Wednesday, January 14, 2009


OK, Oligocracy isn’t really a word, but I hope it will become one as time goes by. Oligarchy (which is a real word) means the rule by the few, or a sustained political elite. Oligarchy tends to develop over time, as certain segments of the population, such as powerful families, accumulate more wealth and influence and become oligarchs. My version of the word, Oligocracy, is meant to describe a system that is intentionally set up from the beginning to be the rule of the few.

It comes without saying that a rule of the few, as opposed to the rule of the many, is inherently less democratic, and, indeed, undemocratic. The phrase, “the rule of the many” is not primarily meant to refer to a government that has, for instance, a lot of politicians, or a lot of public referenda. Instead, it is meant to refer to the inclusion of as many of the citizens as possible in the shaping and outcome of the political process. An oligocracy is meant to do the opposite.

There are several reasons why the founder or founders of a political system would want to limit the influence of citizens in the country when drafting a constitution. The United States constitution is by far the oldest constitution that is still in use in the world. Many other industrialized countries have had to write new constitutions because of wars, or chosen to significantly re-write them as they have become seen as obsolete. The older and less amended a constitution is, the more likely it is that values that are unfamiliar to us today will appear in it. Values tend to go through an evolution as societies evolve. For instance, we would be very unlikely to see a new constitution in an industrialized country that would prohibit black people from voting.

When The United States Constitution was drafted and consequently adopted, a few important values that are unfamiliar, and even reprehensible, to us today, were commonplace and seen as normal. A few of these values, which were expressed in law in The Constitution, were:

- the belief that black people should not be allowed to vote

- the belief that women should not be allowed to vote

- the belief that people who do not own property should not be allowed to vote

These beliefs express clearly, more than anything else, the belief that only a small segment of the population should be allowed to have an influence in the political system. Although all three of the abovementioned rules have been gotten rid of, the spirit of them most certainly remains in the constitution, because that constitution is so old and relatively unchanged. The U.S. Constitution, as well as other federal and state-level law, retains a very large number of provisions that are meant to limit the influence of currently disenfranchised citizens and political actors. The United States is a clear example of an Oligocracy.

In the current U.S. system, there are mainly three factors that perpetuate the U.S. oligocracy:

1. Winner-takes-all voting system. In this system, the party that gets the most votes in a given district gets all the seats in that district. The U.S. and British systems are examples of this, and this system invariably creates a two-party system. Only two parties have actual influence on national politics, and all other parties are, in practice, excluded. The alternative, which is used in a majority of advanced democracies, is proportional representation. Proportional representation awards seats in proportion to how many votes a party received. Hence: 25% of votes = 25% of seats.

2. Bipartisanship. In a two-party system, the two parties will benefit from working together, so that no other party can be successful in elections. This creates a type of political cartel, much like an economic cartel, where supposedly competing companies agree to set high prices for the customer instead of competing with each other. The voter will inevitably be short-changed in a system of bipartisanship.

3. Limiting voting rights and voting access. The U.S. still legally restricts voters who have been convicted of crimes, and to some extent, university students who study in a state other than their home state. In The U.S., voting is a much more complex affair than anywhere else, where complicated registration and voting procedures are clear and intentional deterrents to voting. Illegal voter suppression is also more common than anywhere else.

An oligocratic system is an undemocratic system that excludes large segments of the population. It comes as no surprise that The United States has, by far, the lowest voter participation in the entire industrialized world.


Tori said...

I like this article very much. I have thoguht for a long time that we are slowing turning our democracy into something else. your point about citizens hurting from bipartisanship is especially true in a two party system. we are indeed seeing it right now with Obama's stimulus plan...he has moved toward the center and put in the tax breaks to appease the other party and this hurts the middle and lower classes the most

Jacob said...

Inded. In a democratic system you need fierce competition between different viewpoints, otherwise the politicians just create a political cartel so that they can remain in power indefinitely. However, a firecely competitive two-party system also has its drawbacks. In Great Britain, this has led to one regime always reversing what was done by the previous one, and accomplishing little else. This is otherwise known as the "do-nothing government".

The ideal solution is to have a fiercely competitive multi-party system. Nothing else is fair to the voters, because they certainly don't agree on these things amongst each other, so why should politicians?

Fabio said...

Hello Jacob,

Admirable mind-opening task!

By the way. Mainstream media, which is another strategic asset owned by the oligocracy, just using 2 basic tools: self-censorship & glamorization of the wealthy, can easily control the political behavior of the laboring majority, making millions of blue & white collar workers believe they are living in a 'democracy' and not in a system of pure neo-slavery.

In a system of neo-slavery, instead of having one specific master, the slave has thousands or more masters at the same time. Thus, it does not matter what the neo-slave does for a living, he/she is always doing unconditionally what the masters-at-once dictate in exchange of a slave-support -called 'wage'- proportionally lesser than what the single master -in classical slavery- invested in feeding, clothing, housing, training, medicines, entertainment, ending care, burial, etc.

Today's slaves (or neo-slaves) are allowed to quit and change jobs any time wanted, but the essence of slavery remains, it never changes: the laborer, in order to survive, serves the masters unconditionally for a meager investment or 'wage' (the benefit & advance of neo-slavery) barely enough to eat, dress, have roof for some months and transport himself/herself, but never enough to take care in full of his/her steady home, health, insurances, credits, education & training, sane entertainment, savings, retirement, funeral service, and so forth.

In conclusion, being constantly bombarded by mainstream media with the false notion -or systematic dellusion- that they are living in the biggest democracy of the world* (and not in the biggest oligocracy ever known in history, where the 3 branches of the state power are nothing but 3 bodies of big foremen at the full service of the owners of the international monopolies & the 99% of the social wealth), *makes the citizens of any contemporary so called 'domocracy' behave historically like a new race of political 'castrati.'

Keep up the mind-opening work, Jacob, there is so much to do. We need today many more like you everywhere, till the goal of humanist freedom is achieved on our beloved planet!