Adam Ash

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Deep Thoughts: Democracy from Athens to America

Review of Loren J. Samons II, What's Wrong with Democracy? From Athenian Practice to American Worship.
Reviewed by Mogens Herman Hansen, The Saxo Institute, Copenhagen University (

I have much enjoyed reading this book. It is meant to be provocative. It is indeed provocative, and I have been provoked by it. Some of Samons' observations I like and support, but often I disagree or, at least, I would like to put the emphasis differently. Therefore, this review cannot be an impartial assessment. Please, read it as a plea by one who stands for a different approach to Athenian democracy and its importance for modern democracy.

I. General Approach

The purpose of Samons' book is to compare ancient Athenian and modern American democracy -- which, I agree, are similar enough to be compared -- and to test whether contemporary Americans can learn anything from the ancient Athenians about democracy, both as a political system and as an ideology.

According to S., the United States is not actually a democracy; it is, as it was for the Founders, a state with a representative republican government, but today based on a democratic ideology. The three cornerstones of the democratic ideology are freedom, choice and diversity and in contemporary America they are worshipped almost as a religion. But they are shallow ideals and they ought to be means, not ends. Diversity in particular cannot be a goal because of its potential to foster disunity instead of cohesion. Samons argues that the true ideal, which can unite a society, is a strong sense of duty to God, family and country and such values are basically non-political or, rather, non-democratic (xv). As a political system the focus on voting as the essential aspect of democracy is misguided: apparently it does not matter how you vote, the key democratic aspect is the act of voting itself, again something purely formal and not necessarily related to what really matters: the issues about which a vote is taken (69-71, cf. xv, 14, 176-77). The politicians elected by the people's vote no longer behave as true political leaders. The fear of failing in a re-election makes the American politician a slave of the tyranny of public opinion.

The Athenian political system, on the other hand, was a democracy based on non-democratic values -- in contrast with modern America, the people did make the important decisions by voting in assemblies and popular courts. But they were guided by statesmen who had the courage to criticise the people when they were about to or had made a mistake; their best leaders did not succumb to the tyranny of public opinion (68) and, conversely, the people did not just rubber-stamp the proposals put to them by their leaders. Again in contrast with modern America, Athens avoided the deleterious effects of democratic ideology. So America has a non-democratic political system based on a democratic ideology; Athens had a democratic political system, but kept up its non-democratic civic values, based on duty to God, family, and polis.

Athens was the strongest of all poleis in C5 and still a very strong polis in C4 (38). It was also the centre of ancient Greek philosophy, literature and art, and many scholars connect the political and cultural dominance of Athens with its democratic constitution. (Let me add that this tradition goes back to Winkelmann, who in 1764 stated that it was the Athenian liberal, democratic constitution that was responsible for the unmatched quality of Athenian art. 1) Samons, for his part, believes that what lies behind the Athenian dominance in politics and culture was not its democratic constitution, but civic values (57), above all a strong sense of duty towards god, family and polis.

A cornerstone in his analysis of Classical Athens is, in fact, Polybios' classification of democracy (as distinct from ochlokratia ) at 6.4.1-2: "a state in which the mass of citizens is free to do whatever it pleases or takes into its head is not a democracy [but rather mob-rule]. But where it is both traditional and customary to reverence the gods, to care for our parents, to respect our elders, to obey the laws, and in such a community to ensure that the will of the majority prevails -- this situation it is proper to describe as a democracy." This quote appears on the very first page of Samons' book (vii) and, in spite of its Hellenistic date, it is the key to Samons' understanding of Classical Athenian democracy. Like Polybios, Samons has a low opinion of Athenian democracy. Polybios dismissed it in one sentence (6.43.1-2). Samons has devoted the major part of his book to the topic (the rest is about modern American democracy). 2

An assessment of the qualities and shortcomings of Athenian democracy must in fact take a position on two different issues: (1) Was the Athenian democracy a strong and efficient form of government? (2) Was the Athenian democracy a just and humane form of government, a government that essentially lived up to the thoughts we have today about the beneficial effects of democracy? S. attempts to answer both questions, but he does not attempt to keep them separate (51). In order to find out what's wrong with [Athenian] democracy I shall try in this review to distinguish the problem about political efficiency from the problem about political justice.

S. argues that in C5 Athens was a very powerful polis , in fact the strongest of all poleis . Its strength, however, was not due to its democratic constitution but rather to two other factors: (a) strong political leadership under Themistokles, Aristeides, Kimon and Perikles combined with (b) civic values such as a sense of duty, patriotic feelings, willingness to sacrifice private interests in order to further the glory of Athens.

Neither the leadership nor the civil spirit had much to do with democratic government -- see infra what happened in C4. Leadership was aristocratic in character (as described by Thucydides) and the civic values were essentially non-political. The democracy was in fact responsible for several of the fatal blunders made by the Athenians in assembly, in particular after the death of Perikles, when they were persuaded by demagogues who cared more about their own political career than about the fate of Athens. Examples are the Sicilian expedition (135), and the decision after the defeat to refuse offers of peace from Sparta on favourable terms.

S. takes a rather negative view too of the justice and humanity of the Athenian democracy. Obvious examples are the conquest of Melos in 416 (133-35), the trial of the Generals in 406, and the execution of Sokrates in 399.

So in C5 Athenian democracy was for most of the time an efficient form of government but it was militaristic and nationalistic (54, 85, 116), and the democratic system was based on an unjust exploitation of the allies in the Delian League.

