Why Ancient Athens democracy was not really a democracy?
It is an academic question, but here
a list of few (most important) reasons:
- Government of Athens was very often
changed, by coup d`etat. Especially in times of the Peloponnesian
- There was plenty of political trials. Many opposition
politicians was forced to leave Athens or killed based on very doubtful
evidences prepared in politicaly-dependent courts.
- Meeting of all citizens (Ecclesia) was no more than
a crowd (or mob) that was easy to control by some skillful demagogue:
the number of people was to great for conducting typical
responsibilities of parliament: creating law (legislation), and
controlling the government or state administration. Few thousand of
people couldn’t work effectively to conduct those responsibilities.
Costs of communication between members of such a large group are to
- In real democratic country there is no need for
institution like “ostracism”. Democratic system is
too strong to have such “special protections” against ambitious
politicians. Ostracism was the easy way to eliminate from politics
those of Athenian politicians, who were dangerous for a people that had
power, and ruled Athens.
- There was no strong, and stable “political parties” like
plebeians, and patricians in Rome but many relatively unstable groups
of interests built around charismatic leaders.
- Procedures of election to other Athens institutions (like
Aeropagus, Heliaia), and their competencies was very often unclear (so
there was a chance to political manipulations) or outright promoted
some group of citizens (but I am not going to describe all their flaws
because election procedures, and competencies were changed many times).
- City state of Athens was responsible for many war crimes -
Athens soldiers many times were ordered to murder all men in a country
(and to sell women, and children as a slaves). That kind of “holocaust”
was a kind of standard in wars
waged by Athens.
- And at last but not least: If Athens city-state had been
really democratic, there would be a second empire like a Roman Empire
in a eastern part of Mediterranean Sea. Athens would not loose war
against Sparta. Real democratic system is too effective.
It is also good to compare some Athenian politicians (like
Pericles) speeches with the ones of modern dictators for example
Mussolini or Castro. They contains plenty rhetorical tricks used to
turn listeners to speaker side, but a very few facts related to current
problems of the country.
See also a short description
of the Polity
of Ancient Athens.