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  • Christopher Strain

Know Your Oligarchy


This week I learned a new word. The average person uses only 1000 words or so to convey meaning in daily speech. So I’m considering it a win to add a word to my working vocabulary.


Kritarchy means “rule by judges.” Seems like a handy word to know these days.


The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2021-2022 came to an end Thursday morning after it issued its last two rulings. The term ended with the Court’s conservative majority getting rid of major precedents—most notably Roe v. Wade—and setting new ones on religion, guns, and climate change. With a 6-3 supermajority, the next term, set to start in October, could be equally momentous.


Kritarchy is a kind of oligarchy, or rule by the few. There are many different forms of oligarchy in addition to kritarchy. Plutocracy, for example, is rule by the wealthy. Elon Musk is where plutocracy meets technocracy (rule by technical experts).


Kleptocracy is rule by corrupt leaders who use political power to appropriate wealth (as in a banana republic). Theocracy is rule by religious leaders. Kraterocracy is rule by the strong; stratocracy, or rule by the military, is one form.


There are other less onerous forms of oligarchy too, including geniocracy (rule by the intelligent), timocracy (rule by the honorable, which is quite close to meritocracy, a form of government where leaders are chosen based on ability and contribution), and—Plato’s favorite—noocracy (rule by the wise).


The current Court’s judicial activism may deepen cracks in American society. If we have entered a new era of judicial rule, then let us hope for a blend of kritarchy and noocracy.

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