In C4 leadership was no longer what it had been in C5, partly due to a separation of functions between rhetores and strategoi , which S. finds deplorable. 3In the assembly as well as in other democratic bodies of government rhetores had become demagogoi in the pejorative sense of the term, and to win power for themselves they made themselves subject to a tyranny of opinion. The people did not cherish the civic values as much as before. They squandered much money on payments for political participation; they could not any longer be persuaded to make the necessary sacrifices, e.g., to stop Philip of Macedon's aggression. Therefore Demosthenes' attempt to restore the glory of Athens was bound to fail. He was no Perikles, and at this time not even Perikles would have been able to persuade the people to follow his policy and make the necessary sacrifices to restore the glory of Athens (97, 161-62).

The decisions made in assembly and courts show that the Athenians were now both unwise and unjust. They were inefficient and unwise in their policy towards Philip, and they were unjust in the way they treated their own strategoi , Timotheos, Iphikrates and many others. But the civic duties, though less prominent, never disappeared.

As regards the diminished efficiency of Athenian democracy in the fourth century, S. could have discussed a number of key passages in which Demosthenes complains about how difficult it is to conduct foreign policy in an assembly against Philip, who can strike where and when he wants. 4Furthermore S. could have discussed -- and perhaps taken issue with -- a seminal article by Phillip Harding in which Athenian foreign policy in the fourth century is compared with American foreign policy in the 20th century, and Athens comes off as well -- or as badly -- as USA. 5

But I share S.'s basic view that the Athenian direct democracy could be a very efficient way of governing a polis 6, and I would like here to elaborate the point. The view is an important corrective to the common belief that it must be impossible to conduct a consistent line of policy in a state in which all major decisions are made directly by the people. Such decisions will be made on the spur of the moment, and the state will follow a zigzag course in domestic as well as in foreign policy. 7If all states were democracies, direct popular rule might be feasible, but a direct democracy will always be unable to assert itself against its much more efficiently governed neighbours in which power rests with a single ruler or a government.

There is one way of putting this erroneous view to the test. In classical Hellas, about half the city-states were monarchies or oligarchies, and half were democracies, most of them direct democracies of the Athenian type. 8If it were true that direct democracy was an unwise and inefficient form of government compared with oligarchies ruled by an elite, or monarchies ruled by a strong leader, it follows that the many hundred ancient Greek democracies would soon have succumbed to the neighbouring oligarchies and monarchies, and they would have been eliminated from the political map in the course of the many centuries the city-states existed. But that did not happen. On the contrary, if we judge ancient Greek democracy by the consistency and efficacy of its policy, we have to note that democratic Athens was much more efficient and much stronger than its oligarchic neighbours, though these neighbours were as populous as Athens. Like Athens, Thebes was strongest, in fact the strongest city-state in Hellas, in the fourth century when the polis was democratically governed. 9So direct democracy can be a highly efficient form of government and, again, both in the 5th and in the 4th century there is little evidence that the Athenians followed a zigzag course in their foreign policy.

A different question is whether the Athenian democrats showed justice, humanity, and tolerance towards their own citizens and other Greeks, allies and enemies alike. Here S. passes a consistently negative judgement on ancient Athens: "Anyone turning to Athens for political lessons must confront the facts that democratic Athens dominated and made war on the states most like itself, suffered two international revolutions, exiled or executed many of its own leaders, squandered vast public resources, and preserved its autonomy for less than two centuries" (6). Or again: "The facts that the Athenians and their democratic political system could execute a Socrates (as well as other leaders), enslave or execute thousands of their fellow Greeks, and convert a league against Persia into a sometimes brutal empire over their former Greek allies (and others) demand that we consider the potentially negative effects of direct popular government" (12); cf. 50, 53.

S.'s book is indeed, as he claims (xiv), idiosyncratic and different from most contemporary American books about Athenian democracy; but it is at the same time traditional in that it takes up the "historical" approach which was the usual way of criticising Athens in the 18th and 19th centuries. S.'s evaluation of Athenian democracy quoted above is almost a modern echo of what Lord Acton said in 1877 in his lecture about the History of Freedom in Antiquity: "In this way the emancipated people of Athens became a tyrant; and their government, the pioneer of European freedom, stands condemned with a terrible unanimity by all the wisest of the ancients. They ruined their city by attempting to conduct war by debate in the marketplace. Like the French Republic, they put their unsuccessful commanders to death. They treated their dependencies with such injustice that they lost their maritime Empire. They plundered the rich until the rich conspired with the public enemy, and they crowned their guilt by the martyrdom of Socrates". 10

Lord Acton's view is in line with what many of the Founders believed about Athens in the late 18th century, e.g. Alexander Hamilton: "The celebrated Pericles, in compliance with the resentments of a prostitute, at the expense of much of the blood and treasure of his countrymen, attacked, vanquished and destroyed, the city of the Samians. The same man ... was the primitive author of that famous and fatal war; which, after various vicissitudes, intermissions and renewals, terminated in the ruin of the Athenian commonwealth." 11

S. is well aware that his criticism of Athens is in line with that of the Founders (1 with n. 1). I find it stimulating to have this traditional approach revived and, like S., I find that we have to take a position on all these negative aspects of Athenian democracy; but, unlike S., I doubt that it was the Athenian democracy that can be blamed for all the unjust actions committed by Athens. Sparta and other poleis , oligarchies as well as monarchies, were responsible for even more andrapodismoi than were the Athenians. 12 They too treated their allies tyrannically. The number of Spartan kings put on trial and condemned by the Spartans is as astonishing as the number of Athenian generals who were executed or exiled. So, contra S., it is not the democracy as such which lies behind the negative effects pointed out above. All these failures and shortcomings seem to be characteristic of all Greek poleis irrespective of the type of constitution.

