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Basic Information

An aristocracy is a form of government where power is held by a small, privileged ruling class. This is distinct from a monarchy where most of the power is held by an individual - while the actual power of an individual aristocrat may vary, they hold power as a group. This term is traditionally associated with hereditary nobility, but this does not have to be the case - indeed, in ancient Greece where the term originated, it implied rule by citizens who were "best suited" to rule1.

The word may also indicate those belonging to an aristocratic class - thus "the aristocracy" used as a typical term of reference for the noble or otherwise upper social class of a given nation.

The term oligarchy (translating from the Greek as "rule of the few") is similar enough that the two terms are more or less interchangeable.

The etymological opposite - a kakistocracy - is less a form of government and more a pejorative term for a political system that appears to grant power to the least appropriate people. Ironically it is far from mutually exclusive with aristocracy.

See Also

  • Blue Rose - a role-playing game that focuses on a land where the aristocrats are chosen by a combination of aptitude tests and a magical test of the nobility of their character



Game and Story Use

  • As with Blue Rose, coming up with unusual requirements for the aristocrats can be fun. To distinguish it from a meritocracy, emphasize the privileges that come from being a member of the aristocracy in addition to the responsibilities.
  • An interesting problem arises whenever an aristocracy arises that operates in parallel to the "official" form of government - examples include rich business owners or "Old Money" families in democracies, but also rich merchant classes in feudal societies. The tension between the "official" and the "unofficial" ruling class will cause a lot of conflict - and thus, adventure and story potential.
  • Note that this form of government is by no means mutually exclusive of others - as already noted, feudal and democratic societies are open to aristocracy of fact if not of theory and republics are particularly prone.
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