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From Ancient Greek κάκιστος (kákistos, worst), superlative of κακός (kakós, bad) +‎ -κρατία (-kratía, power, rule, government). The word was used, perhaps re-coined, by the English author Thomas Love Peacock (1785–1866) in his 1829 novella The Misfortunes of Elphin as the opposite of aristocracy (see the quotation).


  • (Received Pronunciation) IPA(key): /kakɪsˈtɒkɹəsɪ/, /kakɪˈstɒ-/
  • (General American) IPA(key): /kækɪsˈtɑkɹəsi/, /kækɪˈstɑ-/
  • Hyphenation: ka‧kis‧to‧cra‧cy
  • (file)


kakistocracy (plural kakistocracies)

  1. (political science) Government under the control of a nation's worst or least-qualified citizens. [from 1829.]
    • 1644, Paul Gosnold, A sermon preached at the publique fast the ninth day of Aug. 1644 at St. Maries, Oxford, Early English Books Online:
      Therefore we need not make any scruple of praying against […] those restlesse spirits who can no longer live, then be stickling and medling; who are stung with a perpetuall itch of changing and innovating, transforming our old Hierarchy into a new Presbytery, and this againe into a newer Independency; and our well-temperd Monarchy into a mad kinde of Kakistocracy.
    • 1829, [Thomas Love Peacock], “The Education of Taliesin”, in The Misfortunes of Elphin, London: Published by Thomas Hookham, Old Bond Street, →OCLC, pages 92–93:
      The people lived in darkness and vassalage. [] they were utterly destitute of the blessing of those "schools for all," the house of correction, and the treadmill, wherein the autochthonal justice of our agrestic kakistocracy now castigates the heinous sins which were then committed with impunity, []
    • 1876 January 19, James Russell Lowell, “To Joel Benton”, in Charles Eliot Norton, editor, Letters of James Russell Lowell, volume II, part I, New York, N.Y.: Harper & Brothers, publishers, published 1894, →OCLC, page 159:
      Is ours a "government of the people, by the people, for the people," or a Kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?
    • 1999, Gang Deng, “Trinary Structure: Origin, Tension and Equilibrium”, in The Premodern Chinese Economy: Structural Equilibrium and Capitalist Sterility (Routledge Explorations in Economic History), London, New York, N.Y.: Routledge, →ISBN, page 159:
      Thus, the problem was not whether corruption/power abuse was allowed, but how to keep a balance between uprightness and kakistocracy.
    • 2000, Tom H. Hastings, Ecology of War & Peace: Counting the Cost of Conflict, Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, →ISBN, page 101:
      Some nation-states have suffered what the Greeks called kakistocracy—government by the worst of men. International law can, in theory if not always in practice, keep these kakistocracies from damaging too much.
    • 2016 November 18, Jamelle Bouie, “Government by the worst men”, in Slate[1], archived from the original on 23 January 2017:
      As we step into this world—as we enter the age of kakistocracy—we should remember one thing. This isn’t a departure from [Donald] Trump's populism. It's the foundation of it. This is what Trump campaigned on.

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