Aristocracy referred to in political science, the rule of a small group of particularly gifted individuals, the type of qualification is not specified. The original meaning of the word is " rule of the best " (gr. ἀριστοκρατία of ἄριστος: Best and κρατεῖν: reign, in the same sense Latin, such as Cicero, civitas optimatum, Optimate rule ). In practice it has the property to be among " the best" is equated in most cases with belonging to an aristocratic upper class, which is why one usually understands the rule of the aristocracy among the aristocracy. In the historical sciences, the term aristocracy is also used synonymously with nobility as the totality of all the nobles in a particular geographic area.

However, there also existed bourgeois- aristocratic systems of the patricians in cities (towns aristocracy ) or clericalist priest aristocracies. In a figurative sense, the terms labor aristocracy and plutocracy are used.

Etymology and definition

The word aristocracy arrived on the late Latin aristocratia until the 16th century in the German language, where it was used in state- theoretical writings. Since the 17th century used to refer to the whole of the nobility. Since then, the derived adjective aristocratic next to " the aristocracy on " even " noble " or "noble" mean in terms of attitude and character ..

Aristocracy thus means:

  • In the classical constitutional theory of types of Aristotle the rule of the best of virtue or ability. In contrast, according to Aristotle, the oligarchy (literally rule less ) the exercise of power by a minority who has seized power and one's own advantage investigated. ( The Greek aristocrats associated this property with a claim to heroic or divine descent, the Roman aristocrats rather with political success. )
  • A form of government in which the nobility exercise (even as part of a government coalition senatorial aristocracy ) or other upper class like the bourgeoisie in the towns aristocracy and priests in priestly aristocracy in power. Here are the " best" usually by their origin or their magisterial establishment of offices guardian.
  • In modern times, a name for the members of the aristocracy (in the context of the French Revolution, the second state ), as opposed to clergy ( first estate ) and the middle class (third level ).

Past theorizing

The aristocracy in Plato ( 427-347 BC) is oriented to the common good ideal-typical rule of the best. It falls as the oligarchy under the rule of the few, the oligarchy is defined as the oriented on self-interest less form of rule. This idea was first developed by his student Aristotle ( 384-324 BC) and later by the Greek historian Polybius (c. 200 BC to about 118 BC).

Basically, was the theory of the state since Plato the idea that each oriented to the common good form of government ( monarchy [ also: basileia ], aristocracy, democracy ) a degenerate, oriented only to the interests of the ruling class counterpart has ( tyranny, oligarchy, ochlocracy ). This theory of constitutional forms is abstracted from the observation and analysis of the politics of ancient Greek city-states. - Empirically, the authors have mainly found on the other hand hybrids.

Basic forms of constitutions ( according to Polybius )

Building on the insight that these six basic forms of constitutions are necessarily unstable, especially Polybius has the idea of ​​the Constitution circuit developed that sets these forms of domination to one another. Almost all found today in Europe democratic forms of government are based on country-specific aristocratic precursor models in which nobility, wealthy middle class or church representatives had a say in tax collection, issues of separation of powers or rulers choice. The transition from aristocratic to democratic forms of government usually took place in the form that first of all citizens the right to vote was granted, and later differences in the weighting of votes ( census suffrage ), or exclusions of civil rights for individual population groups ( slaves, women, ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities ) were abolished.