Differences between Athenian democracy and modern democracy Athenian democracy. The Athenian democracy is one of the oldest democracies in the world and serves as an inspiration and cautionary tale to designers of modern democracies (Rhodes, pg 4). It is inspirational in the sense that it empowered its citizens in a unique way that the world has ever seen. In the same way it is cautionary in the sense that it was a direct democracy that led to excesses and not applicable to large populations and the geographical extent of modern nations. The Athenian democracy happened during the period of 490 BCE, during the first Persian invasion of Greece until Alexander the Great's death in 323 BCE. The Athenian democracy developed in Athens, the Greece city state and the surrounding Attican territory around 580 BC. The Athenian is the world's first known democracies. Although other Greek cities had also democracies based on the Athenian model, none of them was as successful as Athens and this was attributed to its stability and power. The Athenian democracy was a form of direct democracy whereby people did not elect representatives to vote on their behalf but instead voted on legislation and executive bills based on their own right. Participation was by group and the public opinion of the voters relied heavily on the political satire of the comic poets and those preformed at theatres.Athenian democracy began during the classical period, the period between 490 BCE and 323 BCE.
It was a period where many Athenian's had accomplished many great things ranging from philosophy, drama and writing of history (Rhodes, pg 14). It was the period of historical greats like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Dramatists including Aeschylus and Euripides had also flourished and in writing Herodotus had wrote about the Persian war and Thucydides about the Peloponnesian war history. It is in this classical period that the Greeks found themselves in conflict with the Persian who had a large empire stretching from Iran to Turkey and including some parts of Egypt and Libyans. The Greeks emerged victorious during the Persian invasion and took control of an enormous territory controlled from Athens. This was the birth of the now celebrated Athenian democracy. Athens lost during the Peloponnesian war but later on the Athenian democracy was restored. The Athenian democracy underwent several stages before it became a mature democracy (Cammack, pg 12). Athens was for a long time a monarchy starting with King Cecrops. At around 594 BCE, Solon was appointed by Athenian's to reform the law to mitigate the strife that had arisen between the wealthy and the poor class. He created a council of 400 with 100 representatives from each of the tribes; he gave people the right to repeal a magistrate's judgment and established an assembly made up of the people. All these steps led to the birth of this democracy. Cleisthenes also instituted reforms that are viewed key to the Athenian democracy. He diminished the power of aristocratic political families and established demes which were political units.Ephialtes established reforms that led to the maturity of the Athenian democracy. He increased the powers of the assembly and restructured law courts into panels that sat as law courts.
In the year 350 BCE the Macedonians under King Phillip 11 began an expansion of his territory through a slow process from the northern side of Greece. This eventually led him to Athens where he now gained full control. Athens was under the control of Phillip 11 by 338BCE. In 322BCE, Antipater, the leader at the helm of the Greek empire after the death of Alexander the Great, son of Phillip 11, managed to put down a revolt by the Greeks and introduced an oligarchic regime on Athens, ending the vibrant Athenian democracy.The structure of the Athenian democracy was different from what modern democracies have. Some of the most salient features of the Athenian democracy are that most of the public officials and the jurors were elected by a lot, elected official could serve a term of one year or two consecutive terms, juries sat in panels and their numbers ranged from 200 to 500 and the legislative authority lay in a body consisting of the citizens rather than a representative body. The jurors were randomly selected from the public. There was the concept of Isonomia which meant equality in the front of law, Magistrates were to account for their actions and the public participated in discussions in the public assembly. All these were aimed at giving the citizenry authority, prevent corruption and subversion of the democracy, give the public officials an incentive to work towards benefiting the community, to implement the rule of law and create a stable constitutional structure.
