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Democracy Ancient and Modern. From Classical Athens to Twenty-First Century America http://faculty.maxwell.syr.edu/cchampion/Maxwell123Athens.ppt. Plan of Lecture. Ancient Greek Democracy: Typologies and Realities Synopsis of Wood Reading “Arithmetical” and “Geometric” Political Equality

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Democracy ancient and modern l.jpg

Democracy Ancient and Modern

From Classical Athens to

Twenty-First Century America

http://faculty.maxwell.syr.edu/cchampion/Maxwell123Athens.ppt


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Plan of Lecture

  • Ancient Greek Democracy: Typologies and Realities

    • Synopsis of Wood Reading

    • “Arithmetical” and “Geometric” Political Equality

    • Athens as Radical, “Arithmetical” Democracy?

  • “Democracy” in Western Political Thought

    • Athenian Dissidents

    • The Federalist

  • The “Alienation” of Democracy (Wood)

    • Size and Democracy (Dahl and Tufte)

    • From Participation to Representation (Alexander Hamilton)

    • Lessons from Ancient Athens


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I: Ancient Greek Democracy

Typologies and Realities


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Synopsis of Wood

  • “The Glorious Revolution established the enduring qualities of democracy—tolerance, respect for the law, for the impartial administration of justice.” (Margaret Thatcher, 1988)

  • “It is a democracy when the free [and poor] are sovereign and an oligarchy [the rule of the few] when the rich are, but it comes about that the sovereign class in a democracy is numerous and that in an oligarchy small because there are many [poor] men of free birth and few rich.” (Aristotle, Politics 1290a)

  • Dēmokratia = “rule of the dēmos (people).”

  • “[T]he progress of modern democracy has been far from unambiguous; for as political rights have become less exclusive, they have also lost much of their power; and the word democracy itself has been domesticated and diluted, emptied of its social content, its reference to the distribution of class power.” (Wood: 60-61)

  • As a political conception, “democracy” has been “alienated” from its original meaning (rule of “laboring, base, and mechanic classes”; that is, the poor) to stand for liberal values: rule of law, constitutionalism, civil liberties, representative government, open markets.


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Ancient Greek Ideas on Equality

  • Numbers in Equations represent relative degree of political power and influence; numbers in parentheses represent degree of wealth and property in relation to the first element:

  • Arithmetical: 1+1(2)+1(4)=Political Equality (Justice)

  • Geometrical: 1+2(2)+4(4)=Political Equality (Justice)

  • “[T]he popular principle of justice is to have equality according to number, not worth, and if this is the principle of justice prevailing, the multitude must of necessity be sovereign and the decision of the majority must be final and must constitute justice, for they say that each of the citizens ought to have an equal share; so that it results that in democracies the poor are more powerful than the rich, because there are more of them and whatever is decided by the majority is sovereign. This then is one mark of liberty which all democrats set down as a principle of the constitution.” (Aristotle, Politics 6.1317b)

  • “Equality itself is unjust” (On Greek-style egalitarianism, which does not consider sufficiently socio-economic gradations and aristocratic ancestral privilege) ~ Cicero, Republic, 1.27.43


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The Case of Athens:Rule of the Dēmos

  • Participatory Democracy: Sovereign Rule of Citizen-Assembly(Aristotle, Politics 1292a-1293a)

    • Assembly examines all public officials (dokimasiai and euthynai)

    • Jury Courts (dikasteriai) are final arbiter, composed of citizens chosen by lot; paid by state for service

    • Payment for attendance at Assembly (4th- Century B.C.E.)

    • Public Liturgies and Antidosis

    • Ostracism


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Dēmos (People) as Jury



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Elitist Elements at Athens(or What Wood Left Out)

  • A “Face-to-Face” Democracy?

    • Total Population in late 5th-century (@350,000)

    • @60,000 citizens (adult males); meeting place of Assembly (Pnyx) accommodated about 6,000

    • Women, Resident Aliens, Slaves Excluded

  • Election of Highest Magistracies

    • “The characteristics of democracy are as follows...that the appointment to all offices, or to all but those that require special experience and skill, should be made by lot.” (Aristotle, Politics 6.1317b)

  • Pledge to Maintain Socio-Economic Status Quo

    • “As soon as the Archon enters upon his office, he proclaims through the public herald that whatever a person possessed before he entered upon his Archonship he will have and possess until the end of his term.” (Aristotle, Constitution of the Athenians 56.2)

  • “Speakers” of the People

    • Few in number at any given time

    • Drawn from socio-economic elite

    • Have had the best education in the art of rhetoric (persuasion and public oratory)

    • Thought to be less susceptible to corruption and bribery


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Elitist Political TheoryRobert Michels and the “Iron Law of Oligarchy”(Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracies)

  • Obstacles to Direct Popular Government

    • Incompetence of the Masses

    • Lack of Time which would be required for Direct Government

  • Indispensability of Elite Leaders

    • Economic Superiority

    • Historical Superiority

    • Intellectual Superiority


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Periclean Athens

  • Pericles, dominates Athenian political life from ca. 445-430 B.C.E. (repeatedly elected general)

  • “It was he who led them, rather than they who led him, and, since he never sought power from any wrong motive, he was under no necessity of flattering them: in fact he was so highly respected that he was able to speak angrily to them and to contradict them. Certainly when he saw that they were going too far in a mood of over-confidence, he would bring back to them a sense of their dangers; and when they were discouraged for no good reason he would restore their confidence. So, in what was nominally a democracy, power was really in the hands of the first citizen.” (Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War 2.65)



