Paul Demont on Allotment and Democracy in Ancient Greece

A very good article, originally in French, now translated:

“Democracy arises after the poor are victorious over their adversaries, some of whom they kill and others of whom they exile, then they share out equally with the rest of the population political offices and burdens; and in this regime public offices are usually allocated by lot” (Plato, Republic VIII, 557a). “It is accepted as democratic when public offices are allocated by lot, and as oligarchic when they are filled by election” (Aristotle, Politics IV. 9, 1294b8). “The characteristics of democracy are as follows: the election of officers by all out of all; and that all should rule over each, and each in his turn over all; that the appointment to all offices, or to all but those which require experience and skill, should be made by lot” (Aristotle, Politics VI. 2, 1317b17-21). This feature of ancient democracy, much commented upon by ancients and moderns alike, must be contextualized. Allotment was a common procedure for making choices in all ancient societies, democratic or not, and in Greek society of the archaic and classic periods, it often had a religious importance. Mogens H. Hansen denies this fact, in order to refute Fustel de Coulanges, who gave a fundamental place to the religious foundation of the ancient city: he observes about democratic allotment that “there is not a single reliable source that clearly proved that selection of officeholders by lot originally had a religious importance”. Here I should like to take up this question again. Allotment, considered to be an act of choosing by a divinity, plays an important role in aristocratic and predemocratic societies. In spite of what Plato and Aristotle held, it is not, in my view, allotment that defines democracy, not even ancient democracy; it is rather the establishment of democracy that gradually gives a democratic meaning to the practice of allotment in political affairs.