II. Specific Issues

a) Method and Approach

S. turns against Josiah Ober's "History of Ideologies" which rejects the study of institutions and prosopography (7). S.'s method is instead what he calls "practical history" (xvi, 9-10), i.e. to study what happened in Athens that could have led to the views expressed by Plato, Thucydides and Aristophanes. He wants to analyse important events and practices and, on the basis of that, to judge Athenian democracy and draw the relevant historical lessons.

Ober (who concentrates on ideology) draws a favourable picture of Athenian democracy, Samons (who concentrates on events) can find all the dark sides of this rather sinister form of government. S.'s point is, of course, that facts must count more than fiction. But it is not quite as simple as that. Consider the following two examples.

(1) S. illustrates his emphasis on history and events by an antithetical juxtaposition of Perikles' Funeral Oration and the trial of Sokrates. He complains that "Pericles' patriotic and idealistic speech (recorded, to the extent not invented, by Thucydides) is treated almost as an accurate historical account of Athenian society and virtues, while the fact of Socrates' trial and execution has become a virtual myth".

It is indeed a fact that the Athenians had Sokrates executed in 399. But it is a fact we know, primarily, from two speeches, viz. Plato's and Xenophon's Apologies and neither speech is impartial. Both Plato and Xenophon defend Sokrates. What about the case for the prosecution? What we know about the prosecutors consists of six short statements reported by Xenophon in the Memorabilia, and followed by a refutation by Xenophon (not by Sokrates). Samons believes that the execution of Sokrates was an injustice and a gross mistake. He may be right. But how can he know, when we are so badly informed about the case for the prosecution? To give a verdict having heard just one party is a miscarriage of justice: audiatur et altera pars. In an essay published a decade ago I tried to look upon the trial of Sokrates from the Athenian point of view, 15 and I had in the end to confess that our sources are insufficient to determine whether the sentence passed on Sokrates was unforgivable or understandable or even justifiable, since the case for the prosecution cannot be reconstructed with sufficient certainty. Therefore my investigation ended in Socratic ignorance with a query. It is indeed a fact that Socrates was sentenced to death and executed, but it is not an established fact that the sentence was unjustifiable or judicial murder. Nevertheless Samons -- who criticises other historians for taking Perikles' speech at face value -- seems to believe that he can take Plato's Apology at face value. Yet, Plato's favourable portraits of Charmides and Kritias, two of the blackest sheep in Athenian history, should warn us against trusting what Plato tells us about the character of those who appear in his dialogues. 16

(2) S. holds that the Athenian civic values were founded on a sense of duty to gods, family and fellow citizens (15, 183, 201). These values prevailed in the fifth century, at least during the Periklean period, and, though less prominent in the 4th century, they were never lost (178, 185). But it is in the late Periklean period that we witness the almost complete collapse of these values, viz. during the plague in 430-26.

Thucydides' description of the plague is a peculiar passage. It is, of course, not a speech but is not a narrative part either. It has a status of its own, precisely like the clinical description of stasis at 3.82-84. Now, many of Thucydides' speeches are pairs of antithetical speeches in which the reader is confronted with a clash of opposed views. Perikles' Funeral Oration has not a direct counterpart but there can be no doubt that Thucydides intentionally placed his description of the plague immediately after the funeral oration: it is meant to function as the negation in reality of all the values for which the Athenians were praised in the Funeral Oration. A dissolution of morality, of the rule of law and of all the ideals in which the Athenians took pride. The longest part of the description concerns the plague itself: the symptoms and the typical course of the disease (2.47-49). From a social and moral point of view, however, the most important sections come near the end (2.52-53): surviving relatives threw bodies on other people's pyres; the rule of law was replaced by complete lawlessness; there was no fear of gods, no sense of what was honourable and just; men did just what they pleased without any regard for their fellow citizens or for society as such.

So, juxtaposing the Funeral Oration and the plague we find a confrontation between all the values for which Perikles praises the Athenians and the Athenians' actual negation of all those values when put to the test. The funeral oration and the plague conform to perfection to S.'s distinction between ideology and historical event. S. has a lot to say about the ideology of the oration; he does mention the plague in passing a couple of times, but not the impact it had on public morality and religion. Is that because these chapters of Thucydides' account tend to question S.'s basic view of the civic values practised by the Athenians in the age of Perikles?

