“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” – Sir Winston Churchill
As a writer and self-proclaimed wordsmith, I love making new discoveries in the English language. Thanks to my friend Robert, I recently learned the word kakistocracy, “government by the worst.” (This should not be confused with khakistocracy, a word recently coined to define rule by the military.) Kakistocracy originated in the 1800s as an antonym to aristocracy, which translates literally as “government by the best.” Unfortunately, aristocracy was co-opted by the nobility and upper class of society, many of whom probably were closer to kakisto than aristo.
This got me wondering exactly how many forms of -ocracies I could find, and to my surprise, there are dozens, from the sensible to the silly.
Democracy is a term most Americans are familiar with. Rule by the people. There are many who believe that the United States is a democracy, but it is not. The power is not in the hands of the people, but instead is held by representatives that people vote for. The U.S. is actually a representative republic. In a true democracy, every person’s voice would be heard, and the majority would rule. Rule by majority is also known as arithmocracy. This type of government could quickly become a mobocracy, also known as an ochlocracy (ochlo is the Greek word for mob), if rules and laws are not put in place to protect the minority voices.
Some will say money rules the world. That’s known as argentocracy. Argent derives from the Latin term argentum, meaning silver. (This is why the symbol for silver is Ag, in case you were wondering.) Government by the wealthy can also be called chrysocracy — chryso coming from the Greek word for gold — or if you want to add nobility to it, it can be called a chrysoaristocracy. If the ruling class has neither gold nor silver, it can call itself a plutocracy or a plousiocracy, pluto and plousio being Greek words meaning wealth. But if Greek isn’t your thing, there’s always moneyocracy. Millionocracy is rule by millionaires, although it could work just as well for a ruling class consisting of a million people.
Color of skin can also determine the ruling class, which would be called a chromatocracy or pigmentocracy. A specific example would be albocracy, government by white people. Ethnocracy is rule by one particular race or ethnic group.
Theocracy, or government by religious law, can also go by the names hagiocracy, derived from the Greek word for holy, or hierocracy, derived from the Greek word for sacred. Statocracy, on the other hand, is rule with no religious influence.
There are also terms for gender-based rule. For men, there is a phallocracy and androcracy. For women, gynocracy, gynaecocracy, and metrocracy (government by mothers).
Government can range from the aged (gerontocracy) to the infantile (paedocracy or infantocracy), from the many (polycracy) to the one (monocracy or autocracy), and even from the strict (pedantocracy) to the whimsical (anemocracy — literally government by the wind).
There are also plenty of descriptions for rule based on professions. Beerocracy (rule by brewers or brewing interests), cottonocracy, millocracy, plantocracy (rule by plantation owners, not vegetation), and capelocracy (rule by shopkeepers) are just a few examples.
While many of the above listed forms of rule can be either good or evil, depending on the rulers, there are some definitions for systems that are based on oppression and evil. Chirocracy, rule by physical force, is an example. It is derived from the Greek word chiro, meaning “hand.” There’s also despotocracy (despots), kleptocracy (thieves) and its cousin narcokleptocracy (illegal drug traders).
And the list goes on and on. There are names for systems which are ruled by slaves or by snobs, by beggars or beasts. But I would like to close out this list with the most important one — idiocracy.
I know it sounds like a government ruled by idiots. There’s even a movie by that title based on that notion. But the original term is derived from the Greek (again!) word idios, meaning personal. Idiocracy is self-rule and it’s ultimately the only type of government on this planet over which we truly have any control.