1 a privileged class holding hereditary titles [syn: nobility]
2 the most powerful members of a society [syn: gentry]
- a UK /ˈæ.ɹɪˌstɒk.ɹə.si/, /"
Aristocracy is a hereditary form of government, where rule is established through an internal struggle over who has the most status and influence over society and internal relations. Power is maintained by a hereditary elite, from a caste, class, family (or even some individuals).
Aristocracies have most often been hereditary plutocracies (see below), with a belief in their own superiority. Aristocracies often include a monarch who although a member of the aristocracy rules over the aristocracy as well as the rest of society. Aristocracy can also refer to the highest class in society even if they do not rule directly. They are usually under the leaders of the country in the ladder of status.
The term "aristocracy" is derived from the Greek aristokratia, meaning the rule of the best.
HistoryThe term "aristocracy" was first given in Athens to young citizens (the men of the ruling class) who led armies from the front line. Since military bravery was such a highly regarded virtue in ancient Greece, it was assumed that the armies were being led by "the best". From the ancient Greeks, the term passed on to the European Middle Ages for a similar hereditary class of military leaders often referred to as the "nobility". As in ancient Greece, this was a slave-holding class of privileged men whose military role allowed them to present themselves as the most "noble", or "best".
In India, these men are usually of the martial or Kshatriya caste such as the Gujjars and Rajputs and their sub-divisions.
In the Islamic world, the aristocratic caste of Sayyid belongs exclusively to the descendants of Muhammad's immediate family babys and extends to all classes of society. This is usually distinguished from the ordinary use of "Sayyid" to mean 'Sir' or 'Lord'.
The French Revolution attacked aristocrats as people who had achieved their status by birth rather than by merit, such as being considered unjust. The term had become synonymous with people who claim luxuries and privileges as a birthright. In the United Kingdom and other European countries in which hereditary titles are still recognised, "aristocrat" still refers to the descendant of one of approximately 7,000 families with hereditary titles, usually still in possession of considerable wealth, though not necessarily so.
In the United States and other nations without a history of a hereditary military caste, aristocracy has taken on a more stylistic meaning. It also can refer to those, like the Roosevelts, whose families came to the United States early in its history, acquired large holdings and have been able to hang onto their wealth through many generations. In the American south, particularly in former Confederate states, the term southern aristocracy refers to those families that acquired large land holdings before the Civil War and remain wealthy landowners to this day, or to families that lost their wealth in the 19th century but continue to insist on deference. In some cases, especially the latter, the usage is pejorative and refers to purveyors of snobbery, but "aristocrat" can also refer to an elegant person with a gracious lifestyle and strong sense of duty.
Comparison with other forms of governmentAs a government term, aristocracy can be compared with:
- autocracy - "rule by a single individual", such as a dictator or absolute monarch.
- meritocracy - "rule by those who most deserve to rule". While this appears to be the same as the original meaning of "aristocracy", the term "meritocracy" has usually implied a much more fluid form of government in which one is, at most, considered "best" for life, but must continually prove one's "merit" in order to stay in power. This power is not passed on to descendants.
- plutocracy - "rule by the wealthy". In actual practice, aristocrats' wealth allows them to portray their own virtues as the "best" ones. Usually, this wealth is passed down through inheritance, and in countries like England may be kept intact through primogeniture, in which the oldest child (usually first male) inherits the bulk of the wealth and titles.
- oligarchy - "rule by the few". Whether an aristocracy is also an oligarchy depends entirely upon one's idea of what is a "few".
- monarchy - "rule by a single individual". Historically, the vast majority of monarchs have been aristocrats themselves. However, they have also been very often at odds with the rest of the aristocracy, since it was composed of their rivals. The struggle between a ruling dynastic family and the other aristocratic families in the same country has been a central theme of medieval history.
- democracy - "rule by the majority". Democracy and aristocracy are incompatible as forms of government due to the hereditary nature of power in an aristocratic system. Exclusion of this was Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, where kind of democracy of nobility (szlachta) existed.
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aristocracy in Arabic: أرستقراطية
aristocracy in Bosnian: Aristokratija
aristocracy in Bulgarian: Аристокрация
aristocracy in Catalan: Aristocràcia
aristocracy in Danish: Aristokrati
aristocracy in German: Aristokratie
aristocracy in Estonian: Aristokraatia
aristocracy in Spanish: Aristocracia
aristocracy in Esperanto: Aristokratio
aristocracy in Basque: Aristokrazia
aristocracy in Persian: آریستوکراسی
aristocracy in French: Aristocratie
aristocracy in Galician: Aristocracia
aristocracy in Croatian: Aristokracija
aristocracy in Indonesian: Aristokrasi
aristocracy in Icelandic: Aðalsveldi
aristocracy in Italian: Aristocrazia
aristocracy in Hebrew: אריסטוקרטיה
aristocracy in Georgian: არისტოკრატია
aristocracy in Latvian: Aristokrātija
aristocracy in Lithuanian: Aristokratija
aristocracy in Hungarian: Arisztokrácia
aristocracy in Macedonian: Аристократија
aristocracy in Dutch: Aristocratie
aristocracy in Japanese: 貴族制
aristocracy in Norwegian: Aristokrati
aristocracy in Norwegian Nynorsk: Aristokrati
aristocracy in Polish: Arystokracja
aristocracy in Portuguese: Aristocracia
aristocracy in Romanian: Aristocraţie
aristocracy in Russian: Аристократия
aristocracy in Simple English: Aristocracy
aristocracy in Slovenian: Aristokracija
aristocracy in Serbian: Аристократија
aristocracy in Serbo-Croatian: Aristokracija
aristocracy in Finnish: Aristokratia
aristocracy in Swedish: Aristokrati
aristocracy in Thai: อภิชนาธิปไตย
aristocracy in Turkish: Aristokrasi
aristocracy in Ukrainian: Аристократія
aristocracy in Chinese: 贵族制
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