Athenian Democracy Essay Research Paper A Democracy — страница 2

  • Просмотров 254
  • Скачиваний 9
  • Размер файла 18

willing to throw himself into the political fray had an impressive array of powers. He could propose a law, which, if it found enough support, could be formulated by the Council of 500, put on the agenda of a later Assembly meeting, discussed and voted upon at that meeting. He could act as a defender of the Constitution (like our Supreme Court) by bringing a prosecution for proposal of a law that was either illegal or not in the best interests of the state. Finally, he could bring a public prosecution against any other citizen whether a private person or a magistrate (in the process of examination). Not even the most influential politician could escape the power of the Athenian citizenry, if he had lost their support. While we say in our history books that the democracies of the

Greek city-states were great accomplishments, they, nevertheless, had numerous problems. All the major Greek philosophers thought democracy was the worst form of government. Plato, in his critique of democracy in The Republic , claims that it allows people to follow all their passions and drives without order or control; Aristotle claimed that the competing interests in a democracy makes for chaos rather than purposive and deliberated action. Democracy did not seem to work very democratically at all, in fact. In Athens, the democratic Assembly was usually dominated by a single powerful, charismatic individual; this individual often dominated the Assembly because of his presence or oratorical skill rather than his individual worth. As a result, the democratic governments could

make some surprisingly foolish decisions. The position of these charismatic leaders, however, was always very unstable. The democratic Assemblies could change character overnight; they would often eagerly follow a particular leader, and then exile that leader often for no reason Government functions were assigned to two bodies: ?h The Assembly, which focused on policy decision-making. ?h The Council, which concentrated on policy implementation and administrative matters. The Assembly was the supreme decision-making body in Athens, which met in an open area on a hill called the Pnyx. Technically every male citizen over the age of 18 could attend every meeting of the Assembly with the right to speak and vote on all matters of domestic and foreign policy. Space and other practical

considerations, however, would not allow every citizen to attend every meeting. As well, not all citizens wanted to attend. In the fifth century, to get an assembling of people, public slaves would proceed through the Agora carrying a long rope coated with fresh red paint. Any citizen who was marked with this paint and was caught not attending the Assembly was subject to a penalty of some kind. When pay was instituted for attendance at the Assembly in the late fifth century, there was no longer need to force citizens to attend. The Council consisted of 500 members selected annually by lot, 50 from each of the ten Athenian tribes. All male citizens over the age of 30 were eligible to serve in the Council, but service in this body was not compulsory. In the various demes (local

municipalities) that make up each tribe, citizens volunteered and were selected by lot for service on the Council. Larger demes were represented by more councillors than smaller ones. The minimum age was 30 years. A citizen could serve twice as a councillor in his lifetime. The Council met everyday, except for festival days and certain other forbidden days, in the Bouleuterion in the Agora. When the Assembly met, the Council would meet in the afternoon since most Assembly meetings lasted only till noon. The primary responsibilities of this body were the preparation of an agenda for the assembly and the supervision of the magistrates. Just as the Assembly required a smaller body (the Council) to prepare business for it, the Council needed a group much smaller than 500 to supervise

its activities. This supervision was performed by each contingent of 50 Council members from one tribe, serving in turn (decided by lot) as prytaneis or “presiding officers” for 1/10 of the year The law courts were another crucial part of the Athenian democracy. No citizen was above the law, so as in America everyone, both rich and poor, had to submit to the judgement of their fellow citizens, who made up the juries. Jury service allowed the poor to participate in the political process. Their exercise of real political power in these various capacities was a great source of annoyance to richer, more conservative Athenians. Every year from citizens, who had volunteered, 6000 jurors were selected by lot and were sworn in. Every day the courts were in session, a varying portion