Gerontocracy – What is it, definition and concept

A gerontocracy is a form of government, which is headed by elders. It is often used to describe a government whose leaders are quite old.

The term gerontocracy, etymologically speaking, comes from the Greek. Then gerontos means old man, while Kratos means Government. So we literally speak of the “Government of the Elders.” Thus, it is convenient to point out that it is not only a concept that is used in the governmental sphere, as it can also be used in other types of institutions or, even, companies.

Gerontocracy is a phenomenon that occurs in some areas and, in part, it is normal or common for this to occur. This, due to the fact that those who have more experience and, therefore, occupy a position in the management, are also the same who have a higher age, so it is logical that this form of government is selected, leaving the management composed of those older people.

Gerontocracy in Ancient Greece

The philosophers Plato and Aristotle defended gerontocracy as a desirable form of government, although, in some cases, they did not explicitly state it.

For Plato, the ideal government was an aristocracy headed by philosophers. These were, according to the thinker, the wisest and most qualified to make the decisions of the polis. And these philosophers, because of their background and experience, were people of advanced age.

For Aristotle, the oldest were also the best to deliberate on political issues. On the contrary, young men, because of their vigor, were perfect for war and all that it entailed.

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Examples of gerontocracy in dictatorships

The fact that the elderly are in power is a fairly palpable trend in undemocratic regimes. The leader believes that he is above all and that he is the most suitable to lead the country. That is why dictators tend to last to a long time.

In the cases in which this does not occur, it is in those regimes that have previously collapsed, or in those in which their leader has died prematurely.

Let’s see some examples:

  • Cuba: Since the success of the 1959 Revolution, the Castros have been in command of the island. Fidel arrived with the triumph of the revolution, and he was in the leadership of the country until 2008, for forty-nine years. Although he maintained the party’s secretariat until 2011. Finally, he died in 2016. Upon his death, he was succeeded by his brother Raúl, who ruled until 2018, at the age of 87.
  • Spain: After the victory of the national side in the Spanish Civil War, Franco would proclaim himself caudillo and head of state until his death in 1975, at the age of 82 and after having tried to extend his life to the maximum in a totally artificial way. He held the presidency of the Government for up to two years before dying.
  • USSRIn the USSR, the Politburo was the highest government body, although it was always headed by a president. In the 80s, such was the age of its components that, throughout the decade, many of them die. Brezhnev, for example, died in 1982 at the age of 75 as president.
  • North Korea: North Korea has governed the Kim dynasty since before the beginning of the war, since 1948. He remained in office until his death in 1994, at the age of 82. He was succeeded by his son Kim Jong Il, who also held the position until his death in 2011 at the age of 70.
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