Aristocracy (20TH CENTURY)

Aristocracy is the theory of hierarchy.

Originally from the Greek ‘rule by the best’, but now attribution of quality to hereditary elites.

In any society there will be a minority of people of superior skill, wisdom, experience and moral fibre. These qualities are likely to be transmitted through families and are thus to all intents and purposes hereditary. It is appropriate that such people should take a leading role in social and political affairs. They have a duty to do so – noblesse oblige – as do others to defer to them.

The aristocracy[1] is a social class that a particular society considers its highest order. In many states, the aristocracy included the upper class of people (aristocrats) with hereditary rank and titles.[2] In some, such as ancient Greece, Rome, and India, aristocratic status came from belonging to a military caste. It has also been common, notably in African societies, for aristocrats to belong to priestly dynasties. Aristocratic status can involve feudal or legal privileges.[3] They are usually below only the monarch of a country or nation in its social hierarchy.[4] In modern European societies, the aristocracy has often coincided with the nobility, a specific class that arose in the Middle Ages, but the term “aristocracy” is sometimes also applied to other elites, and is used as a more generic term when describing earlier and non-European societies.[5]

Etymology

The term aristocracy derives from the Greek ἀριστοκρατία (aristokratia from ἄριστος (aristos) ‘excellent’ and κράτος (kratos) ‘power’).[6] In most cases, aristocratic titles were and are hereditary.

The term aristokratia was first used in Athens with reference to young citizens (the men of the ruling class) who led armies at the front line. Aristokratia roughly translates to “rule of the best born”. Due to martial bravery being highly regarded as a virtue in ancient Greece, it was assumed that the armies were being led by “the best”. This virtue was called arete (ἀρετή). Etymologically, as the word developed, it also produced a more political term: ‘aristoi (ἄριστοι). The term aristocracy is a compound word stemming from the singular of aristoiaristos (ἄριστος), and the Greek word for power, kratos (κράτος).

From the ancient Greeks, the term passed to the European Middle Ages for a similar hereditary class of military leaders, often referred to as the nobility. As in Greece, this was a class of privileged men and women whose familial connections to the regional armies allowed them to present themselves as the most “noble” or “best” of society.

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