I.3. Oligarchy or Democracy?

  1. Can you distinguish an oligarchy–dictatorship of the elite–from a democracy?
  2. If the oligarchy is gentle, effective at preserving the state in peace and security over the long run, and sympathetic, do you care?
  3. Can an oligarchy, however saintly at the start, maintain itself with such a posture?

Distinguishing oligarchy from democracy. A modern oligarchy will most likely have a constitution; run regular elections characterized by fierce partisan dispute, with each party insisting that it offers a real alternative; and express respect for an open media and freedom of speech. An occasional rich and powerful member of the elite will even be arrested, tried in public court, convicted of fraud, and jailed. An occasional political maverick will win office. Controversy will rage, and all will assure the people that these controversies are critical to life and happiness. So…what’s the difference?

Will the political controversies at the center of the public political stage focus mostly on moral issues and the outrageous crimes of insignificant individuals…without altering the relative wealth of classes or the relative power of groups?

  • How much power will the political maverick trying to clean house acquire, how much change will they be able to implement, once elected?
  • Is society becoming more egalitarian or more clearly differentiated into rich and poor?
  • Does the electoral victory of the other party actually change anything fundamental?
  • Are wars clearly defensive?
  • What groups benefit from the wars that are fought?

These are some of the clues to determine whether you live in an oligarchy or a democracy.

Look at the problem a different way. Imagine a state run by corporate leaders, mafia, freemasons, military officers, and intelligence officials operating unofficially, linked via private and covert ties even as the state functions officially as a democracy. What would be the effects of such a contradiction?


Secrecy permits lawlessness with impunity, and the temptation is hard to resist. Lawlessness eventually will be resisted by the victims, necessitating violence by the elite to win or just to cover up. Questions and consequences:

  • If criminals are not part of the original conspiracy within an elite operating outside the law, is the tendency to involve them a natural progression?
  • Does oligarchical rule promote a rising focus on self-enrichment rather than patriotic acts?
  • Does oligarchical rule promote incompetence by actors freed from oversight? [See Pike Report; Willan 117]
  • Does oligarchical rule promote a short-term focus?
  • Does oligarchical rule promote abuse of authority, offering leaders secret ways of getting things done? [Pike Report; Willan 114]

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