5 Differences Between Autocracy, Oligocracy and Democracy
Politics is part, luckily or unfortunately, of our life. For some, the purest engine of society. For others, a necessary evil. Be that as it may, what we cannot doubt is that the history of political thought dates back to antiquity, especially in Ancient Greece, with the Republic of Plato or the Politics of Aristotle.
Even so, after more than two thousand years, politics has evolved a lot. And this set of activities linked to decision-making by a group that distributes and executes power according to the needs of the society of which it is part is unique in each State.
Depending on the relationship between powers and the constitutional organization model, we have many different political governments: parliamentary monarchies, constitutional monarchies, absolute monarchies, presidential republics, parliamentary republics, dictatorships, theocracies …
Even so, within this huge political conglomerate, all of them are born from the most basic differentiation into three political systems: autocracy, oligocracy or oligarchy, and democracy. Since the time of Aristotle, these are the three main forms of government.
What is Autocracy? And the Oligocracy and Democracy?
Before detailing the main differences between these three concepts in the form of key points, it is interesting and important to put ourselves in context and analyze, individually, what exactly is autocracy, oligocracy and democracy. Let’s go there.
Autocracy: What is It?
Autocracy is the political system that concentrates power in a single figure. It is the power of one. Being deified or not, this person who exercises power performs actions and makes decisions that are not subject to legal restrictions or mechanisms that regulate popular control (people cannot decide anything).
In other words, in autocracy there is a supremacy of a single individual over the society he governs, with absolute power to regulate the laws at his will, knowing that the people will abide by the impositions for fear of the consequences.
The concept as such comes from the Greek autokráteia, where auto means “oneself” and krátos, “power”. In this sense, we can understand it as “the power of oneself”. And so it is, because all political power falls on a person whose will prevails over other public powers and the people.
Obviously, autocracies are very authoritarian governments, with very little (or no) acceptance from the political opposition and any uprising that threatens the ideology of the person who exercises power. Autocracy is found not only in current dictatorships, but also in the old absolute monarchies typical of the Middle Ages.
Oligocracy: What Is It?
The oligocracy or oligarchy is the political system that concentrates power in a group of people. In other words, it is the government in which a few rule. In fact, the concept comes from the Greek oligokráteia, where oligo means “little” and krátos, “power“. And so it is. It is the power of a few.
In this sense, we can understand oligocracy as the form of government in which dominance is exercised by a restricted minority. It will be surprising to know that, regardless of what the laws say, most of the supposed democracies in the world (such as Spain) are, in reality, oligocracies.
In the oligocracy, those who have the hegemony to fight for power are the heads of each political party, but not the people. The leaders of the parties (remember that it is the power of a few) are those who regulate the legislative, judicial and executive spheres.
For this reason, today, there is usually more talk of partitocracy, since political power is exercised by the leaders of these parties. The people only have the power to choose the party, but beyond this, there is no true representation like that required by real democracy.
In other words, the oligocracy is not, by itself, a dictatorship, since it is always linked to voting, not elections. In an oligocracy, you don’t choose. There is no full representation. You can vote, that is, select between some options already given (parties and leaders), but there is no true democracy in the strict sense of the word that we will now analyze.
What is Democracy?
Democracy is the political system that attributes the ownership of power to the whole of the people. In other words, power rests with the citizens. It is that government in which the force belongs to everyone. The term comes from the Greek dēmokratía, where dēmo means “people” and krátos, “people” – The power of the people.
For a government to be a full democracy, decisions are made by the social collective from elections (we have already said the difference with voting) with direct or indirect participation that, ultimately, confer legitimacy to exercise power to some representatives.
Power is not exercised by a small group. Power is exercised by the people, but since assemblies cannot be held with millions of people, they elect (they do not vote among options already given by the leaders) some people who will represent society.
In this sense, we have direct democracy (typical of the times of Ancient Greece where the people held assemblies), representative (political decisions are made by people who have been recognized by the people as representatives) and participatory (they are facilitated systems for the people to exert direct influence on decisions made in the public sphere).
It is the rule of the multitude. The political system that defends the sovereignty of the people above all else and that promulgates the full right of all citizens to choose (and truly choose, not be left with the least bad option through a vote), control and regulate the activity of their representatives in the government.
How are Autocracy, Oligarchy, and Democracy Different?
After individually analyzing the three concepts, surely the differences between them have been more than clear. Even so, in case you want or need to have the information in a more visual way, we have prepared a selection of the main differences between autocracy, oligocracy and democracy in the form of key points.
Autocracy is one’s power
As we have seen, autocracy is the political system that concentrates power in a single figure that may or may not be deified. Own to dictatorships and old monarchies, it is the form of government in which a single person exercises absolute supremacy over the society he directs, making decisions and carrying out actions that are not subject to any type of legal restriction.
Obviously, this does not happen in oligocracies or in democracies, since the autocracy is, of the three political forms, the only one where there is this figure of absolute authority and a null acceptance of both the political opposition and social uprisings that put in danger the supremacy of the autocratic leader.
The Oligarchy is the power of a few
The oligocracy or oligarchy, for its part, is the political system that concentrates power in a group of people, generally the leaders of political parties. Hence, as we have commented, we currently speak of it as partitocracy. Either way, power rests with a few.
Dominion is exercised by a restricted minority. The leaders of the parties (who have not emerged from a real representation of the people) regulate the legislative, judicial and executive spheres. In this oligocracy or partitocracy, those who have hegemony to fight for power are the heads of each political party, but not the people.
There is no authoritarian figure as in the autocracy, but there is no true representation of the people to speak of democracy.
Democracy is the power of all
Democracy, as we well know, is the system of government that attributes ownership of political power to all citizens. Power rests with the people and the decisions made by the collective confer legitimacy to exercise power to some representatives. Those who rule are not the party leaders, but the people, who actually elect their representatives in power. In democracy, we all rule.
That is, power is exercised neither by a single person (autocracy) nor by a small group (oligocracy or partitocracy), but by the people. A people that, as it cannot hold assemblies with millions of people, elects representatives and / or has the facilities to exert direct influence on decisions made in the political sphere.
In the Autocracy, the people have no power to choose or vote.
It has become more than clear that autocracy is an authoritarian form of government. By definition, the autocracy does not allow any kind of popular participation.
Power rests with a single person who controls the entire legislative, judicial and executive power and, in fact, any popular attempt at an uprising is severely punished. The people, unlike what happens in the oligocracy and obviously democracy, do not have any type of power or representation.
In Democracy you choose; in the Oligarchy you vote
Unlike what happens in the autocracy, both in democracy and in oligocracy the people have power. But this power is different. In democracy, let us remember, power falls on the people, who have hegemony to determine the political future of society.
Therefore, in a real democracy, there are elections. The people fully elect their representatives who will act, worth the redundancy, on behalf of said people.
In the oligocracy, this does not happen. Let us remember that power is exercised by a few. There are no real choices. The people cannot choose anything. There are voting. The people vote between different options (political party and party leader), but there is no true representation.
Simply select the option you like the most or, unfortunately and as usual, the one you dislike the least. In an oligocracy, there is no real democracy, because the people vote but do not choose.