Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained

The True Meaning of Democracy

Reading Room: Chapter 3 Summary

Ancient Athens: Wellspring Of Democracy

“.. All things invite To peaceful counsels, and the settled state Of order…”

We must turn to Ancient Athens for the truest example of democracy the world has ever known.   In this first and only citizen-state, the people -- not their representatives -- about six thousand of them, gathered in the Assembly ( ekklesia) at least once a month and more frequently as required. In addition to participating in the debates, the Athenian citizen would serve as a juror, serve in an administrative capacity as magistrate, and serve on the Council of 500, known as the boule, responsible for drafting preparatory legislation for consideration by the assembly, overseeing the meetings of the assembly.

If one considers broadly the form of government in Ancient Athens and its system of justice, one discovers one overriding dynamic: fear of the concentration and abuse of power. This was reflected in the use of large juries, the absence of lawyers, the absence of a police force, the wide use of arbitration, the use of a citizen army, the use of sortition, rather than election as a means of choosing magistrates and members of the Boule.   Specific procedures were instituted as means of preventing the kinds of snap votes in the assembly which enabled the aristocracy to overthrow the democracy in 411 B.C. and 404 B.C.