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... sure that power is not being abused. Although many people argue that the leaders of the political party decide on important issues, however this was not true in Athens. Athens acted on the voice of the people. Not even the great leader of Pericles had such power to obtain complete control of the Assembly. While his influence was at its height, he could only hope for continued approval of his policies expressed in the peoples vote in the Assembly.
His proposals were submitted to the Assembly weekly and the Assembly could and occasionally did abandon him and his policies. Although men like Pericles represented a political elite, the decisions in the Assembly were always in the hands of the people. Pericles had a strong stance on the Assembly. A man may at the same time look after his own affaires and those of the state We consider anyone who does not share in the life of the citizen not as minding his own business but as useless. (Finley, 25) The American ideals of democracy are deeply rooted within the Greek society. The American people however, feel responsible for upholding the democratic faith and feel responsible for demonstrating the ability of ordinary people to manage themselves in the affairs of the state and society. The basic drive of democracy is the concept of equality.
Equality amongst all people has its roots in the experiences of the common people with the struggles against tyranny and oppression. Democracy is more than a form of government. It is an attitude of mind to which the exploitation of man by man is abhorrent; it is a way of life in which human personality is judged of supreme, of measureless, worth, it is an order social relationships dedicated to the promotion of the individual and collective interests of common folk; it is, in a word, a society in which ordinary men and women may grow to their full stature-a society of the people, by the people, and for the people. (Counts, 20) Today, the United States of America has flourished into a democracy more powerful, larger and wealthier than anyone in Ancient Greece could have imagined. One of the main differences between the democracies of Athens and other Greek city-states is that the people ruled not through representatives but directly. Power of the government was in the popular assembly that was open to all adult male citizens.
Therefore one of the distinct differences between democracy in Athens and that of the United States is direct participation. The type of democracy in Athens was considered to be a direct democracy. All male citizens had direct participation in the actions of the government. The American democracy is considered a representative democracy. The people of the United States elect people to represent their ideals in the government. The indirect representation democracy of the United States is used because of the citizens are believed to be incapable of governing themselves.
This representation system allows for the administration to remain in the hands of those thought to be more judicious and more enlightened. James Madison holds a strong view regarding the power in the hands of the more enlightened as expressed in The Federalist. The effect is refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose. (The Federalist # 10, 1787) Although representation is not identical with direct democracy it is considered an instrument of democracy. Making decisions by majority is a way of making the participation of the membership of a community decisive, representation allows for the ability of the individual voices to be heard and increase the likeliness that decisions are made wisely. (Cohen, 77) One of the key aspects of democracy is freedom. Athenian people did not believe they had complete freedom unless they had the ability to govern themselves.
Full equality in the Athenian objective meant that all male citizens had an equal opportunity to govern. If this was not achieved, the government would be run not only by the elite but in the interests of the elite. (Strauss, 2) Wealth was a key aspect of the Athenian democracy. Democracy is not only majority rule, but a regime run by the poor and ordinary people in their own interests. - Aristotle The ideals of representation have little connection with Athenian goals of democracy. Representatives rather than people themselves carry out legislation in the American democracy.
Therefore Athenians might be likely to judge the American democracy closer to an oligarchy because the representatives are usually part of the elite class and the power is in the hands of fewer people. The argument could be that the Athenians created a democracy to put the power of the government in the hands of the ordinary people. Although the modern version of democracy has some of the same principles it is similar to the ancient oligarchy because power is in the hands of a few and for the most part the wealthy. However an important difference between these two democracies is the amount of people in the US.
It would be impossible to hold national meetings to come to conclusions on situations or problems, so the only logical way to make decisions is through elected representatives. Although this is only on a national level, smaller forms of government similar to Athens occur in smaller communities. Small town meetings are the closest comparison to the council meetings held in the 5 th century of Athens. However, unlike the Athenian democracy the power of the judicial system is in favor of the poor and the ordinary person. Although the American judicial system allows for the interaction of the poor in the courts (jury duty), people of the elite class such as lawyers and judges supervise them. In Athenian courts the working class amateurs handled the proceedings in the courtroom. (Strauss, 4) Before Americans experienced the freedom of democracy, they were under rule of Great Britain that fueled the American Founders to reject Athens.
