“Both oligarch and tyrant mistrust the people, and therefore deprive them of their arms.” ― Aristotle
BY Z. S. ANDREW DEMIRDJIAN, PH.D.
Ancient Greeks have hashed and rehashed the topic of
oligarchy for many years. In fact, Aristotle and Plato have written books about
it warning and educating the Athenians about the traits of oligarchy. The term
oligarchy comes from the Greek word oligarkhia;
it is composed of two words: oli meaning
“few” and garkhia “to
govern or rule”; hence, “the rule of the few”.
organizations, corporations, governments or any kind of social, political,
economic group have had to deal with oligarchy for the main reason that this
kind of governance gives power to those few in charge. The main concern is that
their power could very well be used for their own benefits; thus, depriving the
majority of their rights.
It is worth
noting that oligarchies are not restricted to governing nations. They could be
used to manage small and large organizations such as Ararat Home of Los Angeles
and General Motors. Three of the most countries with oligarchies are Russia,
China, and Iran. Some other examples are Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and
apartheid-era South Africa. Lately, Azerbaijan has joined this elite group of
me to write about oligarchy is the attempt at transforming the democratic
governance of the Ararat Home of Los Angeles (AH) into an oligarchy. The event
is an election for the members to decide the fate of this NGO, which is slated
to take place on Sunday, March 29, 2020.
As a member
of (AH), I would like to present the
members of this organization with the pros and cons of oligarchy to help them
make informed decisions whether to vote “Yes” or “No” for
the change from “the rule of many” to “the rule of a few”.
For the sake
of objectivity, I have extensively researched the literature on oligarchy in
order to present a balanced coverage on this important topic. Therefore, I have
abstained from using my own opinions and thoughts on the subject. The following
pros and cons summarize some of the benefits and issues of oligarchy leadership
of an organization gleaned from different sources.
Pros of Oligarchies
1. When governing an enterprise that is technically
oriented, a few experts are better qualified to lead than the majorities to
decide on issues facing them.
2. During an emergency, such as a war or a pandemic disease,
power of decision making located in a few leaders would be necessary to solve
urgent problems rather than resort to democratic methods of voting on an issue.
3. Members of an organization can participate in activities,
relationships, and work, while the group in power handles the larger issues
4. Oligarchy tends to keep the status quo, which encourages
conservatism instead of pursuing risky ventures.
5. Oligarchy is not a new form of governing. In the right
hands, the organization would be run effectively and efficiently.
6. The power of the oligarchy is centralized within a
leadership team, rather than involving everyone in every decision.
7. Oligarchy fosters creativity and innovation because
members are free from worries about running the organization or society.
1. Oligarchy is a power structure that allows
a few individuals to rule the rest of a group. They maintain their power
through their symbiotic relationships with one another in the elite group.
2, Oligarchs only associate with individuals
who share the same traits. They become an organized minority, while average
citizens or members remain an unorganized majority.
3. Those few ruling individuals have enough
power to create policies that benefit them to the exclusion of the rest of the group
prevents new perspectives and diversity of ideas. It becomes difficult for the
average person to break into the group of elites.
5. It limits available supplies to certain
classes, fix prices, provide selective benefits, and restrict the beneficiaries
of its policies and programs.
6. Oligarchies can become stale for the
ruling members pick people who share the same values and worldviews. As a
result, the organization can miss the creativity and synergies of a diverse
7. When people or members feel they cannot
join the ruling class, they may no longer feel compelled to follow the rules
set by the ruling class, leading to rebellion, disruption, anomie, and eventual
fall of the organization
this juncture, we should also mention some of the causes of oligarchies. There
are many causes of oligarchies, but let us present a few of them for
discussion. The few individuals in charge are usually good at what they do;
otherwise, they would not have risen to that level. Because of their expertise,
they can continue to take more wealth and power from those who do not possess
the necessary skills or interests.
