Ochlocracy (Greek: οχλοκρατία or okhlokratía; Latin: ochlocratia) or mob rule is government by mob or a mass of people, or the intimidation of legitimate authorities. As a pejorative for majoritarianism, it is akin to the Latin phrase mobile vulgus meaning "the fickle crowd", from which the English term "mob" was originally derived in the 1680s.[1]

Ochlocracy ("rule of the general populace") is democracy ("rule of the people") spoiled by demagoguery, "tyranny of the majority" and the rule of passion over reason, just like oligocracy ("rule of a few") is aristocracy ("rule of the best") spoiled by corruption. Ochlocracy is synonymous in meaning and usage to the modern, informal term "Mobocracy," which emerged from a much more recent colloquial etymology.



The term appears to have been coined by Polybius in his Histories (6.4.6).[2] He uses it to name the 'pathological' version of popular rule in opposition to the good version, which he refers to as democracy. There are numerous mentions of the word "ochlos" in the Talmud (where "ochlos" refers to anything from "mob," "populace" to "armed guard"), as well as in Rashi, a Jewish commentary on the Bible. The word is recorded in English since 1584, derived from the French ochlocratie (1568), which stems from the original Greek okhlokratia, from okhlos "mob" and kratos "rule, power, strength"

In ancient Greek political thought ochlocracy was considered as one of the three "bad" forms of government (tyranny, oligarchy and ochlocracy) as opposed to the three "good" forms of government (monarchy, aristocracy and democracy). The distinction between "good" and "bad" was made according to whether the government form would act in the interest of the whole community ("good") or special interests ("bad").

An ochlocrat is one who is an advocate or partisan of ochlocracy. It can also be used as an adjective (ochlocratic or ochlocratical).

The threat of "mob rule" to a democracy is restrained by ensuring the rule of law protects minorities or individuals against short-term demagoguery or moral panic.

Mobs in history

Historians often comment on mob rule as a factor in the rise of Rome and its maintenance, as the city of Rome itself was large—between 100,000 and 250,000 citizens—while the aristocracy and even military was very small by comparison to the citizenry. With weapons also being crude, a military force did not exist that could have dealt with a revolt from the larger populace. There was a constant need to keep people fed, distracted, and in awe of the power of the state. Those who could do this, ruled not only Rome, but the whole of the Roman Empire.

Lapses in this control often led to loss of power, or even the loss of heads, of officials—most notably in the reign of Commodus when Cleander unwisely used the Praetorian Guard against a mob which had come to call for his head. As Edward Gibbon relates it,

The people... demanded with angry clamors the head of the public enemy. Cleander, who commanded the Praetorian Guards, ordered a body of cavalry to sally forth and disperse the seditious multitude. The multitude fled with precipitation towards the city; several were slain, and many more were trampled to death; but when the cavalry entered the streets their pursuit was checked by a shower of stones and darts from the roofs and windows of the houses. The foot guards, who had long been jealous of the prerogatives and insolence of the Praetorian cavalry, embraced the party of the people. The tumult became a regular engagement and threatened a general massacre. The Praetorians at length gave way, oppressed with numbers; and the tide of popular fury returned with redoubled violence against the gates of the palace, where Commodus lay dissolved in luxury and alone unconscious of the civil war... Commodus started from his dream of pleasure and commanded that the head of Cleander should be thrown out to the people. The desired spectacle instantly appeased the tumult...

This followed a previous incident in which the legions of Britain had demanded and received the death of Perennis, the prior administrator. The mob thus realized that it had every chance of success.

The Salem Witch Trials, in which the unified belief of the townspeople overpowered the logic of the law, has also been cited as an example of mob rule.[3] In 1837, Abraham Lincoln wrote about lynching and "the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country--the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions in lieu of the sober judgment of courts, and the worse than savage mobs for the executive ministers of justice."[4]

Mobs used to affect policy

The modern theories of civil disobedience and satyagraha can be differentiated from "mob rule" and its mechanics, as these approaches forego the use of violence and force that the mob of ancient times employed.

