Dictionnaire Constitutionnel

Authors: Duhamel & Mény
Summary: In about 940 words the meaning of the term and its development, above all in relationship with the ‚lite theories, are presented. From Greek, the term oligarchy indicates the government of the few, opposed to the government of an individual (monarchy) and of people (democracy). In its specifications the term can mean the governement of the richest (plutocracy) or of the best (aristocracy). Anyway both govern for their own interest.
During the 19th century the term began to indicate more often the ruling and exerting power class in political parties organizations or in the state rather than a form of governement.
From the analysis of how power was actually distributed in a society the ‚lite theories developed (Michels, Pareto, Mosca). According to them representation is a fiction and parliamentarism is a legend. It was Michels that set, on the basis of organization studies, the "iron law of oligarchy". It is indeed the organization principle that culminates in establishing a domination of the elected on the electors. The natural propensity to concentration and to power competition contribute not only to the dominant ‚lite formation but also to its standing reproduction. The only way to escape the iron law is to set the object, the ways and the duration of the sovereignity delegation. The opposite case negates democracy.
Against the elitist theories, Dahl and Aron propose the idea of a social and political pluralism, formed by the presence of many coexisting competitive ‚lites (poliarchy).