Political Ideology and Political Realities: The Nature of Athenian

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Transcript Political Ideology and Political Realities: The Nature of Athenian

Political Ideology and Political Realities
in Athenian Democracy
Demokratia (“People Power”)
Chios (Aegean sea)
Megara (Greek mainland)
Heraclea Pontica (Black Sea)
Cyrene (north African coast)
Ambracia (northwestern Greece)
Athens and “Imperial Democracy”
Aristotle, Politics 1326b
Ancient Greek Democracy
“Face-to-Face” Polity
 “The activities of the state are those of the rulers and
those of the people ruled, and the work of a ruler is to
direct the administration of and to judge law-suits; but
in order to decide questions of justice and in order to
distribute the offices according to merit it is necessary
for the citizens to know each other’s personal
Aristotle, Politics 1290a
“Arithmetical” Political Equality
 “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
Aristotle, Politics 1317b
“Arithmetical” Political Equality
 “[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.”
Athens as Imperial State:
An Abnormal Greek Democracy?
Structure of Athenian Democracy
 Boule of 500 prepares business for Assembly (Ekklesia)
 Ekklesia sovereign power in foreign policy decisions (war
and peace)
 Ekklesia exercises judicial and legislative powers
 Sovereignty of Decree by Assembly (Aristotle, Politics,
 Dokimasia and Euthynae of Generals (Strategoi)
 Ostracism
Dēmos (People) as Jury
Ostraka Cast Against
Kimon, Aristides, and Themistocles
Moses Finley on the Sovereignty of the Demos
 Variability of composition of Assembly
 Vulnerability of speakers of Assembly
 Direct, Face-to-Face Democracy? (cf. Aristotle, Politics,
 Pericles’ Deposition from the Board of 10 Generals and
Fine (Plutarch, Life of Pericles, ch. 35)
Workings of Athenian Democracy
 Approximately 40,000 adult male citizens with full
political privileges (out of a total population of some
 Approximately 6,000 adult males assemble on the hill of
the Pnyx for any given meeting of the Ekklesia
 Spokesmen of the demos or people (prostates tou demou)
The Locus of Power?
Conflicting Views
“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, 2.65 (on Pericles)
Bust of Pericles
Robert Michels, “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
 Indispensability of Elite Leaders
 Economic Superiority
 Historical Superiority
 Intellectual Superiority
Democracy’s Bad Press
 Ancient Greek Sources (Thucydides, Plato,
Aristotle, “Old Oligarch”)
 Roman Suspicions
Cicero’s pro Flacco
Roman actions in Greece (Dyme in Achaea)
 Modern Political Theorists
Renaissance scholars and the ‘mixed constitution”
The Federalist
Aristotle, Politics, 1292a
“Another kind of democracy is where all the other
regulations are the same, but the multitude is sovereign
and not the law; and this comes about when the decrees of
the assembly over-ride the law. This state of things is
brought about by the demagogues; in the states under
democratic government guided by law a demagogue does
not arise, but the best class of citizens are in the
prominent position; but where laws are not sovereign,
then demagogues arise; for the common people become a
single composite monarch, since the many are sovereign
not as individuals but collectively.”
“Old Oligarch”
Constitution of the Athenians, 1.2
“First I want to say this: there the poor and the people
generally are right to have more than the high-born and
wealthy for the reason that it is the people who man the
ships and impart strength to the city; the steersmen, the
boatswains, the sub-boatswains, the look-out officers, and
the shipwrights—these are the ones who impart strength
to the city more than the hoplites, the high-born, and the
good men.”
Herodotus, Histories, 3.81
“Constitutional Debate”
Megabyzos speaking)
“Nothing is more violent and foolish than a useless mob;
for men fleeing the insolence of a tyrant to fall victim to the
insolence of an 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 to see for themselves
what is best, but always rush headlong and drive blindly
onward, like a river in flood.”
“Old Oligarch”
Constitution of the Athenians, 1.1
“And as for the fact that the Athenians have chosen the
kind of constitution that they have, I do not think well of
their doing this inasmuch as in making their choice they
have chosen to let the worst people be better off than the
good. Therefore, on this account, I do not think well of
their constitution.”
 Are anti-democratic writers, both ancient and modern,
responding to historical realities in fifth-century imperial
Athens or rather to a typology of the democratic state?
In either case, how do we account for their nearly
uniform hostility?