Prof. Irad Malkin: Democracy without democracy

Prof. Irad Malkin, a professor of Ancient History in Tel Aviv University, writes in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (my translation):

The days of democracy are short and few. In ancient Greece it lasted 200 years and its age in the modern era is similar. Modern democracy draws is ideological roots from ancient democracy, mainly from Classical Athens: since the people is sovereign, the government is called democratic, said Pericles the leader of Athens. But modern democracy does wrong to the basic democratic idea of equality and accessibility, since it chose to adopt some of the democratic ideas of Athens and reject the way in which Athens sustained its government. The Athenians did not think that it was possible to disconnect the governmental mechanism from its guiding principle; for the mechanism is what guaranteed democracy, the sovereignty of the people, the accessibility and the rotation: democracy, said Aristotle, is ruling and being ruled in turns.

So what did we forget? What did we give up? The lottery. More than anything else the democratic government relied on the lottery rather than on voting. Magistrates, cleric and jurists (that served as judges in Athens), and even government ministers – all were selected by lottery – and there was no “prime minister”. Please do not smile: “The rule of the people has the fairest name of all: ‘equality before the law’ (isonomia)… In this government, officials are selected by lot, and are held accountable and proposals are brought before the people… for all things are possible for the majority.”

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