An advantage of aristocracy as a form of government is that it prevents political power from residing with one person but rather distributes it among an elite who are theoretically best qualified to rule. A disadvantage is that the political power is not shared by all people, as in a democracy. Additionally, aristocracies tend to pass power on through heredity rather than merit.
Aristocracy is a Greek term meaning "rule of the best." It originated in ancient Greece, where a council of educated leading citizens ruled the rest of the uneducated populace. The ancient Roman Republic and England in the 18th and 19th century followed a similar model of government, which was considered a viable alternative to an absolute monarchy or dictatorship. Since the French Revolution in the late 18th century, however, aristocracy has been contrasted with democracy. During the American Revolutionary War, documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution contrasted the founding fathers' governing concept of democracy with the British concept of hereditary aristocracy.
In practice, aristocracies are often blended with other forms of government. For instance, monarchies in England and medieval Europe had aristocracies to help them govern. Additionally, aristocracies are formed not only of political elite, but also of the elite in other social categories such as intellect or wealth.