b) Use of sources

S. still endorses the old, and in my opinion erroneous, view that the majority of ancient authors were critical of democracy. "No classical Greek poet, historian, or philosopher known to us began his work with the premise that democracy or even "liberty and equality" were the most important elements in human government and society. Most, in fact, criticised democratic government or the principles behind it" (6, cf. 8, 190). Later in the book, S. does refer to Raaflaub's groundbreaking article "Contemporary Perceptions of Democracy in Fifth-Century Athens", but holds that what Raaflaub has collected and discussed are "scattered references to construct a fifth-century defence of democracy" (272 n.7). This is to underestimate the substantial amount of evidence to the contrary: defenders of democracy among the philosophers are Demokritos and Protagoras, among the tragedians Aischylos and Euripides, 18 among the historians Herodotos; and in Thucydides democracy is praised not only in Perikles' Funeral Oration but also in the speeches of Athenagoras (6.39-40) and Nikias (7.69.2). Aristophanes was indeed critical of the Athenian democracy, but he was not "a seeming anti-democrat" like Plato and Thucydides. 19 Furthermore, note that S. speaks about "poets, historians and philosophers". He has left out the orators -- perhaps because his emphasis is on the fifth century -- and it is not accidental, I think, that both of Aeschines' speeches for the prosecution do have a prologue that singles out the democratic constitution and ideals as the essential aspect of Athenian society. As one would expect, the over one hundred preserved symbouleutic and forensic speeches contain a plethora of positive evaluations of democracy both as a political system and as an ideology. 20 We must not forget either that most of the criticism of Athenian democracy stems from fourth-century sources: Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, and Isokrates, and they are sources for the democratic ideology rather than for the "practical history" which S. singles out as the principal aspect of his book.

What we really lack today is sources for a positive evaluation of oligarchy, and praise, or even mention, of aristocracy is virtually absent outside the school of Socrates, i.e. Plato, Xenophon and Aristotle.

c) Democratic values

The modern democratic values mentioned and discussed over and over again throughout the book are freedom, choice and diversity. But are choice and diversity really at the heart of the modern western conception of freedom or liberty? And are freedom, choice, and diversity not three facets of one value rather than three separate values? Freedom ensures that the citizens can choose and -- given that humans are different -- the result is diversity. For a society to live with diversity, a different value is required, viz. tolerance.

Tolerance is one of the key democratic values both in modern democracy and in Athenian demokratia. In Athens it was commonly referred to by the adjective praos and the noun praotes. In his report of Perikles' speech Thucydides prefers the adverb anepachthos. Democratic tolerance was praised by the democrats themselves but, of course, criticised by Plato and Isokrates as a form of permissiveness. Tolerance is occasionally mentioned by S., the modern form on p. 181, the ancient on p. 193 where S. duly quotes the passage from Thucydides. But there is no proper treatment of modern tolerance or ancient praotes.

Equality is another democratic value which is too summarily treated by S., and that goes for Athenian as well as for American democracy. Ancient liberty and equality are mentioned on pp. 3-5 where S. reports how other scholars describe the Athenian democratic ideals, but then on pp. 5-6 S. argues that liberty ( eleutheria ) and equality ( isonomia ) "were more or less universal Greek values, not special Athenian or democratic ideals" (cf. 172), and with this argument S. seems to think that he can skip any further discussion of ancient equality. But what about modern equality? For Tocqueville it was not liberty but equality that was the hallmark of American democracy. Admittedly, during the intervening 150 years equality has been overshadowed by liberty, at least on the American continent, but I do not think it has been obscured to such a degree that it can be ignored in a general account of ancient and modern democracy. For Plato and Aristotle equality -- or rather inequality masked as "proportional equality" -- mattered much more than liberty, and, similarly, an analysis of equality is perhaps the most important aspect of John Rawls' political thought.

Freedom (or liberty) is indeed the most prominent of the ancient democratic ideals. But, according to S., " eleutheria and isonomia were not special democratic ideals." (6). S. is right about isonomia . In the late Archaic and early Classical period isonomia was connected with aristocracy (Ath. 695B) and oligarchy (Thuc. 3.62.3), as well as with democracy (Hdt. 3.80.6, 83.1), but from ca. 450 to 322 the various aspects of equality figure so prominently in discussions of democracy that they ought to be treated in a book like this.

I am even more surprised by S.'s dismissive account of eleutheria . It is indeed true that, in the personal sense of being free and not a slave, eleutheria was a universal value (Arist. Pol . 1253b4ff). Again, in the sense of being an independent polis ,eleutheria applied to monarchies and oligarchies as well as to democracies: the fall of democratic Athens in 404 was the beginning of eleutheria for the Hellenes (Xen. Hell . 2.2.23). S. briefly treats eleutheria in both these senses, 23 but why has he next to nothing to say about a third form of eleutheria , the one in which liberty is explicitly and exclusively linked to democracy?

The obvious passage to quote is Arist. Pol . 1317a40-b18: "A basic principle of the democratic constitution is liberty. That is commonly said, and those who say it imply that only in this constitution do men share in liberty; for that, they say, is what every democracy aims at. Now, one aspect of liberty is being ruled and ruling in turn ... Another element is to live as you like. 24 For this, they say, is what being free is about, since its opposite, living not as you like, is the condition of a slave. So this is the second defining principle of democracy, and from it has come the ideal of not being ruled, not be anybody at all if possible, or at least only in turn." Aristotle's description treats democracy in general, but it matches what we know about Athenian democracy, e.g., Eur. Suppl . 440 (being ruled and ruling in turn) and Thuc. 7.69.2 (the right to live as one pleases, cf. infra ).

Both Plato and Aristotle connect eleutheria with demokratia and neither links eleutheria with monarchy, aristocracy and oligarchy. Both the philosophers have nothing to say about eleutheria as a constitutional value except in the sections in which they describe -- and criticise -- democracy.

S. has much to say about freedom as a modern democratic value, and in his analysis of what is wrong with America's democracy S. describes the deleterious effects of freedom, choice and diversity: these so-called democratic values are potentially antisocial doctrines; they are, in fact, anti-values which can never be a proper goal for a society (181), because they foster disunity instead of cohesion. Freedom, choice, and diversity lead to the view that personal happiness is the proper goal of life and happiness is identified with pleasure . This kind of freedom undermines any sense of duty (182).

