Was Athenian Democracy Genuinely Democratic? History Of Political Thought, Trinity Collage Dublin Essay

1475 words - 6 pages

Was Athenian Democracy Genuinely Democratic?
To determine whether Athenian democracy was truly democratic by our standards today, we must first unwrap what democracy means to people at the present. Democracy is a word that has roots in Greece with Demos meaning the people and Kratos meaning power translating to “the power of the people.” During modern times, the word Democracy has been diluted partly due to over use. Countries today which are no more democratic than that of tsarist Russia try hard to portray themselves as a democracy of the people to achieve an air of legitimacy. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea otherwise known as North Korea, sounds very democratic by its name but in truth it is much closer to that of an absolute monarchy. There is no single definitive definition of Democracy we can look to; however, Dahl’s interpretation is satisfactory he describes democracy, “As a set of procedures established by the rule of law that guarantees civil and political liberties to oversee popular control of political institutions that make decisions on the allocation of resources.” Athenian democracy origin can go back as far as 600 BC when a statesman named Solon brought through a reform package which laid the foundations for democracy to grow. It wasn’t until 100 years later when a wealthy aristocrat named Cleisthenes lead a political reform movement in reaction to a harsh dictatorship that had developed, this brought forward the period of Athenian democracy which went on to resist the aggressive Persian invasions.
Democracy in Athens was grounded around three political institutions, the Assembly, The Council of 500 and the People’s Court. Athenians viewed the Assembly as the most important institution of their democracy. The Assembly was essentially the regular meeting of all Male Athenian citizens where they would listen, debate and vote on the different aspects of the governing of their state. Every male citizen could openly speak during the Assembly no matter what position they occupied in society. However, in Plato’s Protagoras Socrates says, “when the Athenian Assembly is discussing construction, the citizens call for builders to speak, and when it is discussing the construction of ships they call for shipwrights, but if anyone else, whom the people do not regard as a craftsman, attempts to advise them, no matter how handsome and wealthy and well-born he may be, not one of these things induces them to accept him; they merely laugh him to scorn and shout him down.” The council of 500 was more of the fulltime government and was made up of 50 citizens from each of the 10 tribes. The Councils main function was to prepare the agenda for the Assembly’s meetings. During the year 50 different councilors from the different Tribes would serve as President, in times of upheaval and crisis the safety of the state would fall in the hands of the president. The third important institution was the People’s Court these were courts of law that...

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