The American colonies experienced tyranny under British rule so the Founders were reluctant to impose any type of direct government. The Founders, however held a set of their own ideals some of them similar and others vastly different than the objectives of Athenian democracy. To reduce the chance of having any one-ruler gain too much power the Founders imposed a system of checks and balances. The system was placed to prevent any one person or institution to take complete control. Balance would occur between the House of Representatives and the Senate who both would provide checks over the executive branch, headed by the president, while the judicial branch would keep both the legislative and executive branches in line.
Unlike the democracy of Athens, the idea of giving power to the poor was rejected. The Founders of the Constitution were extremely unwilling to give any of the power of the government to the poor. Their basis for this conclusion was that political excellence was unattainable without a minimum of wealth and education. They believed that ordinary people were too ignorant to provide good government. The Athenian ideals of democracy were placed in the favor of the poor while the approach by the Founders of the Constitution was completely radical. (Strauss, 4) Athens and American both prize equality and freedom. Equality in the Athenian mind was the ability of any male citizen to participate in government decisions.
The Athenian assembly was filled with people of all different trades, farmers and tradesman, educated and uneducated. Andrew Jackson paralleled this in his 1829 inauguration when he opened the doors of the White House to ordinary citizens who had been included in such a celebration. Country men, farmers, gentlemen, mounted and dismounted, boys, women and children, black and white entered the White House. (Counts, 20) One of the key aspects that both democracies value is the Freedom of Speech. In the Athenian democracy every citizen had the right to address the assembly. This form of Freedom of Speech is insured in the American democracy through the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights of 1791 clearly states the ability of a citizen to assemble peacefully and to petition and lobby their representatives in Congress.
Although both societies valued the freedom of speech it is clearly stated in the United States. Another important difference between the democracies of antiquity and of modern is the people able to participate. In ancient times the only people who were able to participate were male citizens. Women, children, and slave were unable to vote at the start of democracy. Although in its inception by the founders of government only males were able to participate in the political aspects of life; we have transgressed to include all citizens. In todays society everyone has equal rights to vote whether they are women, poor, or a different race everyone has the equal ability to participate in government.
The concept of democracy is not a new ideal invented by the Founders of our government. The ideals of democracy date back to the ancient Greeks. The Athenians placed this form of government of democracy because it allowed for participation by not only the elite but the entire citizenship of Athens. Although today our democracy is different than that of the Athenians or fundamental priority still remains the same. Democracy is exactly what it is broken down to mean, Demo means the people and keats power, therefore power to the people. The ancient Greek culture has created a lasting effect on the type of lives we live today.
We thrive on our freedoms of equality and the ability to exercise in our government. If the Athenians had not created democracy would we under control of an oligarchy or a king. Thus, the Athenian ideals have shaped our society to ensure all men are created equal. Aristotle. The Politics.
New York: Putnam, 1932. Cohen, Carl. Democracy. Athens: University of Georgia, 1971. Counts, George S. The Prospects of American Democracy.
New York: John Day Company, Els, J. M. Freedom and Democracy: Greek Concepts. Fort Hare University Press, 1977. Finley, M.
I. Democracy Ancient and Modern. New Jersey: Quinn and Boden Company, Inc. , 1973. Herodotus. The Histories. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.
MacLaren, Malcolm. Tyranny. The Greek Political Experience. London: Oxford University Press, 1941. Madison, James, and Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. The Federalist.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961. McGlew, James. Tyranny and Political Culture in Ancient Greece. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993. Mosley, D.
J. , and Sir Frank Adcock. Diplomacy in Ancient Greece. London: Thames and Hudson, 1975. Strauss, Barry. American Democracy Through the Ancient Greek Eyes. History Today.
April, 1994, pgs. 32 - 6. Bibliography:
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