Traditional non-violent protest theory holds that if the demonstrators are restrained and do not do any violence, yet refuse to back down, then they could conceivably win, as they either will be joined by the forces they face, be allowed to defy the law or government openly and peacefully, or be physically attacked, struck down, and made into powerful moral symbols of the lengths to which the agents of the state will go to enforce its laws.[5] However, police forces around the world have become adept at making such gatherings irrelevant by limiting them to areas, in some cases dubbed "free speech zones," sufficiently separate from the object of their discontent, the rest of the public, and the media, to make them easily ignored. Permitting requirements in many jurisdictions effectively make demonstrations without advance police permission illegal. Various efforts to increase demonstrators communal intelligence and mobility using cell phone networks and bicycles have been employed to circumvent crowd control and marginalizing techniques with speed. Flash mobs and Critical Mass style "bike block" actions are examples experimented with, with mixed results, notably during the 2004 Republican National Convention.

Modern theory concludes that since Roman guards, facing crucifixion for disobedience, could be swayed by mobs, it is also possible to sway modern police, even in a police state. The 1986 EDSA Revolution in the Philippines, the Velvet Revolution in former Czechoslovakia, and the resistance to the attempted military coup in the Soviet Union in 1991 that led to the dissolution of that state, are situations where it is possible that it was the "mob" which won the day due to defections by authority. [6]

See also


  1. ^ "Mob". Answers.com. http://www.answers.com/mob. Retrieved 2008-11-01. 
  2. ^ "Polybius, Histories, The Rotation of Polities". www.perseus.tufts.edu. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text.jsp?doc=Plb.+6.4&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0234. Retrieved 2008-03-29. 
  3. ^ Mob Rule and Violence in American Culture
  4. ^ Opposition to Mob-Rule. The Writings of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 1
  5. ^ [1] From Dictatorship to Democracy by Gene Sharp
  6. ^ [2] From Dictatorship to Democracy by Gene Sharp
  • Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn (under pseudonym Francis Stuart Campbell), The Menace of the Herd, The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, 1943. (Note where the term "ochlocracy" is used throughout the book.)
  • Chana Shaffer, outline of presentation on ochlacracies for political science society in Touro College. Available on the Touro website www.touro.edu.)
  • EtymologyOnLine

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Ochlocracy — Och*loc ra*cy, n. [Gr. ?; o chlos the populace, multitude + kratei^n to be strong, to rule, kra tos strength: cf. F. ochlocratie.] A form of government by the multitude; a mobocracy; {mob rule}. Hare. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • ochlocracy — index lynch law Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • ochlocracy — (n.) government by the rabble, 1580s, from Fr. ochlocratie (1560s), from Gk. okhlokratia mob rule, from kratos rule, power, strength (see CRACY (Cf. cracy)) + okhlos mob, populace, perhaps lit. moving mass, from PIE *wogh lo , from root *wegh …   Etymology dictionary

  • ochlocracy — [äk läk′rə sē] n. [Fr ochlocratie < Gr ochlokratia < ochlos, a mob, populace + kratia, CRACY] Rare government by the MOB (n. 3); mob rule ochlocrat [äk′lō krat΄] n. ochlocratic adj …   English World dictionary

  • ochlocracy — noun Etymology: Greek & Middle French; Middle French ochlocratie, from Greek ochlokratia, from ochlos mob + kratia cracy Date: 1584 government by the mob ; mob rule • ochlocrat noun • ochlocratic or ochlocratical adjective …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • ochlocracy — ochlocrat /ok leuh krat /, n. ochlocratic, ochlocratical, adj. ochlocratically, adv. /ok lok reuh see/, n. government by the mob; mob rule; mobocracy. [1475 85; < Gk ochlokratía, equiv. to óchl(os) mob + o O + kratia CRACY] * * * …   Universalium

  • ochlocracy — noun /ɒkˈlɒkɹəsi,ɑkˈlɑkɻəsi/ Mob rule; government by the masses; mobocracy …   Wiktionary

  • ochlocracy —  Government by mob rule …   Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors

  • ochlocracy — government by mobs Forms of Government …   Phrontistery dictionary

  • ochlocracy — och·loc·ra·cy || É‘k lÉ‘krÉ™sɪ /É’k lÉ’ n. mob rule, government by the masses …   English contemporary dictionary

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