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ARISTOCRACY (Gr. apuvror, best; «pari...

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Originally appearing in Volume V02, Page 498 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ARISTOCRACY (Gr. apuvror, best; «paria, government), etymologically, the " rule of the best," a form of government variously defined and appreciated at different times and by different authorities. In Greek political philosophy, aristocracy is the government of those who most nearly attain to the ideal of human perfection. Thus Plato in the Republic advocates the rule of the " philosopher-king " who, in the social scheme, is analogous to Reason in the intellectual, and alone is qualified to control the active principles, i.e. the fighting population and the artisans or workers. Aristocracy is thus the government by those who are superior both morally and intellectually, and, therefore, govern directly in the interests of the governed, as a good doctor works for the good of his patient. Aristotle classified good governments under three heads—monarchy, aristocracy and commonwealth (lroXcreia), to which he opposed the three perverted forms—tyranny or absolutism, oligarchy and democracy or mob-rule. The distinction between aristocracy and oligarchy, which are both necessarily the rule of the few, is that whereas the few apcovoi will govern unselfishly, the oligarchs, being the few wealthy (" plutocracy " in modern terminology), will allow their personal interests to predominate. While Plato's aristocracy might be the rule of the wise and benevolent despot, Aristotle's is necessarily the rule of the few. Historically aristocracy develops from primitive monarchy by the gradual progressive limitation of the regal authority. This process is effected primarily by the nobles who have hitherto formed the council of the king (an excellent example will be found in Athenian politics, see ARCHON), whose triple prerogative—religious, military and judicial-is vested, e.g., in a magistracy of three. These are either members of the royal house or the heads of noble families, and are elected for life or periodically by their peers, i.e. by the old royal council (cf. the Areopagus at Athens, the Senate at Rome), now the sovereign power. In practice this council depends primarily on a birth qualification, and thus has always been more or less inferior to the Aristotelian ideal; it is, by definition, an " oligarchy " of birth, and is recruited from the noble families, generally by the addition of emeritus magistrates. From the earliest times, therefore, the word "aristocracy " became practically synonymous with " oligarchy," and as such it is now generally used in opposition to democracy (which similarly took the place of Aristotle's 7roXcreia), in which the ultimate sovereignty resides in the whole citizen body. The aristocracy of which we know most in ancient Greece was that of Athens prior to the reforms of Cleisthenes, but all the Greek city-states passed through a period of aristocratic or oligarchic government. Rome, between the regal and the imperial periods, was always more or less under the aristocratic government of the senate, in spite of the gradual growth of democratic institutions (the Lat. optimates is the equivalent of apurroc). There is, however, one feature which distinguishes these aristocracies from those of modern states, namely, that they were all slave-owning. The original relation of the slave-population, which in many cases outnumbered the free citizens, cannot always be discovered. But in some cases we know that the slaves were the original inhabitants who had been overcome by an influx of racially different invaders (cf. Sparta with its Helots); in others they were captives taken in war. Hence even the most democratic states of antiquity were so far aristocratic that the larger proportion of the inhabitants had no voice in the government. In the second place this relation gave rise to a philosophic doctrine, held even by Aristotle, that there were
End of Article: ARISTOCRACY (Gr. apuvror, best; «paria, government)
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