In his analysis of ancient democracy S. has no mention of the corresponding Athenian ideal, to live as one pleases ( zen hos bouletai tis ). In this context he prefers to emphasise the citizens' duty to respect the law, to obey the authorities, and to fight for the polis (see infra ). But the Athenian view of democratic eleutheria is remarkably like the American ideal of freedom. It is cherished as an ideal by the Athenian democrats themselves: our democracy means that everyone can pursue his own goals, and the result is a pluralistic society (Thuc. 2.37.3; 7.69.2; Lys. 26.5; cf. Hdt. 3.83.3). And this form of eleutheria is severely criticised by Isokrates, by Aristotle and, in particular, by Plato: freedom in the sense of living as one pleases leads to diversity and looks like a gaudy dress, but the rule of law is undermined and the principal goal becomes to satisfy one's pleasures. As a synonym for this form of eleutheria Plato and Aristotle use anarchia , Isokrates paranomia (Arist. Pol . 1319b30; Pl. Resp . 560e; Isoc. 7.20). Next, both a democrat (Nikias at Thuc. 7.69.2), an anti-democrat (Pl. Resp . 557c) and an advocate of an ancestral form of democracy (Isoc. 12.131) describe "to live as you like" as an exousia , i.e. as a power, as something one is entitled and authorised to do in a developed democracy, i.e. as what we today call a right . And finally, it is emphasised that "to live as you like" belongs in the private sphere, not in the public, i.e. the political = the polis sphere (Thuc. 2.37.3; Hdt. 3.83.3; Pl. Resp . 557b).

S.'s critique of American freedom, choice, and diversity is like an echo of Plato's critique of Athenian eleutheria . Why has this connection not been pointed out and elaborated? The reason is that S. is not interested in Athenian democratic ideology; he wants to focus on events (7-9). He believes in fact that "liberty and equality" did not serve as the underlying principles of Athenian society and government, that "the Athenians ... never developed the idea that an individual possessed inalienable rights that were ensured by the state" (175). Thus, he shares Paul Rahe's -- in my opinion erroneous -- view, expounded in a chapter entitled "Athens' Illiberal Democracy".

But numerous sources show that the Athenian citizens did possess individual rights that were protected by the state: a citizen could not be executed without due process at law (Lys. 22.2) and could not be subjected to torture (Andoc. 1.43); a magistrate could not break into a citizen's home without a warrant (Dem. 18.132); and a citizen's property was protected by a proclamation made every year by the incoming archon (Arist. Ath. Pol. 56.2). Legal protection of individual citizens is singled out as the hallmark of democracy by Aischines (Aeschin. 1.4-5), and anyone who had been wronged by a magistrate could bring a private action at the magistrate's audit ( euthynai , Arist. Ath. Pol. 48.4-5) and if he won the case he would have his right against the polis confirmed by the jurors (Lys. 19; 28.10). 26

Neither S. nor Rahe pays much attention to the sources I have cited above. They are either brushed aside or passed over in silence. Now, if the principle to live as you like was found only in authors who supported the democracy, it could be dismissed with the argument that it was a lofty, but empty ideal with no basis in reality. If it was mentioned only by the critics of democracy, it could be dismissed as misrepresentation or malicious slander. The fact that this principle is both praised by democrats as an ideal and scorned by anti-democrats as a deplorable fact implies that zen hos bouletai tis really was one of the foundations of Athenian democratic ideology and that it really permeated Athenian society. Furthermore, the impact of these ideas on Athenian law and administration of justice, as expounded above, shows that the protection of the individual citizen's person and property must count as "practical history" and not just as ideology.

Finally a short comment about democracy itself. S.'s view that only after the end of the Peloponnesian War did the term demokratia begin "to supplant eunomia as the term for good government" is contradicted by Ant. 6.45, a speech of, probably, 419 B.C. in which we are told that offerings hyper tes demokratias were performed in the bouleuterion at least once every prytany, and presumably before every meeting of the council.

In the very last section, when S. sums up what Americans can learn from the classical example (201), he first emphasises "the Athenians' dedication to the gods, their families and their polis", but then adds (in italics) that " a society that does not venerate diversity may nonetheless produce radically diverse ideas ... Socrates and Pericles exercised a significant amount of "freedom" choosing to live their lives in very different ways and to espouse radically different views." But in other parts of the book S. stresses that the Athenians did not allow Sokrates to exercise his kind of freedom but had him executed. Are we supposed to believe that here, for once, S. wants to make the same point as Popper did in 1945, repeating what Grote had already stated in 1852, i.e. that Sokrates, after all, was allowed for almost seventy years to live as he pleased in democratic Athens practising a way of life for which he would immediately have been executed or at least exiled from the ideal polis imagined by Plato? 27

d) Religion

Like many other modern historians Samons wants to see religion as the central aspect of the Greek polis in general and democratic Athens in particular (163-86). In Athens, he holds, religion pervaded every aspect of Athenian life, Athenian society was an integrated whole where there was no division among religious, political, economic, and social spheres.

