ARISTOCRACY. A government in which. a class of men rules supreme.
Aristotle classified governments according to the person or persons in whom the supreme power is vested: In monarchies or kingdoms, in which one rules supreme ; in aristocracies, in which a class of men rules supreme ; and in democracies, in which the people at large, the multitude, rule. The term aristocracy is derived from the Greek word aptoroc, which, although finally treated as the superlative of ciya06g, good, originally meant the strongest, the most powerful; and in the compound term aristoc racy it meant those who wielded the greatest power and had the greatest influence,—the privileged ones. The aristocracies in ancient Greece were, in many cases, governments arrogated by violence. If the number of ruling aristocrats was very small, the government was called an oligarchy. Aristotle says that in democracies the "demagogues lead the people to place themselves above the laws, and divide the people, by constantly speaking against the rich; and in oligarchies the rulers always speak in the interest of the rich. At present," he says, "the rulers, in some oligarchies, take an oath, 'And I will be hostile to the people, and advise, as much as is in my pow er, what may be injurious to them.' " (Politics, v. ch. 9.) There are circumstances which may make an aristocracy unavoidable; but it has always this in herent deficiency, that the body of aristocrats, being set apart from the people indeed, yet not sufficiently so, as the monarch is (who, besides, being but one, must needs rely on the classes beneath him), shows itself severe and harsh so soon as the people become a substantial portion of the community. The strug
gle between the aristocratic and the democratic ele ment is a prominent feature of the middle ages ; and at a later period it is equally remarkable that the crown, in almost every country of the European continent, waged war, generally with the assistance of the commonalty, with the privileged class, or ar istocracy. The real aristocracy is that type of gov ernment .which has nearly entirely vanished from our cis-Caucasian race; although the aristocratic element is found, like the democratic element, in various degrees, in most of the existing govern ments. The term aristocracy is at present fre quently used for the body of privileged persons in the government of any institution,—for instance, in the church. In the first French Revolution, Aristo crat came to mean any person not belonging to the ievellere, and whom the latter desired to pull down. The modern French communists use the slang term Aristo for aristocrat. The most complete and sistently developed aristocracy in history was the Republic of Venice,—a government considered by many early publicists as a model: it illustrated, however, in an eminent degree, the fear and conse quent severity inherent in aristocracies. See Gov ERNMENT ; ABSOLUTISM; MONARCHY.