At the foundation of the widely differing systems devised by democratic peoples, there is
one essential conviction, expressed in the word democracy itself: that power should be in the hands of the people. Although democracy today has been slightly inefficient in this idea, with the wealthy, elite class challenging this right, “it nevertheless claims for itself a fundamental validity that no other kind of society shares….” To completely understand the structure of democracy, one must return to the roots of the practice itself, and examine the origins in ancient Greece, the expansion in the Roman Empire, and how these practices combined make what we recognize as today’s democratic government.
Democracy began with the Greeks in the various city-states. Political thought also began in Greece. The “calm and clear rationalism of the Greek mind” started this way of thinking. Rather than focusing on the religious sphere, the Greeks chose to concentrate on the self and all things visible. They attempted to enter the world of the light of reason. “Democratic ideology and democratic political thought – the one implicitly, the other explicitly – sought to reconcile freedom and the pursuit of one’s own good with public order.” A sense of the value of the individual was thus one of the primary conditions of the development of political thought in Greece. Political life expressed a shared, ordered self- understanding, not a mere struggle for power. This ideal led to the birth of a new government, a self-governing community – the Greek city-state.
A city-state is “an aggregation of free human beings, bound together by common ties, some of which may be called natural ties, some artificial.” Natural ties are those such as race, language, religion, and land – the territory occupied by the city-state. Artificial ties include law, customs, government, commerce, and self-defense. A governing body does not need all of these ties to become a city-state; however, all must have a reasonable amount of artificial ties. Every community must possess some form of law, otherwise the people are bound together only by natural ties, and thus, they are not a governing body.
The Greek polis enabled the people to express their individualism. The polis was “ideological and it was reflective” in allowing a person to be a part of the political society as well as protecting his inner self, but a person lived in a constant oscillation of trying to even the balance between the two. The polis encompassed a group of men deemed to be equal. In contrast to tribal or feudal societies, ancient Athens boasted no priestly class. The males who made up the citizen body participated in the face-to-face, directly democratic politics of the city-state, not merely by voting but also by speaking in the assembly and by serving themselves through active and intimate interaction with others.
The experience of being a member of a self-governing citizen body was...