Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Polyarchy Definition:

Rule by a group of three or more.

Related Terms: Democracy

The term polyarchy is of modern vintage and is credited to Yale University professor Robert Dahl to describe a state governed, if not ruled, by several persons, sometimes of a group or a class of people. According to Dahl, the group had to be at least composed of three people to constitute a polyarchy.

Polyarchy is mostly used to distinguish or authenticate by use of a unique technical term, the theory that modern democracies such as the USA and other similar democracies, are not de facto democracies (as the theory goes) managed and directed by a financially elite group of wealthy power-brokers including corporations.

According to Naom Chomski, the well-known American philosopher:

“A polyarchy is a system in which power resides in the hands of those who manage and hold the wealth of the nation; the responsible class of men. The rest of the population is fragmented."

"Polyarchy and capitalism would appear to go hand in hand," wrote Richard Krouse, Professor of Political Science at Williams College, in his article, Some (Further) Dilemmas of Pluralist Democracy, adding, "all polyarchal regimes have been capitalist, although not all capitalist regimes have been polyarchal."


  • Dahl, Robert, Polyarchy, (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale
    University Press. 1971).
  • Krouse, Richard W., Some (Further) Dilemmas of Pluralist Democracy, 2 Yale L. & Pol'y Rev. 167 (1983-1984)
  • Chomski, Naom, quoted in the motion picture Ethos (released 2011), McGrain, Pete, writer, director and co-producer. Ethosthemovie.com

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!