There can be no denying that religion was an important part of Athenian society and that one of the principal duties of the polis was to administer the sanctuaries and organise all the major religious festivals. But it does not follow that "there was a lack of boundaries in ancient Athens between what many moderns consider different areas of society" and that there was no separation of societies into spheres labelled "sacred" and "secular" (175): it was a matter of life or death for a citizen if the olive tree he had felled was a not an ordinary one but one of the sacred olives. Sanctuaries were surrounded by a wall or some other demarcation that clearly separated holy ground from ordinary space, public or private. About 60 days of the year were festival days, when many activities were forbidden or at least supposed to be avoided. In Athens and in other poleis the boundary between sacred and profane was as easy -- or as hard -- to draw as it was in later periods and still is today. The two spheres have always overlapped and always will, but that does not mean that no distinction can be made. 28 S. points out that Athens used the gods' treasures to finance military activities, but he tells us too (82) that sacred and public money were kept separate, that the money used for war was borrowed from the gods and had to be repaid. Of many fines one tenth was paid to the gods and the rest to the treasury.

In my opinion, there was a distinction between the political sphere and other spheres of society. In the political sphere citizens isolated themselves from women, foreigners and slaves, and if a non-citizen was apprehended attending a political meeting he was put on trial and severely punished. Religious festivals were attended by citizens, foreigners and slaves, and by men and women alike. Women were never allowed to fill a magistracy, but most goddesses were served by priestesses, not by priests, etc. We must not forget either that some parts of Greek religion were private, not public. 29

If religion pervaded all aspects of life, how can it be that there is no mention of the gods in Perikles' Funeral oration? (noted by S. 194 with note 26). How can it be that the gods have virtually no role to play in Demosthenes' symbouleutic speeches? Again, there are numerous instances of the Athenians consulting the Delphic oracle, but always about a matter related to religion and cult: are we to set up an altar? Are we to celebrate this or that festival in this or that way? Apart from the two oracles in 480 about the Persian attack there is no evidence that the Athenians consulted Delphi about non-religious political issues. 30 Of course, religion was important: the polis used religion, it organised the public religious festivals, and it created new religious cults (of, e.g., demokratia, homonoia). 31 In some sense it is true that "religion pervaded every aspect of Athenian life" but, if so, it is equally true that politics pervaded every aspect of Athenian life.

e) The Athenian Democracy

Nevertheless, S. argues that in Athens "the political" was less significant and central to the society than believed by most ancient historians (93). According to S. it is impossible to distinguish religion from politics, but it is, apparently, possible to distinguish politics from religion. "the purely political ... formed merely one small part of the social whole, and not even a specially privileged part" (170). "It would seem, therefore, that demokratia , the particular form of polis government in Athens, was not likely to dominate or define Athenian culture or society as a whole", except, it seems, when something went wrong. In S.'s view Athenian successes were not related to its democratic constitution (16, cf. 201), but the fatal mistakes were .

The two most deleterious aspects of Athenian democracy were: (a) the admission of people without property to the assembly (15, 92, 173), and (b): payments of public money to the citizens for participation in the democratic institutions. Athens could afford political pay in the fifth century by milking the allies (85), and it could not afford it any longer after the loss of the empire in 404 (144). Even worse, Political pay undermined the citizens' traditional values and sense of duty (173).

I have to confess that I am not persuaded. How expensive actually was the democracy? In the 330s, when Aristotle was writing the Constitution of Athens , the Assembly cost about 45 talents a year, the Council probably about 12, and the Courts somewhere between 15 and 30. So Assembly-pay was the heaviest item in the budget along with the theorika , the size of which is not known and cannot be calculated, but which Demades referred to vividly as the "glue of the democracy" (Plut. Mor . 1011B). Those figures can be put in perspective by a comparison with the State finances as a whole in the 4th century. Before the middle of the century the entire annual income of Athens was only 130 talents; but at that time expenditure on political pay, especially on the Assembly, was also much less than it became in Demosthenes' time. At the end of the 340s State income had reached 400 talents a year, and in the period of peace after 338 it rose to 1200 talents. Political pay is set even better in relief if we compare it with the military expenditures of Athens. Historians have often asked how on earth Greek city-states, especially Athens, could afford to maintain their democracies, with substantial daily payments to large numbers of citizens. They might with much greater justification ask how those states managed to engage in warfare, as they did pretty well all the time. In 351, for example, Demosthenes moved a decree to fit out a small permanent force of 10 triremes, 2000 hoplites and 200 cavalry, a fourth of them citizens three fourths mercenaries. That modest force he reckoned would require an outlay of 92 talents a year, and he was doing his level best to make the bill sound as low as possible (Dem. 4.28-29). It was not, then, the institutions of the democracy that brought Athens to the edge of bankruptcy but the endless wars, which made demands of a quite different order on the budget than all the political payments together. And even in peace-time the military expenses were considerable. After the reform of 336/5 the training of the ephebes cost some 25 talents a year, but the Athenians' real pride and joy was the cavalry, one thousand strong: even the cost of fodder for their mounts cost the State 40 talents a year. Such was the cavalry, exclusively recruited from the upper class, upholders of the aristocratic ideals; yet, all in all, it must have cost the Athenian democracy about as much as the Assembly of the People.

