Oligarchy Vs Plutocracy

Oligarchy vs Plutocracy – Understanding the Key Differences

When it comes to understanding the political structures of different societies, two terms that often crop up are Oligarchy and Plutocracy. Both of these terms relate to forms of government and ruling elites, but they differ in some significant ways.

In this article, we’ll explore the meanings of Oligarchy and Plutocracy, their differences, and their various criticisms.

Oligarchy – An Overview

Oligarchy refers to a form of government in which power is solely held by a small group of people, usually from a specific social class, ethnic background, or lineage. These individuals or groups are often wealthy and influential, with significant control over the government, the economy, and society at large.

In this type of system, the ruling elite often works together to maintain power through various means, such as limiting access to education or controlling the media, the judiciary, or the military. While the ruling elite may permit some degree of participation by ordinary citizens in some parts of the government or society, they will invariably maintain control.

Historically, many societies have been oligarchies, from Ancient Greece and Rome to modern-day Afghanistan and Russia.

Plutocracy – An Overview

Plutocracy refers to a society or government in which the wealthy hold substantial political and economic power. The term ‘plutocracy’ comes from the Greek islands of Plato, which means ‘rule by the wealthy.’

While oligarchies are often based on social status or lineage, plutocracies are about wealth. In this type of system, the rich control and influence policies to serve their interests. They utilize their wealth to win elections, access media sources, and control the economy, among other things.

Like oligarchies, plutocracies can span different types of societies, with both democracies and authoritarian societies exhibiting plutocratic tendencies.

Differences Between Oligarchy and Plutocracy

Despite some overlap, Oligarchy and Plutocracy differ significantly. Here are some of the most crucial differences between these two types of political structures:

1. Basis of Power: The primary difference between Oligarchy and Plutocracy is the basis of power. While oligarchies are based on the status, knowledge, and lineage of a small ruling elite, plutocracies are based on wealth alone.

2. Access to Power: In an oligarchy, the ruling elite has full control over the government and society, while in a plutocracy, the wealthy class only possesses a great deal of influence.

3. Inclusivity: Oligarchies often exclude large portions of the population from participating in government, whereas plutocracies frequently allow a degree of inclusivity, based on the personal wealth of the individuals.

4. Criticism: Both Oligarchy and Plutocracy have faced their fair share of criticism. However, the latter has faced more severe criticism because of the increasing inequality and erosion of democracy in plutocratic societies.

FAQs on Oligarchy Vs Plutocracy

1. What are the criticisms of Oligarchy?

Oligarchies have faced considerable criticism throughout history. Most concerns are about the lack of democracy, inclusivity, and representation. Since only a small group of people hold political power, the majority of citizens may find themselves powerless and ignored.

Critics have also pointed out that oligarchies, by definition, seek to maintain the status quo, making them reluctant to implement any significant policy changes to help their citizens or address societal problems.

2. How do Plutocrats maintain political power?

Plutocrats use various means to maintain political power. They use their wealth to control the media, sway public opinion, and finance political campaigns, giving them enormous leverage over the political system.

They can also influence decision-making in other ways, such as control over regulatory agencies, or through their extensive lobbying practices.

3. Do oligarchies and plutocracies exist in democracies?

Yes, both Oligarchy and Plutocracy are common features of democratic societies, particularly when the system lacks adequate protections or checks against power accumulation.

In a country like the United States, for example, which has a democratic system, the increasing concentration of power amongst the ultra-wealthy has led to concerns over plutocracy and diminished democracy.


Oligarchy and Plutocracy are two political structures that can be found across a wide range of societies. While these two types of governments share some similarities, they differ significantly, particularly in their basis of power and inclusivity.

Critics of Oligarchy and Plutocracy point out the potential for power abuse, lack of democratic representation, and an unequal distribution of power and resources.

As we move further into the 21st century, societies will continue to navigate between oligarchy and plutocracy while trying to maintain a balance of power and representation that works for all citizens.