A privileged social class whose members possess disproportionately large shares of a society's wealth, social prestige, educational attainment and political influence, with these advantages having been acquired principally through gift or inheritance from a long line of similarly privileged and cultivated ancestors. The term refers also to a form of government in which the state is effectively controlled by the members of such a class. The term tends to have a somewhat unsavory or derogatory connotation today in the light of democratic theories, but in classical political philosophy it meant rule by “the best people” of the society, who were expected to feel a paternalistic concern for the humbler members of the society that would keep them from ruling in a purely self-seeking fashion.

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