one of six basic forms of government, three of which were considered corrupt or degraded, including oligarchy. Thus, for Plato, the oligarchy was nothing more than another degenerate form of aristocracy, its sole aim being to accumulate as much wealth as possible for its members.
On the other hand, Aristotle followed Plato‘s analysis of politics and came to the conclusion that forms of government can be divided into two large groups : those that seek common interest and those that only seek to satisfy self-interest. In this way, Aristotle presents the oligarchy as the government of the richest, as opposed to the aristocracy with the government of the best.
Both Aristotelian and Platonic theories were later written by Polybius, who analyzed the different forms of government. Polybius came to the conclusion that oligarchy arises when a group of people defeats a tyrant or a monarch, establishing an aristocracy that ends in oligarchy, but which in turn emerges democracy due to the demand for equality on the part of citizens.
Currently, the term oligarchy is closely linked to the economy, and its use is common to refer to groups of entrepreneurs who seek to defend their personal interests, as well as using their power to influence government decisions.
More specifically, the term financial oligarchy refers to the concentration of power in the hands of finance capital. Bankers and big businessmen in this world form a small group of people who have in their hands the destiny of entire countries thanks to the control of the main branches of the economy. The financial oligarchy is, therefore, presented on many occasions as the power that controls the political life of the great capitalist societies.