Some people may be using the word “oligarchy” wrong

Image: Red Pepper UK

Politics and statesmanship have always been shrouded by a lot of big words, words whose crucial meanings sometimes get misunderstood in the shuffle of who’s speaking and who’s listening.

These past few days, that word has been “oligarchy.”

So what is an oligarchy? Who makes an oligarch? And how deplorable is it to be an oligarch, as related to other things that are deplorable in our country?

The Oxford Dictionary defines an oligarchy as a small group of people having control over a country or organization. Dictionary.Com defines it as a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons, a dominant class, or an exclusive clique. Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition is probably the shortest: a government by the few.

Fundamentally, anything that a nation considers as distinguishable power or authority can make an oligarch. Wealth, nobility or ancestry, political, religious, or corporate status, or military position are all stepping stones towards becoming an oligarch.

So an oligarch is every rich people we know, right? Not exactly. An oligarchy isn’t determined by just wealth, and not every wealthy people belongs to an oligarchy.

At its core, an oligarchy is foremost a group bound by a prevailing interest and an equally prevailing will, the exercise of which affects the welfare of all people in a country.

This means oligarchs also tend to hold key positions of power. They are usually seated on top of utility companies, media corporations, branches of the military, and executive departments, implementing policies, shaping opinions, calling marching orders, and writing and executing laws with their best interest in mind.

Even heads of states can be considered oligarchs if the shoe fits.

That’s why an oligarchy can sometimes be hard to spot, primarily because the things that define it shift constantly. Oligarchs can die or resign from position and pass on their influence, political interests may often waver on a whim, and policies affected by oligarchs’ will often serve a beneficial cause for most, even though behind the curtain, they only aim to serve a few.

Nevertheless, one thing stays true: oligarchs will always decide for the preservation of their power, wealth, and influence above all else. And that they’re always, always deciding.

So why does knowing who an oligarch is so important today? Ironically, we need to know the definition of an oligarch so we can stop fixating on the word and instead focus on what makes them bad to the core: their constant abuse of power. Because like we said, an oligarchy, and therefore abuse itself, can take on many shapes and sizes.

Because if a group can make or break a nation by pulling the right strings, siding with the right families, and swimming the right channels, then it should matter less what we call them — political dynasties, cronies, or oligarchs — and more what we do to take back that power.


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