Forms of Government – Oligarchy


Solon – Athenian Statesman, Lawmaker & Poet. Wikipedia

Aristocracy to Timocracy to Oligarchy

…. “Clearly then, whenever you see paupers in a State, somewhere in that neighborhood there are hidden away thieves, and cut-purses and robbers of temples, and all sorts of malefactors… Plato

Plato is of the opinion that aristocracy begins to degenerate when offspring’s of aristocrats start hearing tales about how their parents and icons are simpletons because they chose to live virtuous lives, and are considerate with those who offend. Many in the society see this as a sign of weakness, and such leaders are called all sorts of names. In fact Socrates added that the discontent also begins when mother’s complain to their son’s about how they think their fathers have been weak for not taking full advantage of leadership positions; but as I do not agree completely with this, and also do  not want to incur the wrath of feminists, I have omitted this from the excerpt I posted.

With such tales thriving, those who had honest intentions initially and genuinely wanted to do honorable things, start looking up to busy-bodies and malefactors which seem to held in higher esteem by the society. This makes people to shift to a sort of middle ground, leading to contentiousness and too much ambition. This makes hypocrisy to thrive, with men making a show of striving to do honorable things, but truly only harbor a love for money and glory. This phenomenon Socrates and his friends term Timocracy, which is a transient form of government, and sooner than later becomes full-fledged oligarchy, whereby a place in government is determined simply by the possession of wealth. This description of how the best begin to get corrupted remains true even today, perhaps much more so .

There would appear to be some overlap between aristocracy and oligarchy in some states being disguised as democracies. Aristotle posited that a city may be one or divided, and it would seem that in the world of today, we have more of divided cities, with different cities within “one city” than actually having a uniform city. Thus with careful observation, one would see that governments are also a mix, with no pure forms. Some things “are the right things to say” even when they have no real meaning to those who say them and people seldom reflect on them; thus almost everyone is talking about a democratic world, but how many truly democratic countries are there in the world? How many governments are truly determined by the masses/poor and not by the privileged or capable few? We will discuss democracy later, but for now lets hear about timocracy and oligarchy from the philosophers.


“… Yes, I said; and men of this stamp will be covetous of money, like those who live in oligarchies; they will have, a fierce secret longing after gold and silver, which they will hoard in dark places, having magazines and treasuries of their own for the deposit and concealment of them; also castles which are just nests for their eggs, and in which they will spend large sums on their wives, or on any others whom they please.

That is most true, he said.

And they are miserly because they have no means of openly acquiring the money which they prize; they will spend that which is another man’s on the gratification of their desires, stealing their pleasures and running away like children from the law, their father: they have been schooled not by gentle influences but by force, for they have neglected her who is the true Muse, the companion of reason and philosophy, and have honoured gymnastic more than music.

Undoubtedly, he said, the form of government which you describe is a mixture of good and evil….”

Excerpt From: Plato. “The Republic.” iBooks.

Roman Senate

A Depiction of The Ancient Roman Senate –  Google Images


“And so they grow richer and richer, and the more they think of making a fortune the less they think of virtue; for when riches and virtue are placed together in the scales of the balance, the one always rises as the other falls.


And in proportion as riches and rich men are honoured in the State, virtue and the virtuous are dishonoured.


And what is honoured is cultivated, and that which has no honour is neglected.

That is obvious.

And so at last, instead of loving contention and glory, men become lovers of trade and money; they honour and look up to the rich man, and make a ruler of him, and dishonour the poor man.

They do so.

They next proceed to make a law which fixes a sum of money as the qualification of citizenship; the sum is higher in one place and lower in another, as the oligarchy is more or less exclusive; and they allow no one whose property falls below the amount fixed to have any share in the government. These changes in the constitution they effect by force of arms, if intimidation has not already done their work.

Very true.

And this, speaking generally, is the way in which oligarchy is established.

Yes, he said; but what are the characteristics of this form of government, and what are the defects of which we were speaking?

First of all, I said, consider the nature of the qualification. Just think what would happen if pilots were to be chosen according to their property, and a poor man were refused permission to steer, even though he were a better pilot?

You mean that they would shipwreck?

Yes; and is not this true of the government of anything?

I should imagine so.

Except a city?—or would you include a city?

Nay, he said, the case of a city is the strongest of all, inasmuch as the rule of a city is the greatest and most difficult of all.

This, then, will be the first great defect of oligarchy?


And here is another defect which is quite as bad.

What defect?

The inevitable division: such a State is not one, but two States, the one of poor, the other of rich men; and they are living on the same spot and always conspiring against one another.

That, surely, is at least as bad.

Another discreditable feature is, that, for a like reason, they are incapable of carrying on any war. Either they arm the multitude, and then they are more afraid of them than of the enemy; or, if they do not call them out in the hour of battle, they are oligarchs indeed, few to fight as they are few to rule. And at the same time their fondness for money makes them unwilling to pay taxes.”

…. “Clearly then, whenever you see paupers in a State, somewhere in that neighborhood there are hidden away thieves, and cut-purses and robbers of temples, and all sorts of malefactors.


Well, I said, and in oligarchical States do you not find paupers?

Yes, he said; nearly everybody is a pauper who is not a ruler.”

“And may we be so bold as to affirm that there are also many criminals to be found in them, rogues who have stings, and whom the authorities are careful to restrain by force?

Certainly, we may be so bold.

The existence of such persons is to be attributed to want of education, ill-training, and an evil constitution of the State?


Such, then, is the form and such are the evils of oligarchy; and there may be many other evils.

Very likely.”

Excerpt From: Plato. “The Republic.” iBooks.

“… It is evident that every form of government or administration, for the words are of the same import, must contain a supreme power over the whole state, and this supreme power must necessarily be in the hands of one person, or a few, or many; and when either of these apply their power for the common good, such states are well governed; but when the interest of the one, the few, or the many who enjoy this power is alone consulted, then ill; for you must either affirm that those who make up the community are not citizens, or else let these share in the advantages of government. We usually call a state which is governed by one person for the common good, a kingdom; one that is governed by more than one, but by a few only, an aristocracy; either because the government is in the hands of the most worthy citizens, or because it is the best form for the city and its inhabitants. When the citizens at large govern for the public good, it is called a state; which is also a common name for all other governments, and these distinctions are consonant to reason; for it will not be difficult to find one person, or a very few, of very distinguished abilities, but almost impossible to meet with the majority of a people eminent for every virtue; but if there is one common to a whole nation it is valour; for this is created and supported by numbers: for which reason in such a state the profession of arms will always have the greatest share in the government.

Now the corruptions attending each of these governments are these; a kingdom may degenerate into a tyranny, an aristocracy into an oligarchy, and a state into a democracy. Now a tyranny is a monarchy where the good of one man only is the object of government, an oligarchy considers only the rich, and a democracy only the poor; but neither of them have a common good in view…”

Excerpt From: Aristotle. “Politics: A Treatise on Government.” iBooks.


Dr Ande Elisha

The Amateur Philosopher