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One Last Omission of Wood on Athens:Symbiosis of Democracy and Imperialism

  • The Athenian Naval Empire

  • Importance of Rowers in Fleet to Maintenance of Empire

  • Rowers come from Lowest Socio-Economic Class in Athens (Thetes)

  • Thetes Gain Political Power with Growth of Empire

  • Other Greek States Pay Annual Tribute to Athens

  • Imperial Revenue Finances Experiment in Democracy (payment for participation) and Public Works Projects in Athens (employment for poor Athenian citizens)



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II: Democracy in Western Political Thought

A Uniformly “Bad Press”


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Negative Assessments

  • Western Political Thinkers, from Plato to Federalists, condemn Athenian Democracy

  • Democracy=The Rule of the Mob

  • Democracy=Threat to Social Hierarchies; Economic and Political Leveling; Demagogues; Threats to Property

  • Western Political Thinkers Respond to the “Arithmetical” Typology of Democracy; not Historical Realities of Classical Athens


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Some Views on Dēmokratia

  • “Nothing is more foolish and violent than a useless mob; for men fleeing the insolence of a tyrant to fall victim to the insolence of the unguided populace is by no means to be tolerated. Whatever the one does, he does with knowledge, but for the other knowledge is impossible; how can they have knowledge who have not learned or seen for themselves what is best, but always rush headlong and drive blindly onward, like a river in flood?”

    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.81The Persian Nobleman Megabyzus


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Some Views on Dēmokratia

  • “[T]hey everywhere assign more to the worst persons, to the poor, and to the popular types than to the good men: in this very point they will be found manifestly preserving their democracy. For the poor, the popular, and the base, inasmuch as they are well off and the likes of them are numerous, will increase the democracy; but if the wealthy, good men are well off, the men of the people create a strong opposition to themselves. And everywhere on earth the best element is opposed to democracy.”

    • Pseudo-Xenophon (“Old Oligarch”)


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Some Views on Dēmokratia

  • “Are not popular assemblies frequently subject to the impulses of rage, resentment, jealousy, avarice, and of other irregular and violent propensities? Is it not well known that their determinations are often governed by a few individuals in whom they place confidence, and are, of course, liable to be tinctured by the passions and views of those individuals?”

    • Federalist, number 6


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Some Views on Dēmokratia

  • “Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in theirs deaths.”

    • Federalist, number 10


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Some Views on Dēmokratia

  • “Had every citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.”

    • Federalist, number 14


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III: The “Alienation” of Democracy

Redefinition and Rehabilitation


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City-State

“In order for citizens fully to control the decisions of the polity, they must participate directly in making those decisions.”

“In order to participate directly in making decisions, the number of citizens must be very small.”

Nation-State

“Only the nation-state has the capacity to respond fully to collective preferences.”

“Therefore the nation-state (but no smaller units) should be completely autonomous.”

Dimensions of Democracy (Typologies, Not Historical Realities)(Dahl and Tufte)


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An Ancient Greek (Typological) View

  • “A state (polis) could not consist of ten men, and one composed of 100,000 men would no longer be a state(polis).”

    • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1170b

  • Classical Athens @ 350,000 inhabitants



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Alexander Hamilton, “Notes for a Speech,” New York Ratifying Convention, July 12, 1788

  • “[The American political system is] a representative democracy…“Democracy in my sense, [is] where the whole power of the government [is] in the people, whether exercised by themselves, or by their representatives chosen by them either mediately or immediately and legally accountable to them.”


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Mutability and Appropriationof the Political Conception

  • “It is no less concern than it is important…that the larger the society, provided it lie within a practical sphere, the more duly capable it will be of self-government.”

    • Federalist no. 51 (February 8, 1788)

  • “People-Power” is to be Diffused, Buffered, Tamed (Wood)

  • Hostile Western Political Tradition, from Plato to Hamilton, a Response to a Negative Typology of Democracy (Created by Elites), not to Historical Realities in Classical Athens

  • President George W. Bush’s “National Security Strategy,” published 17 September 2002, stated that the goal of American foreign policy is “to bring the hope of democracy, development, free markets, and free trade to every corner of the world.”

  • At her confirmation hearing as Secretary of State-Designate before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (January 18, 2005), Dr. Condolezza Rice spoke of “a fully democratic hemisphere, bound by common values and free trade.”

  • Dr. Rice employed the words “democracy,” “democratic,” and “democratically” thirty-four times in her brief address. She never stated with any precision what the word is supposed to mean

  • “The concept of democracy has now become wonderfully elastic, permitting liberals to confine it to parliamentary representation and civil liberties, or perhaps even to the ‘alternation of elites’…, leaving intact the gross disparities of class power, while neoliberals and conservatives can identify it with the market. What all these flexible definitions of democracy have in common is the eclipse of its literal meaning.” (Wood: 66)


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Lessons from Classical Athens

  • Negative: Pluralism and Politics of Inclusion, not Privilege and Politics of Exclusion

  • “Office of the Citizen” is an Ideal to be Striven for, not a Reality to be Attained

  • Concern for Justice not only within National Boundaries, but for Justice in terms of America as “Citizen of the World”

  • In other words, questioning whether American democratic privileges and lifestyles are in some sense based on forms of exploitation and injustice among other peoples of the world (as was the case in democratic Athens)


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