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A group of people who form an ascending chain of power or authority.

Officers in a government, for example, form an escalating series of ranks or degrees of power, with each rank subject to the authority of the one on the next level above. In a majority of hierarchical arrangements, there are a larger number of people at the bottom than at the top.

Originally, the term was used to mean government by a body of priests. Currently, a hierarchy is used to denote any body of individuals arranged or classified according to capacity, authority, position, or rank.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

HIERARCHY, eccl. law. A hierarchy signified, originally, power of the priest; for in the beginning of societies, the priests were entrusted with all the power but, among the priests themselves, there were different degrees of power and authority, at the summit of which was the sovereign pontiff, and this was called the hierarchy. Now it signifies, not so much the power of the priests as the border of power.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
References in periodicals archive ?
By examining how educational cultures regard and arrange differences of any sort (employee categories, disciplines, pedagogy, world views, etc.), workshop participants can describe the difficulties and complications when someone with a pluralistic point of view becomes a part of an organization that either emphasizes similarities (universalism) or categorizes differences (hierarchism).
This central hypothesis, which presumably has reached its most precise and considered articulation in the book currently under review, is that the classical economists' belief in human homogeneity and their presumption that humans have the same capacity to make rational decisions (a presumption that the authors call analytical egalitarianism) was challenged in the middle of the nineteenth century by a number of individuals who believed in human difference and who presumed that humans have different capacities to make appropriate decisions (a presumption that the authors call analytical hierarchism).
Furthermore, this study counteracts or questions traditional Japanese notions on a number of issues such as hierarchism in the context of family-professional relationships, which has been accepted and taken for granted historically (Kodama, 1998).
The stabilizing value of such a benevolent hierarchism is even greater in the novel's portrayal of mistress-servant relationships, as it works to defuse the potential class antagonisms that marked labor relations in the 1830s.