The Athenian Democracy
By Elton Robb
The Athenian Democracy is one of the models our Republic was founded on. For the people of Athens, Democracy gave power to the demos. Which means, power to the people, power to the village, and power to the Assembly. How the Athenian Democracy worked was that a citizen, which was typically an Athenian man of Athenian parents, could participate in the Assembly and add his voice to government affairs.
How the democracy worked was that it was divided into a number of branches, all served by the people of Athens. The branches of the Athenian Democracy included the Assembly, the Council of Five Hundred, and the People’s Court. These three main branches were supplemented by other branches of the Democracy. These other branches are the Council of the Areopagus, the Archons, and the generals. Each had a role to play. Legislation was carried on by the Assembly and the Council, with committees of lawmakers or lawyers presenting new laws for review. While the archons and the generals played a role in the Athenian Democracy, they were servants of the Demos. Unlike how our republic works now, where the President of the United States is chief of the Executive Branch and represents our nation to the world, the Archons who acted as President served the people.
In the Assembly was where the real power of an Athenian Democracy was held. The Assembly (or Ekklesia, the word where Ecclesiastes comes from) was the regular gathering of Athenian men who enacted their duties as part of the Legislative branch. In the Assembly the citizen voted on decrees that affected every aspect of Athenian life. Including your public life and your private life. They also voted on decrees that dealt with matters of commerce, finance, religion, war, festivities, and treaties with foreign powers such as Egypt or Israel. In the Assembly, you had an opportunity to speak your mind and to exercise your voting rights daily. It seems to be the perfect government. But no government is perfect.
Every government has its dark side. A democracy is no exception. In our republic, we send representatives to Washington to represent the Voice of the People in each of our three branches of Government: the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judicial. We often do not know what goes on in Washington, unless you want to watch C-SPAN for much of the day. Thus we have no idea what sort of laws are being passed. The Athenian Democracy is worse than our Republic. Since all the power is held by the People, at any one time the people can turn on a citizen and try him for false crimes.
It was by the will of the people that Socrates was murdered by hemlock. After being defeated by Sparta, the Athenians looked for anyone to lay the blame of their defeat on. They chose Socrates. A man who was ugly by Athenian standards, who dressed like a pauper, and debated like any expert citizen. Socrates, who revolutionized philosophical thought, was the scapegoat for Athens defeat.
So, the qestion is: is a pure Athenian Democracy a government that can work in our day? The answer is no. The Athenian Democracy can only work if a bare maximum of two hundred thousand citizens are participating. The Athenian Democracy is a flawed government when dealng with populations as large as the United States of America. A true Democracy is grossly inefficient for our day and our time. Our government was framed as a Republic, meaning we elect representatives to represent us in our government. Although inefficient, our government does not depend on three million citizens to provide a voice. However, the Athenian Democracy did work, as it is a form of mob rule. In today’s world, with so many people in government seeking power over others, the truly efficient form of government is government of one’s own self.