European Journal of Political Theory 18 (3):393-414 (2019)
AbstractThis essay identifies ‘oligarchic harm’ as a dire threat confronting contemporary democracies. I provide a formal standard for classifying oligarchs: those who use personal access to concentrated wealth to pursue harmful forms of discretionary influence. I then use Aristotle to think through both the moral and the epistemic dilemmas of oligarchic harm, highlighting Aristotle’s concerns about the difficulties of using wealth as a ‘proxy’ for virtue. While Aristotle’s thought provides great resources for diagnosing oligarchic threats, it proves less useful as a guide to democratic institutional design. Aristotle raises a deep-seated objection to democratic forms of ‘rule by the poor.’ A successful response to oligarchy must move beyond Aristotle’s objection and affirm the demos’ tripartite status as many, free, and poor. I briefly outline the terms of this ‘new’ mixed regime: one that seeks to tame oligarchy through a mixture of aggregative, deliberative, and plebeian institutions.
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