Pub. date: 2010 | Online Pub. Date: May 06, 2010 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412958660 | Print ISBN: 9781412958653 | Online ISBN: 9781412958660| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
The term aristocracy derives from the ancient Greek aristokratia , or “rule by the best.” In modern usage, it normally designates a ruling elite whose political powers and wealth are invested with titles and privileges and transmitted through hereditary succession. Modern parlance reflects the term's original meaning insofar as it plays on a moral contrast between aristocratic powers, legitimated by the responsibility and self-restraint supposedly attendant on good breeding, and oligarchic powers, acquired through ambition, calculation, eager new money, and similar vices, which are thought to prevail in self-appointed or otherwise illegitimate regimes. In ancient Greece, however, no actual group of people or government was known officially under the designation aristocracy. Exclusive gentile clans of the kind familiar from later European history, with hereditary status and landholdings that depended on royal grant or sanction, never existed, despite the longevity and pretence of some prominent families. The term aristocracy was The ...