econintersect.com
       
  

FREE NEWSLETTER: Econintersect sends a nightly newsletter highlighting news events of the day, and providing a summary of new articles posted on the website. Econintersect will not sell or pass your email address to others per our privacy policy. You can cancel this subscription at any time by selecting the unsubscribing link in the footer of each email.



posted on 04 June 2016

Ancient Greeks Would Not Recognise Our 'Democracy' They'd See An 'Oligarchy'

from The Conversation

-- this post authored by Paul Cartledge, University of Cambridge

We owe to the ancient Greeks much, if not most of our own current political vocabulary. All the way from anarchy and democracy to politics itself. But their politics and ours are very different beasts. To an ancient Greek democrat (of any stripe), all our modern democratic systems would count as "oligarchy". By that I mean the rule of and by - if not necessarily or expressly for - the few, as opposed to the power or control of the people, or the many (demo-kratia).

That is the case even if - and indeed because - the few happen to be elected to serve by (all) the people. For in ancient Greece elections were considered to be in themselves oligarchic. They systematically favoured the few and, more particularly, the few extremely rich citizens - or "oligarchs", as we now familiarly call them thanks to Boris Berezhovsky and his kind, who are also known as "plutocrats" or just "fat cats".

On the other hand, there are some significant commonalities between ancient and modern ways of thinking politically. To both ancient and modern democrats, for example, freedom and equality are of the essence - they are core political values. However, freedom to an ancient Greek democrat didn't just mean the freedom to participate in the political process but also freedom from legal servitude, from being an actual slave chattel.

Aristotle favoured the democratic model. Jastrow, CC BY

And freedom to participate meant not just the sort of occasional saturnalia that we take to be the key mode of democracy for most of us - a temporary exchange of roles by political masters and slaves come general or local election (or referendum) time. But rather the freedom actually to share political power, to rule on an almost day-to-day basis.

In the fourth century BC(E), the Athenian democratic assembly of 6,000-plus adult male citizens met on average every nine days or so. It was government by mass meeting, but also the equivalent of holding a referendum on major issues every other week.

Equality then and now

Equality today is but a pipe dream at best, at least in socioeconomic terms, when the richest 1% of the world's population owns as much as the remaining 99% put together. They managed these things a whole lot better in ancient Greece, and especially in the ancient Athenian democracy.

Statistical data are lacking - the ancients were notoriously unbureaucratic and they considered direct personal taxation to be a civic insult. But it's plausibly been argued that "Classical" (5th-4th century BCE) Greece and especially Classical Athens were more populous and urbanised societies, with a higher proportion of their population living above the level of mere subsistence - and with a more equal distribution of property ownership - than has been the case in Greece at any time since, or indeed than in pretty much any other pre-modern society.

This does not mean that ancient Greece can supply us with a directly transferable example for democratic imitation - we tend to believe formally in the absolute equality of all citizens at any rate as adult voters, regardless of gender, and not to believe in the validity or utility of the legal enslavement of human beings as chattels.

Plutarch: preferred the notion of monarchy. Odysses, CC BY

However, there are a number of ancient democratic notions and techniques that do seem highly attractive: the use of sortition, for instance - a random method of polling by lottery that aimed to produce a representative sample of elected officials. Or the practice of ostracism - which allowed the population to nominate a candidate who had to go into exile for 10 years, thus ending their political career.

And comparison, or rather contrast, of our democracies with those of ancient Greece does serve to highlight what's been called creeping crypto-oligarchy in our own very different (representative, not direct) democratic systems.

Worst of all possible systems

We are all democrats now, aren't we? Or are we? Not if we consider the following five flaws variously embedded in all contemporary systems.

Most pertinently at the moment, it was possible for the US and the UK to go to war in Iraq in 2003, even though neither US president George W Bush nor the UK prime minister, Tony Blair, had at any point received the endorsement for that decision from the majority of their own citizens.

Churchill: the worst of all possible systems. Pygar1954, CC BY

Citizens in our "democracies" spend up to one-fifth of their lives governed by a party or candidate other than the party or candidate that most of them voted for at the last election. Moreover, elections are not in fact "free and fair": they're nearly invariably won by the side that spends the most money, and thus are more or less corrupted thereby.

