A Reminder About Democracy

These ostraka from 482 BC were recovered from a well near the Acropolis. The ostraka in the upper row read "THEMISTHOKLES PHREARIOS" (Themistocles from Phreari), while the others read "THEMISTHOKLES NEOKLEOS" (Themistocles son of Neocles). The Athenians had a particular voting technique to remove a citizen from the community. If ostracized, the person was exiled for ten years, and after that time could return and have their property restored. Themistocles was a great Athenian general, but the Spartans worked to have him exiled. After his ostracism, he moved to Persia, Athen's enemy, where King Artaxerxes I made him governor of Magnesia. Ancient Agora Museum in Athens. Public Domain courtesy of Xocolatl 09:29, 15 April 2008 (UTC) - Own work and Wikipedia.

T

For tyranny is a kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only; oligarchy has in view the interest of the wealthy; democracy, of the needy: none of them the common good of all. Tyranny, as I was saying, is monarchy exercising the rule of a master over the political society; oligarchy is when men of property have the government in their hands; democracy, the opposite, when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.” Aristotle Politics III

Every four years I get a bee in my bonnet about the loose way we use political terms. By loose I mean, deviating substantially from the ancient form or dissociated from the etymology and so, here goes my periodic lecture.

What we call democracy is nothing like what Aristotle and other ancient Greeks described. Here is an article I wrote on democracy: Democracy Then and NowThere. You’re done.

Still here? Okay. More details.

There are now three reasonably certain candidates for the U.S. presidential election of 2016, a Democrat, a Republican, and a Libertarian. Whether or not the candidate from the third party gets into the debates to become a serious contender remains to be seen. (And it’s beside the point.) Regardless of one’s party sympathies, the names of these three parties represent causes and concepts that historically have been important to the people of the USA — democracy, republic, and liberty. Of these, the name that gets the most play in international policy speeches is democracy. And it has for quite a while, even though the US was formed as a republic, where individuals pursue liberty.

‘On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson went before a joint session of Congress to seek a Declaration of War against Germany in order that the world “be made safe for democracy.” Four days later, Congress voted to declare war…. “It is a fearful thing,” he told Congress in his speech, “to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance.”’
History Matters

The U.S. is thought to be the leader of a crusade to bring the blessings of democracy to the infidel. To my mind, since I do live in the past, it is definitely not a democracy — regardless of how many candidates make it to serious contender status and so “making the world safe for democracy” is a string of empty words.

Chroniques de Saint-Denis - http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=43733 Pope Innocentius III excommunicating the Albigensians (left), Massacre against the Albigensians by the crusaders (right) (British Library, Royal 16 G VI f. 374v) PD Courtesy of WIkipedia
Chroniques de Saint-Denis – http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=43733 Pope Innocentius III excommunicating the Albigensians (left), Massacre against the Albigensians by the crusaders (right) (British Library, Royal 16 G VI f. 374v) PD Courtesy of WIkipedia

Heritage Daily recently posted a related article: Ancient Greeks would not recognise our ‘democracy’ – they’d see an ‘oligarchy’.  The type of oligarchy in the modern world is even more insidious than Aristotle’s, for, as they call it, it is “creeping crypto-oligarchy”.

If it were a democracy, it might be truly terrifying, since it would be mob rule.  Although if it did approximate the ancient Athenian Greek form, there would be residents forcibly not involved — disenfranchised or unenfranchised, depending, so who knows how large the mob would be. [See Greek Idiots: Were All Greeks Required to Vote.] On another hand, we might make efficient use of the safety mechanism of ostracism. In addition, we might become more informed and involved world … citizens(?).

Note to self: The world isn’t a city, so what is a world “citizen”?


Top Image credit:

These ostraka from 482 BC were recovered from a well near the Acropolis. The ostraka in the upper row read “THEMISTHOKLES PHREARIOS” (Themistocles from Phreari), while the others read “THEMISTHOKLES NEOKLEOS” (Themistocles son of Neocles). The Athenians had a particular voting technique to remove a citizen from the community. If ostracized, the person was exiled for ten years, and after that time could return and have their property restored. Themistocles was a great Athenian general, but the Spartans worked to have him exiled. After his ostracism, he moved to Persia, Athen’s enemy, where King Artaxerxes I made him governor of Magnesia. Ancient Agora Museum in Athens.

Public Domain courtesy of Xocolatl 09:29, 15 April 2008 (UTC) – Own work and Wikipedia.

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