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The King of France, Louis XIV receives the future King of Poland, Augustus III in Fontainebleau

Aristocracy is a kind of government. In Ancient Greek, the word aristocracy means the rule of the best. There are many different kinds of aristocracy with many different ways the government is set up. What all of them have in common is that a small group of people have the political and legal power over a larger group. In history, most aristocracies are hereditary. Members of the ruling group have been able to put their children in the ruling group. Aristocracy can be combined with other kinds of government.

How it works

  • autocracy - (all power in one person) Aristocracies in an autocratic society tend to be very small, usually only the autocrat's family or close friends.
  • meritocracy - (rule by those who most deserve to rule) The aristocracy is usually a group of people with special credentials or those who went to a particular school. It is possible to lose your place in the ruling group because someone with better skills replaced you.
  • plutocracy - (rule by the wealthy) The aristocracy is usually made up of the richest people. Sometimes it is not enough just to be rich, you must also be from a special family or ethnic group.
  • oligarchy - (rule by the few) All aristocracies are also oligarchies.
  • monarchy - (inherited rule by a single individual) The monarch and his or her relatives are usually the aristocracy. Also, the monarch has the power to make anyone he or she chooses part of the ruling group. Sometimes the current monarch is replaced by another aristocrat and their family.
  • democracy - (rule by the people) There are usually not official groups of aristocrats in a democracy. However, rich and famous people sometimes informally form a group of people who get special treatment with the consent of everyone else.