When it comes to winning elections, no party has ever come to power without (blatantly self-interested) corporate backing in one shape or another. And, perhaps most damning of all, the vast majority of people are systematically excluded from public decision-making - thanks to vote-skewing, campaign financing and the right of elected representatives simply to ignore with impunity anything that happens in between (local or general) elections.

Democracy in short has changed its meaning from anything like the "people power" of ancient Greece and has seemingly lost its purpose as a reflection let alone realisation of the popular will.

One can well see why Winston Churchill was once moved to describe democracy as the worst of all systems of government - apart from all the rest. But that should be no good reason for us to continue ignoring the widely admitted democratic deficit. Back to the future - with the democrats of ancient Greece.

The ConversationPaul Cartledge, A.G. Leventis Senior Research Fellow, Clare College, University of Cambridge

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

>>>>> Scroll down to view and make comments <<<<<<

Click here for Historical Opinion Post Listing










Make a Comment

Econintersect wants your comments, data and opinion on the articles posted.  As the internet is a "war zone" of trolls, hackers and spammers - Econintersect must balance its defences against ease of commenting.  We have joined with Livefyre to manage our comment streams.

To comment, using Livefyre just click the "Sign In" button at the top-left corner of the comment box below. You can create a commenting account using your favorite social network such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn or Open ID - or open a Livefyre account using your email address.



You can also comment using Facebook directly using he comment block below.





Econintersect Opinion


search_box

Print this page or create a PDF file of this page
Print Friendly and PDF


The growing use of ad blocking software is creating a shortfall in covering our fixed expenses. Please consider a donation to Econintersect to allow continuing output of quality and balanced financial and economic news and analysis.


Take a look at what is going on inside of Econintersect.com
Main Home
Analysis Blog
Joan Robinson’s Critique of Marginal Utility Theory
The Truth About Trade Agreements - and Why We Need Them
News Blog
Down The Drain: Wastewater With The Most Cocaine
Apple's App Store Set For 5 Million Apps By 2020
How Can The UK Government Meet Its Legal Air Pollution Targets?
Most Gun Deaths In The United States Have A Tragic Motive
What We Read Today 08 December 2016
Five Mysterious Space Diseases That Could Kill Astronauts Before They Get To Mars
03 December 2016 Initial Unemployment Claims Rolling Average Insignificantly Worsens
November 2016 CBO Monthly Budget Review: Down by 3 Percent in the First Two Months of Fiscal Year 2017
Putting Grassroots Terrorism In The Proper Perspective
Crude Oil Prices: "Random"? Hardly. The More Emotional The Market, The More Predictable It Is.
Infographic Of The Day: Job-Hopping
Early Headlines: Asia Stocks Up, Oil Firms, Russia's Big Oil Deal, Trump Will Stay In Business, Trump Menaces Drug Cos, Banks Rig Silver, Italy's 360B NPL, Iraq Has Oil Cut Problem, China Trade Improves And More
Goals Come With A Hefty Price Tag At The Emirates
Investing Blog
Investing.com Technical Summary 08 December 2016
Trumpsternomics And Economic Growth
Opinion Blog
Looking At Everything: Trump's $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan
The Global Financial Mess Is Due To Political Failure
Precious Metals Blog
Silver Prices Rebounded Today: Where They Are Headed
Live Markets
08Dec2016 Market Close: Wall Street Closes Higher, But Not Without Pause For Indicators That Spell CAUTION In Capital Letters
Amazon Books & More






.... and keep up with economic news using our dynamic economic newspapers with the largest international coverage on the internet
Asia / Pacific
Europe
Middle East / Africa
Americas
USA Government



Crowdfunding ....






























 navigate econintersect.com

Blogs

Analysis Blog
News Blog
Investing Blog
Opinion Blog
Precious Metals Blog
Markets Blog
Video of the Day
Weather

Newspapers

Asia / Pacific
Europe
Middle East / Africa
Americas
USA Government
     

RSS Feeds / Social Media

Combined Econintersect Feed
Google+
Facebook
Twitter
Digg

Free Newsletter

Marketplace - Books & More

Economic Forecast

Content Contribution

Contact

About

  Top Economics Site

Investing.com Contributor TalkMarkets Contributor Finance Blogs Free PageRank Checker Active Search Results Google+

This Web Page by Steven Hansen ---- Copyright 2010 - 2016 Econintersect LLC - all rights reserved