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Thread: athens - the birth place of democracy?

  1. #1

    Default athens - the birth place of democracy?

    did anyone watch Bettany Hughes two part documentry on the subject?

    it got me thinking about this topic. i feel that the influnce of athens, and more generally of the classical world on modern politics is massively overstated, at least this is certainly the case for britian.

    the british political system evolved organically from being a form of a council of nobles to the modern parliamentary system, i dont feel that the classical world had much real influence on this.

    this followed from an established germanic tradition, not a copying a classical model.

    the american system, again evolved from the british one, though gave their new system classical tags (republic, senate etc) to enhance the new systems legitiamcy.

    any thoughts?

  2. #2
    Thread killer Member Rodion Romanovich's Avatar
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    Mar 2005
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    Default Re: athens - the birth place of democracy?

    yes, the influence of Athens is probably more limited than is usually taught. The whole thing about Athens probably came up during the Enlightenment discussions about democracy, when they were in need of an example to strengthen their arguments for democracy to argue against despotism proponents who claimed democrscy had never been tried before and would never work. To say the Enlightenment ideas of democracy fully originated from Athens is IMO to remove credit from a lot of Englightenment era philosophers, though there are too many examples of influences from the ancient era that it would also be incorrect to say Athens played no role at all. The main reason the germanic and other "barbarian" examples of democracy weren't used may be that the previous century, with its despotism proponents such as Hobbes, had done a good job together with the Vatican of giving barbarians a dirty reputation and Rome and Greece a good one. Thus only the Athens example, and possibly the roman republic, were possible to use without having to first be bogged down in a discussion about whether the reputation of the barbarian was really truthful or not. However, this latter part is just pure speculation on my part, but may be an explanation to the hype around Athens.
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  3. #3

    Default Re: athens - the birth place of democracy?

    i dont think a trend towards democracy is particularly innovative or surpirsing. some form of democratic system evolved in many different locations at various times throughout history. at its most simplistic level some form of power sharing is a natural solution, to ensure a perception of "fairness" in any society.
    athens was fairly unique in the extent of the franchise (even so it was fairly limited)


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