often than not, an oligarchy comes into existence when a few leaders agree to
increase their power regardless of whether it would benefit members of an
organization or society. This can happen in any kind of political system or in
any kind of organization.
can also arise in a democracy if members of society or an organization do not
stay informed. This happens frequently when a society or members of an
organization become overly complex and difficult to understand. In the event
members of an organization do not see an alternative or if they are purposely
kept in the dark of what is going on, they would be willing to cede power to
those with the passion and knowledge to rule.
oligarchy can also form under a monarchy or tyranny. A good example is during
the reign of Sultan Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire. If the leader is weak in
one of these political systems, an influential group such as the members of the
Committee of Union and Progress band (i.e., Talat, Enver, and Djvdad) had
increased its power around this feeble leader. When the leader was gone for
some reason or forced to abdicate, the oligarchs remained in power. They could
have either selected a puppet or one or more of their own team members to
replace the leader. You already know the rest of the story.
tried hard to find studies that support the idea of oligarchy for a system of
government. The most positive things I have found are already stated in the
pros of oligarchy in the previous section. However, often this question is
asked: Is there any present danger of oligarchy? Is it a viable form of
governing an organization or a nation? Based on my research, I found two
reliable sources to answer these questions, one from ancient times and the
other one is from modern times:
me start with the modern times: Robert Michels (1876-1936), the German social
theorist and historian wrote the seminal book titled Political Parties in 1911, which spawned many studies and
discussions about his ideas of governing organizations. In this book, he
described a principle that he called the Iron
Law of Oligarchy. According to him, if a democratic organization does not
act truly democratic, then a non-democratic organization can never truly be
democratic. Basically, he means that if a bird does not look like a duck, walk
like a duck and quack like a duck, then it’s not a duck!
explicitly explained how an organization that claims to be democratic can end
up being one that is not. It can over time turn into an oligarchy. An oligarchy
is an organization type that is run by a few specific individuals versus the
consensus of all members of that organization. This organization can be a small
social organization, a large corporation or even an entire country.
further argued that all organizations, no matter how democratic their original
intentions were would eventually come to be ruled by a powerful minority. This
oligarchy, when it becomes necessary, will act illegitimately to put down
internal opposition and divert the organization’s goals and objectives in order
to maintain its power and continue acting non-democratically to satisfy the
agendas of the elite minority leaders that happen to be in power.
as for ancient times, Aristotle is the best source to cite: Aristotle warned
about the danger of oligarchies nearly 2,500 years ago. In his book titled Politics heused the word oligarchia
to designate the rule of the few when it was exercised not by the best (righteous)
but by bad men unjustly. In this sense, he claims oligarchy to be
“debased” or corrupt form of aristocracy. For Aristotle’s way of thinking,
“The aristocratic decline into oligarchy consists in ‘the few’ ruling in
their own narrow self interest.” Aristotle concluded that “It is
evident that the form of government is best in which every man, whoever he is,
can act best and live happily.”
clearly holds that oligarchy is a “degenerate” form of aristocracy
which is also the rule of the few. Aristotle was also critical of pure
democracy (meaning rule by the many, poor in their own narrow interest and
neglecting the common good). However, he admitted that even democracy in this
sense is preferable, or more tolerable than oligarchy, the rule of the few.
Heather Marsh seems to agree with Aristotle when she said: “We are in a
prison of our own minds holding our own chains around us. We create our
oligarchs and fight for their right to oppress us.”
here you are. I gave you the pros and cons of oligarchy to make sense of what
is going on with AH governance. Vote on March 29 based on your conscience and
cognition of oligarchy, whether you want a democratic or oligarchic type of
leadership. Although there won’t be a life-changing consequences for yourself,
but your vote would determine the direction AH would take: either become
subject to the rule of the few or be run by the consensus of the majority. No
matter what we choose –angels or demons of democracy–we must collectively
support AH reach yet higher stratospheres of excellence.