I find that S.'s stress on the deleterious effects of political pay are exaggerated, and I am not persuaded either by his various attempts to minimise the importance of the Athenian democratic institutions. Consider the following two instances. To stress the importance of religion compared with democracy S. argues that the assembly place on the Pnyx hill could accommodate no more than ca. 6,000 whereas the theatre in the sanctuary of Dionysos accommodated over 15,000. True, the floor of Pnyx I could seat no more than 6,000 (the quorum), but there could be more outside the dressed surface. More to the point: Pnyx III and the theatre of Lykourgos are contemporary, both constructed in the second half of the fourth century. Pnyx III could seat 13,000 citizens (according to Thompson) and probably ca. 10,000 according to John Camp's more pessimistic reconstruction. Furthermore, the assembly place was reserved for adult male citizens, whereas the theatre was built to accommodate not only adult male citizens but also women, children, foreigners and some slaves. 33 Next, S.'s contention that citizens belonging to outlying demes did not attend political meetings (169) is contradicted by the preserved dikastic pinakia. 3

S. contrasts the, in his opinion, relatively unimportant democratic institutions and ideology with what he describes as civic values which emphasise duties rather than rights and he stresses that these values are "nonpolitical" or "extrapolitical" or "apolitical". They consist in "common beliefs about the gods, sense of national superiority, shared values regarding the importance of performing their duties to gods, family, and polis ", in other passages described as "duties to gods, family and fellow citizens". They touched every aspect of public and private life, and one of the principal duties was military service (193). In this context S., approvingly, quotes Perikles' comment at Thuc. 2.40.2 that the Athenians "regard the man who does not participate in the political life of the city not as unambitious but as useless" (188, 192). Such values lay behind the Athenians' willingness (in the fifth century) to fight for the greater glory of Athens. But how can duty to the polis , sense of national superiority, military service, and willingness to fight for one's polis be described as nonpolitical values? I do believe that S. has based his description and criticism of Athenian democracy on an idiosyncratic and, in my opinion, misleading distinction between what is "political" and what is "nonpolitical".

Next, as expounded above, S. takes a positive view of the good old Athenian civic values: gods, family, and polis. Now, it is the care for and devotion to the polis that is at the root of Athenian patriotism; but it is also the patriotism and the sacrifices it involves that drive the Athenians to seek glory, i.e. to go to war for Athens. The result is nationalism and aggressiveness, but are they positive values? S. leaves us in doubt whether, in the end, he approves of Athenian imperialism (which is the result of their patriotism) or whether he dislikes Athenian aggressivenes and would have preferred their patriotism to have taken a more peaceful turn.

Emphasising obedience to the polis and its magistrates, S. appreciates Paul Rahe's account of "Athens illiberal democracy" but he rejects Rahe's views on "The Primacy of Politics in Classical Greece". I stand for the opposite view: I share Rahe's view of the primacy of the political, but argue that there is no real opposition between this basic principle and the Athenians' equally important stress on every citizen's right to live as he pleases. The relation between the two values is clear from, e.g., Thuc. 2.37, the chapter of Perikles' speech disparaged by S.: the Athenians acknowledged a distinction between the public sphere in which lawabidingness and public control were prominent, and a private sphere in which mildness, tolerance and the right to live as one pleases were the key democratic values, cf. also Dem. 24.192-93.

f) The United States not a democracy

Democracy, as understood by the Founders, was the rule of the people, and America has always been ruled by elected representatives, not by the people. It is indeed significant that S. wants to uphold the distinction between "democracy" and "republic" made by Madison and the other Founders, a distinction belittled by Robert Dahl, 39 but revived by a wave of political theorists rallied under the banner of "republicanism".

The concept of republicanism is diverse, but two important aspects are (a) an opposition to democracy, and especially participatory democracy, taking up the Founders' old opposition between republic and democracy; and (b) an opposition to liberalism connected with a belief in a common good based on duty and public service as opposed to the pursuit of narrow and selfish objectives. Both aspects figure prominently in S.'s book, and both are connected too in the political philosophy of Leo Strauss, who today appears as, probably, the most influential of the twentieth-century American political theorists. Straussians include not only Allan Bloom and Robert Kaplan, but also Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and others who have shaped the course in the White House.

Although Leo Strauss is mentioned only once in the book under review (9), it is obviously his analysis of morality and political philosophy that has inspired S. According to Strauss, liberal democracy has degenerated during the last century and is in crisis. Its principal aim has been narrowed down to securing for individuals the right to pursue their own happiness. It is morally pluralistic and neutral and leads to a fragmented society. There is no longer any standard of political morality. Strauss believes that the values of liberal democracy have undermined far more important values, viz. civic virtues, patriotism and religion. A similar clash between democracy and true civic values is attested in ancient Greek philosophy, especially in Plato's work. Strauss' advice to modern America is to study Plato and Aristotle, as the Founders did, and to find in Greek political philosophy the model for how we ought to organise our society. 40

S. is undoubtedly deeply influenced by Strauss and his followers, much more than appears from the only reference to Strauss and the Straussians. Like Strauss S. believes that the ancient texts have an important message which can bring America back to the time when the (non-political) civic values dominated American society. Just as S. prefers republicanism to democracy, he puts duty to god, family and country before the shallow democratic values of freedom, choice and diversity. His ideal is, in fact, a republican ancestral constitution, which, mutatis mutandis , matches the patrios politeia admired by Plato, Aristotle and Isokrates: to obtain true progress you must put the clock back to the time when the political system and the values held in esteem by the Founders were the backbone of American morality and not yet diluted by a democratic ideology.

