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Athenian Definition Of Democracy Essay

1213 words - 5 pages

Discuss the Athenian definition of democracy. Is the city state the only kind of state in which true democracy can exist? What happens to democracy when it is applied to a society with a large dispersed population? What are other examples of democratic societies besides Athens? Compare and contrast Athenian democracy with American democracy. Is the United States a democracy in the classical sense of the word?

     The ancient Greek word "demokratia" was ambiguous. It met literally "people power". But who were the people to whom the power of the long? Was it all the people -all duly qualified citizens? Or only some of the people -- the masses? The Greek word demos could mean either. There is a theory that the word demokratia was claimed by democracy's enemies, members of the rich and aristocratic elite who did not like being outvoted by the common herd, their social and economic inferiors. If this theory is right, democracy must originally have meant something like "mob rule" or "dictatorship of the proletariat".
     By the fourth century B.C.E. there were hundreds of Greek democracies. Greece was not a single political entity it was a collection of about 1500 separate poleis or cities scattered around the Mediterranean and black sea shores. The cities that were not democracies were either oligarchies or monarchies (often times called tyrannies). Of the democracies, the oldest, the most stable, the most long-lived, and the most radical, was Athens.
     The origin of the Athenian democracy of the fifth and for centuries can be traced back to Solon. Solon was a poet and a wise statesmen but not a Democrat. His constitutional reform package laid the basis on which an aristocrat called Cleisthenes could pioneer democracy. Cleisthenes championed a radical political reform movement which in 508 -507 ushered in the Athenian democratic constitution. Under this political system Athens successfully resisted the Persian onslaughts that victory in turn encourage the poorest Athenian's to demand a greater say in the ruling of their city. In the late 460's a radicalization of power shifted the balance decisively to the poorest sections of society. This was the democratic Athens that laid the foundations of Western rational and critical thought.
     In 411 and again in 404 Athenian oligarchs led to counter revolutions that replaced democracy with extreme oligarchy. The Athenian oligarchs found it impossible to maintain themselves in power, after just a year democracy was restored. The restored Athenian democracy flourished stably and effectively for another 80 years. Finally, in 322, the kingdom of Macedon terminated one of the most successful experiments ever in citizen self-government.
     The architects of the first democracies of the modern era in the United States claimed a line of...

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