What is an Oligarchy and Why Is Everyone Suddenly Using That Term?
Recently, I wrote an essay asking people to stop using the word “democracy” to describe the U.S.’s form of government when, in fact, we actually have a “republic.” Several commenters wanted to skip the “republic” label altogether and adopt a term that they felt more appropriate: oligarchy.
What Does It Mean?
noun, plural ol·i·gar·chies.
1. a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.
Does the word sound familiar? That’s no surprise: in the past couple of weeks, pundits, activists, and reporters have all either added “oligarchy” to their vocabularies or started using the word much more frequently.
Then again, perhaps it just sounds familiar because you recognize your own form of government in the description. You certainly wouldn’t be alone, anyway.
“Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens,” a study to be formally published later this year, is already being cited all over the internet. Professors at Princeton and Northwestern Universities extensively researched the structures of government and ultimately concluded that the United States most accurately fits the parameters of an oligarchy more than a democracy.
While the authors argue that certain elements of democracy are in place, the wealthy have far more influence over governmental decisions than most citizens ever could. They point to a startling statistic – legislation opposed by America’s elite only manages to pass 18 percent of the time. That figure applies even when the majority of Americans want to see that legislation enacted.
The Supreme Court is Reinforcing this New Order
Many viewed the highest court’s infamous Citizen’s United decision as a way of removing power from the average citizen and giving more influence to the 1%. With the addition of the recent McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission ruling, it reaffirms that the justices are content to see a rich few have limitless powers to manipulate elections.
The notion that not capping campaign donations is somehow an issue of “free speech” comes at the cost of most Americans’ actual free speech. How do citizens get their voice heard when a powerful minority of Americans is able to buy far more “free speech” and drown out the voices of the middle and lower classes?
Even Some Politicians Agree
You might assume that all U.S. Senators would have faith in the system they work for, but that’s not the case. In a speech on the Senate Floor this month, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “I do not believe that democracy is about a handful of billionaires, such as the Koch brothers or Sheldon Adelson, being in a position in which they can spend as much money as they want on any political race in the country. It is very hard for me to imagine how anybody could defend that as being democracy. It is not. It is oligarchy.”
You Already Sensed the Oligarchy without Necessarily Knowing the Word
Public surveys have demonstrated that Americans feel an oligarchy even if they’ve never said the word. The majority believes that the system is “rigged” in favor of the affluent. On polls, the rich say that politicians do represent their viewpoints, while the middle class says politicians do not actually represent their desires.
Do you agree? Do you consider the government to be run by and for America’s wealthy rather than all of its citizens?