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  • A government ruled by a self-appointed social elite that believes in its own superiority. The word aristocracy is Greek in origin (aristos [the best], kratia [rule]). The concept of aristocracy was articulated by the Greek philosopher Plato (428–347 BCE), who developed in his Republic the ideal of a government composed of a council of the intellectually and morally superior members of a society governing for the common good. As the aristocratic concept developed in Medieval Europe, leadership came to belong instead to the wealthy elite, who believed that they were “the best” by means of privileged birthright alone. Plato had rejected this practice of hereditary leadership, believing instead that the aristocracy should be achieved through meritocracy or the recruitment of the intellectually gifted.

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