However on the contrary, the Athenian democracy had its own fair of flaws. It was regarded as the "men's democracy", meaning that all men who had attained the age of eighteen and completed military training had the right to vote in Athens, this left behind the thousands of women, children, slaves and foreigners. A citizen would lose this right if he owed debts to the treasury, threw his sword in war, beat up his father or mother or squandered his inheritance (Rhodes, pg 14).Modern democracy on the other hand in simple terms it may be defined as a form of governance in which supreme power is vested on the people. It’s a form of government that enables all eligible citizens of a country to participate equally directly or indirectly in the proposals, development and creation of laws (Birch, pg. 1). Modern democracies include the following democratic principles: fundamental freedoms and fundamental rights, free and fair elections, the rule of law, separation of powers (Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary), the parliament that makes and approves laws, and democratic pluralism( Birch, pg 8) among many other principles. It is usually explained by the words of Abraham Lincoln “a government of the people, by the people and for the people". This would mean that the government would come from the people; it would be exercised by the people, and its sole purpose is people’s own interests. It may also be defined as the institutionalizing of freedom. Some of the characteristics of modern democracies include: democracy rests in the power of majority rule and individual rights, protection of basic human rights, conduction of free and fair elections, citizens participating in the political system and government in power and civic responsibility are exercised by all eligible adults.
Democracies rest upon the principle that they exist to serve the people.The Athenian democracy and modern democracy have similar features including the participation of the citizens in the political process, the jury system and courts, the vesting of power and authority to the citizenry and the existence of government to serve the people. However they seem to have striking differences. The Athenian democracy was a direct form of democracy, meaning that the citizens without elected officials could participate in making public decisions. All citizens would gather together to debate, argue and asking of questions before they voted on a particular issue. This meant that the Athenians used a simple majority win to decide on what to do. These decisions would range from the laws to be enacted, decisions on whether to go on war or not to which alliances they would join in a given war. On the other hand modern democracies tend to be more representative due to the large numbers of people being governed. Citizens go for elections to elect representatives who will represent them in government. This would mean that the citizens choose whom they want to represent them and make decisions for them. This would further mean that the citizens have no direct power to vote on issues like laws and other decisions made by governments.
Another difference is that the Athenian democracy only allowed men with military training and who had attained the age of eighteen to participate in elections hence discriminating the many among them women and other eligible citizens. Modern democracies tend to give emphasis on all eligible adults who have attained the age of eighteen to participate in the election of public officials, hence not discriminating against anyone based on their gender or race for that matter. The public assembly in the Athenian democracy could easily be swayed by political comics and philosophies hence flowing with the popular wave but modern democracies emphasize on people voting using their conscience and reason and not propaganda. The Athenian democracy only allowed people born of an Athenian father or mother to participate in the elections hence living out other eligible citizens whereas modern democracies emphasize on all eligible voters to participate in the election process.
The Athenian democracy also demanded a lot of time from its people. For a person to vote, he had to put aside his job and participate in the process. The participation in the public assembly to vote on particular issues also demanded lots of time from Athenian males. Modern democracies do not demand lots of time from the people. The people elect leaders who make decisions on their behalf and participate in the law making process rather than having the citizenry put aside their jobs and carry out the same.The Athenian direct democracy system would only work today in a smaller population but with the current high numbers of people it would not be possible. Currently more and more people are getting informed of their rights and responsibilities and hence are able to participate in the election of public officials as in the Athenian days when only a few had access to information. Modern democracy seems has borrowed a lot from the Athenian democracy some of which has been retained to date. The Athenian democracy may have worked well during those times, but with the current fast changing world it would not work efficiently.
"Athenian Democracy and Present Democracy." StudyMode.com. StudyMode.com, 04 2008. Web. 04 2008. <http://www.studymode.com/essays/Athenian-Democracy-And-Present-Democracy-139111.html>.
Birch, Anthony H. The Concepts and Theories of Modern Democracy. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.
Cammack, Daniela L, Richard Tuck, Jane Mansbridge, and Bryan Garsten. Rethinking Athenian Democracy. , 2013. Internet resource.
Rhodes, P J. Athenian Democracy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Print