Behind Strauss stands a much more important philosopher, viz. Tocqueville, as is apparent from, e.g., the following quote: "voules-vous donner à l'esprit humain une certaine hauteur, une façon généreuse d'énvisager les choses de ce monde? Voules-vous inspirer aux hommes une sorte de mépris des biens matériels? Désirez-vous fait naître ou entretenir des convictions profondes et préparer de grands dévouements? .... Si tel est, suivant vous, l'objet principal que doivent se proposer les hommes en société, ne prenez pas le gouvernement de la démocratie; il ne vous conduirait pas sûrement au but. Mais s'il vous semble utile de détourner l'activité intellectuelle et morale de l'homme sur le nécessités de la vie matérielle, et de l'employer à produire le bien-être; si votre objet n'est point de créer des vertus héroïques, mais des habitudes paisibles; .... si, enfin, l'objet principal d'un gouvernement n'est point, suivant vous, de donner au corps entier de la nation le plus de force ou le plus de gloire possible, mais de procurer à chacun des individus qui le composent le plus de bien-être et de lui éviter le plus de misère; alors égalisez les conditions et constituez le gouvernement de la démocratie. (1.2.6 pp. 281-82 in the Pléiade edn.)

In S.'s book there is just one explicit reference to Tocqueville (42), and he is indeed less important in this particular context because, unlike Straus, he took no interest in the Classical world and did not know much about it either, whereas for Strauss the road to salvation in politics goes through reading Plato. S. does not like to be grouped with others and presents his views as idiosyncratic (xiii-xiv). Nevertheless I shall venture to place him in the phalanx of Straussians.

Changing the subject from values to institutions, I am struck by S.'s description of how voting has become the essence of democracy, almost the sacrament of the democratic religion (177). He may well be right, but then we are faced with an almost incredible opposition between ideology and fact. Democracy is commonly understood as the rule of the people in the sense of all adult resident members of the society and not just, as in Athens, the full citizens. In a representative democracy this implies that the people vote in elections. But in US the participation in federal elections is at best ca. 50% of the resident adult popualtion and mostly less than that. So, if voting is the essence of democracy, US is certainly not a democracy, not even a representative democracy -- it has become an oligarchy.

My third point concerns the opposition between ideology and practice. S. wants to test democracy but argues that "we cannot test our democracy against the values of democracy ... Democracy deserves to be evaluated in terms of its ability to perform its tasks". Thus, the focus must be on performance, on events which can show the effects of democracy, and this approach must, of course, be applied to the study of both Athenian and American democracy.

In conformity with his approach he criticises Athenian democracy by pointing out many of the fatal mistakes made by the Athenians and many of the injustices committed by their democratic bodies of government. But, when he criticises American democracy, almost all he has to say concerns the shallow democratic ideals (freedom, choice, diversity), the missing civic values (dedication to god, family, country), the lack of genuine leadership (the tyranny of public opinion) etc. Strangely enough in these sections of the book there is next to nothing about events or facts, only a repeated short reference to the bombing of Serbia and the war against Iraq. But in a comparison between Athenian and American democracy, why not balance all the Athenian examples with a list of US mistakes and injustices, some of them committed in the name of patriotism, one of the non-democratic civic values treasured by S.

Consider, for example, the following events: in the period 1964-72 American soldiers may have killed as as many as three million Vietnamese in the Vietnam War, most of them civilians. The US supported Saddam Hussein in the 1980s when he did in fact possess and use chemical mass destruction weapons against the Iranians and the Kurds. Again in the 1980s, the US supported the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot after they had killed about a million and a half of the Cambodian population. One can add numerous instances of US support of despots and tyrannical regimes in South and Central America. -- A list of inconsistencies and mistakes in American foreign policy can be found in Phillip Harding's article referred to in note 5. To conclude, I like S.'s emphasis on events in his analysis of Athenian democracy; I miss it in his analysis of the American republic.

Let me end this section with a few words about religion. Contrasting democratic ideology and the traditional American attitude towards morality and religion, S. holds that the democratic vote has become the modern American form of Eucharist, but less than 50% of Americans perform this sacrament and only once every other year, whereas a higher percentage of Americans go to church and/or participate in other Christian ceremonies. It is true that the USA in some respects try to separate church and state, and that there is "the tendency of modern democratic societies to separate the religious and political arenas", but I seriously doubt that "the potentially antisocial political doctrines of freedom, choice and diversity have replaced the traditional American values based on God, family and country”. Today USA is the most religious of western democracies and, to my mind, America is experiencing the revival of religion which S. calls for. In my opinion, S.'s sharp distinction in American society between "sacred" and "secular" (170) or between political and religious activity (168) is just as misleading as is his outright denial of any such distinction in Athenian society. In both cases S. is much too categorical. "I trust God speaks through me" is reported as a direct quote from a speech George Bush delivered in Lancaster, and recently all the major English newpapers reported that Bush has claimed that he was told by God to invade Iraq and attack Osama bin Laden's stronghold of Afghanistan. 41 From a European perspective it seems that US religious fundamentalists today are at the heart of power. If a revival of religion is what S. wants, should he not rejoice rather than complain?

Many of the disagreements discussed above depend one how one interprets our sources and how they are weighed. My opposition to many of S.'s views must not obscure my overall impression that I find S.'s book important and stimulating. Whereever it will be used, among scholars or in classrooms, it will inspire controversy and debate over ancient and modern democracy. I like S.'s idea to ask students to write an evaluation of Perikles' funeral oration from the point of view expressed by Sokrates in the Apology or vice versa. S. admits that his approach is personal and idiosyncratic and that must be taken into account in any assessment of his book.


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