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For centuries, oligarchs were viewed as empowered by wealth, an idea muddled by elite theory early in the twentieth century. The common thread for oligarchs across history is that wealth defines them, empowers them and inherently exposes them to threats. The existential motive of all oligarchs is wealth defense. How they respond varies with the threats they confront, including how directly involved they are in supplying the coercion underlying all property claims and whether they act separately or collectively. These variations yield four types of oligarchy: warring, ruling, sultanistic and civil. Moreover, the rule of law problem in many societies is a matter of taming oligarchs. Cases studied in this book include the United States, ancient Athens and Rome, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, medieval Venice and Siena, mafia commissions in the United States and Italy, feuding Appalachian families and early chiefs cum oligarchs dating from 2300 BCE.


“Jeffrey Winters ranges across the world and through history in this fascinating and illuminating work on an ancient, and yet surprisingly contemporary phenomenon: oligarchy. A model of comparative politics and history, this book is particularly impressive in its deft analysis of how democracy is often quite congenial for oligarchs.”
—Bruce Cumings, University of Chicago, author of Dominion from Sea to Sea: Pacific Ascendancy and American Power

“It is hard to imagine anyone writing about the concept of oligarchy in the future without drawing on the rich and nuanced discussion in this book.”
—William Gamson, Boston College

“This is a breath of fresh air that takes the study of politics back to the core questions of how power is constructed and defended and who rules. In this book, Jeffrey Winters argues that the concentration and protection of wealth by oligarchies is central in understanding the operation of politics throughout history. This is an intellectually ambitious work that is backed up by sophisticated theory, by command of a vast literature and some incisive empirical work. It is also highly interesting as we move through the complex manifestations of oligarchy from ancient Rome and the mediaeval city states of Europe to the dictators of contemporary Indonesia and the Philippines. And in case we think of oligarchy as a pre-modern form of politics or that oligarchs are not important if they are not in actual possession of the state, the author demonstrates how oligarchy is also at the heart of modern capitalist politics in places such as US and Singapore.”
—Richard Robison, Murdoch University

“An elegant work in comparative politics, Oligarchy returns to an ancient political category to challenge our ways of thinking about political power. This book changes the conceptual and theoretical landscape for political theorists, political scientists, and everyone who thinks seriously about democracy. This is a great book, a model of scholarship and bold thinking.”
—Joan C. Tronto, University of Minnesota

“Known for his serious critiques of the Suharto regime in Indonesia, Jeffrey Winters has now built on his in-depth knowledge of Suharto’s manner of ruling to construct a system for categorizing oligarchies that he shows to be useful for understanding other states in Southeast Asia, but also for the United States and for governments in ancient and Renaissance times. This book should lead international business managers to new ways of thinking about politics.”
—Louis T. Wells, Harvard Business School

"Jeffrey A. Winters’s Oligarchy is.... ambitious in its historical range and the boldness of its argument. In a fascinating synthesis, Winters shows how seemingly disparate historical cases fit into a coherent analysis of the political struggles involving concentrated wealth."
—Paul Starr, Princeton University, The New Republic

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