An oligarchy is a form of government in which power effectively rests with a small elite segment of society distinguished by royalty, wealth, family, military, or religious hegemony. Oligarchies are often controlled by politically powerful families whose children are heavily conditioned and mentored to be heirs of the power of the oligarchy. These types of states have been tyrannical throughout history, relying on public servitude and complacency in order to exist.
States may be oligarchies de jure or de facto. In de jure oligarchies, an elite group is given power by the law. The law may give only nobility the right to vote, or a theocracy may be ruled by a group of religious leaders. In de facto oligarchies, those with more resources are able to gain political power, despite laws that ostensibly treat all citizens equally. One example of this is a corporate oligarchy, or corporatocracy—a system in which power effectively rests with a small, elite group of inside individuals, sometimes from a small group of educational institutions, or influential economic entities or devices, such as banks, commercial entities, lobbyists that act in complicity with, or at the whim of the oligarchy, often with little or no regard for constitutionally protected prerogative. Monopolies are sometimes granted to state-controlled entities, such as the Royal Charter granted to the East India Company, or privileged bargaining rights to unions (labor monopolies) with very partisan political interests. Today's multinational corporations function as corporate oligarchies with influence over democratically elected officials.
Some contemporary authors have characterized the United States' current state of affairs as being oligarchic in nature. Jeffrey A. Winters argues that "oligarchy and democracy operate within a single system, and American politics is a daily display of their interplay. " Bernie Sanders (I-VT) opined in a 2010 article from The Nation that an "upper-crust of extremely wealthy families are hell-bent on destroying the democratic vision of a strong middle-class which has made the United States the envy of the world. In its place they are determined to create an oligarchy in which a small number of families control the economic and political life of our country. "
In 1994, Nelson Mandela became the first president of South Africa elected in a fully representative election, which marked the end of oligarchic apartheid in that country.
Alexander Lebedev and President Putin
Alexander Lebedev represents a new class of Russian oligarchs, which arose after the fall of communism by taking control of major industries. He is one of the richest people in the world.