In theory, an aristocracy is very different from the way historic practice has described it. Two famous Greek philosophers, Aristotle and Plato, were responsible for coming up with the idea of aristocracy. In their concept, it was meant to be a government where the most capable people were put in direct charge of everything, and it was meant to be a direct contradiction of the Greek democracy system of the time. In practice, there were some difficulties in implementing an aristocratic form of government, mainly due to an inability to determine who was most suited, and it eventually became directly associated with the idea of monarchy.
The idea of aristocracy spread far and wide throughout the world, but most governments decided that the only way to determine if people where capable was to look at their ancestry. If someone’s parents were successful, rich, and prominent, that person would generally be given more privileges and leadership responsibilities, and this continued for generations, regardless of performance. Eventually, this led to a bunch of royal families, and the term aristocracy became more directly related to the idea of monarchs.
There were also other aristocracies that didn’t base things on genetics. In some countries, status was directly based on things like land ownership or wealth, regardless of heritage. In others, it might be related to religious elements. Sometimes there might be a combination of elements that would eventually allow a person to climb into the aristocracy, and some countries had different classes of aristocrats with statuses based on different things.
Many countries eventually decided they didn’t really like the idea of aristocracy. This was mainly because there was generally no fair way to choose worthy leaders to make sure that the very best people were always put in charge. Some people argue that the eventual development of representative democracy is really a kind of aristocracy, only with the people choosing who the most capable leaders are.
In theory, an aristocracy with unlimited power might be able to work, at least for a little while. If the people in charge were truly capable and were working in the best interests of the masses, many experts believe that such a government would be extremely efficient. In practice, many people suggest that corruption often leaks into systems where individuals have too much power without the proper checks and balances, and this might negate many of the potential benefits.