Skin-in-the-game Argument: Citizen Warriors and Origins of Democracy

In First Democracy: The Challenge of an Ancient Idea, Paul Woodruff argues that democracy became and remained the Athenian form of government for mainly two reasons:

1) It ended class warfare and created a harmonious community.

but perhaps more importantly,

2) It provided free citizen warriors (in the form of naval rowers) who identified with the state and were therefore willing to make sacrifices for it.

Woodruff says that if so many rowers were not needed for Athenian navies’ ships, elites may not have allowed the people (the many) to wield as much power as they did.

Being not at all a historian, I ask those who know more about ancient history to agree or disagree with the above assessment.

Did military need provide the conditions for democracy in Athens?

Does the state (or elites) today need something in exchange for genuine democracy?

What would today’s state (or elites) want from the people in return? Citizen consumers?

[I hope there is something less cynical than my last suggestion.]

46 Responses

  1. Lord Acton would say that this is putting the horse before the cart. The rowers earned the right to representation by winning the battle of Salamis, saving the city from the Persians. According to him, Solon set up the principle of political service as proportional to contribution. Since there were so many rowers, they came up with sortition to get them all involved.

    “The only resource against political disorders that had been known till then was the concentration of power. Solon undertook to effect the same object by the distribution of power. He gave to the common people as much influence as he thought them able to employ, that the State might be exempt from arbitrary government. It is the essence of Democracy, he said, to obey no master but the law. Solon recognised the principle that political forms are not final or invariable, and must adapt themselves to facts; and he provided so well for the revision of his constitution, without breach of continuity, or loss of stability that, for centuries after his death the Attic orators attributed to him, and quoted by his name the whole structure of Athenian law.

    “The direction of its growth was determined by the fundamental doctrine of Solon, that political power ought to be commensurate with public service. In the Persian war the services of the Democracy eclipsed those of the patrician orders, for the fleet that swept the Asiatics from the Aegean Sea was manned by the poorer Athenians. That class whose valour had saved the state, and had preserved European civilization, had gained a title to increase of influence and privilege. The offices of state, which had been a monopoly of the rich were thrown open to the poor, and in order to make sure that they should obtain their share, all but the highest commands were distributed by lot.” (


  2. @John, it seems we are agreeing here. You restated what I attributes to Woodruff with a quote from someone else.
    Anyone disagree with Woodruff’s and John’s assessment?


  3. Ahmed,

    The most prominent historian to disagree with this is Josiah Ober, who claimed that democracy was the result of a popular revolution in 507BC (as opposed to the result of the largesse of the aristocratic elite). The talk about Solon (rather than Cleisthenes or Ephialtes) is interesting, because there is some evidence that 6th-century Athens was an indirect form of democracy as all male citizens had the right to elect the magistrates in the assembly. Republicans have always viewed political power as something that has to be earned through service to the polis, as opposed to a natural right (the liberal perspective); as for the modern quid pro quo, it’s interesting that you focus on consumption, as the franchise was historically limited to those with the highest income.


  4. I am not sure what the assessment is. It is clear that elites will not give up power unless they are forced to. So if what you are saying is that the conditions of war forced the Athenian elites to relinquished some power, then that makes sense (athough the democratization of Athens was a prolonged process that started long before the Persian invasions, so this was clearly not the only factor at work.) On the other hand, Acton’s formulation – “[the poor] gained a title to increase of influence and privilege” through show of valor – wrongly substitutes morality for power.


  5. The more pivotal reforms in the creation of Athenian democracy were those of Cleisthenes, long after Solon. Rather than merely being allowed to vote in the Assembly, they were allowed (by lottery) to be members of the Boule (Council of 500) and shape the city’s agenda.

    I am not a Greek historian, but I have read that after he led the overthrow of the tyrant Hippias, Cleisthenes was exiled by a competitor, Isagoras with the help of the Spartan army. The people rose up against Isagoras and his Spartan allies, in what appears to have been a spontaneous revolution, and welcomed back Cleisthenes. In order to shore up his position as leader against Isagoras and other potential aristocratic rivals, Cleisthenes launched an astonishingly comprehensive social re-engineering project (the creation of the ten tribes, etc.). Whether he “gave” power to the common man, or they “took it,” is unclear.

    Another key fact is that Athens was NOT the first Greek democracy… just the best known. Other Greek city states had established their own democracies as much as a generation prior to Athens. Nothing is known of how or why this occurred.


  6. The interesting thing is that “democracy” was the accidental by-product of, as John Dunn puts it in his 1992 collection celebrating the anniversary of Cleisthenes’ reforms, “a severely local response to protracted local difficulties.” Cleisthenes would have been astonished to find himself celebrated 2,500 years later as the architect of a political system. As for Solon’s reforms they were certainly democratic by modern (Schumpeterian) standards and were judged so by 4th century Greeks; they just didn’t match up to 5th century “extreme” democracy.


  7. @Keith, I don’t read Ober and Woodruff to be saying two different things. I believe W’s point is that the aristocracy would not have lived with democracy if it was not also somewhat to their advantage, or to the advantage of the whole city. Granted, there’s also a bit of a chicken/egg issue. Was it their contribution that gave the many the courage to rebel or was it what caused the few to accept?

    What all this (would) means for us today, I do not know. The questions in this post take a Realist perspective, one that’s important but perhaps not all important. Democracy as an Ideal is so entrenched that its value, as a “North Star” as both Paul Woodruff and Terry Bouricius have put it, is beyond question.

    Even setting aside Realism:
    Is political power commensurate with public service an underestimated idea today? Would it be an important part of the theory because it a sense of fairness understandable to all (right and left) or would it be more of a distraction?


  8. Ahmed,

    Not sure that I understand your last question but Gordon Wood’s chapter in the John Dunn collection I mentioned above explains how the notion of disinterested public service that used to be a key part of the republican tradition disappeared soon after the American revolution. This was because of the link between republicanism and the mixed constitution, and the republican belief that only those of independent means have the leisure to cultivate political virtue. Hard to see a rebirth of that idea on the horizon — at least in the American context (it managed to survive in Britain until the Thatcher revolution).


  9. Wow, definitions! Why is “rowing” or military service not a public service? It does not require independent means afaik. But, Athenians supposedly had to pay for their own gear.


  10. Sorry, my reference was to political leadership. It was believed (for 2,000 years or so!) that disinterested decision making was only possible for those of independent means as they (supposedly) had no axe to grind. Independent wealth was also the only way of having the leisure to gain the necessary education. This belief, claimed Wood, ended with the American revolution.

    PS only the hoplites had to pay for their gear (that’s why it was for the middle classes), rowers had their kit supplied by the (wealthy) liturgists.


  11. Ahmed,

    As a side note…Some historians say that after protracted male resistance it was women’s role in supporting the war effort during World War I that finally lead to the adoption of the 19th amendment granting them the vote (I don’t know that history myself). And it is definitely the case that the draft of 18-year-olds during the Vietnam War gave impetus to the adoption of the 26th amendment giving them the right to vote (I happen to have been in that cohort of the first 18-year-olds to vote in federal elections in the U.S. in 1972.)


  12. Terry,

    That’s a very interesting point. It’s certainly the case that republican notions of virtue and citizenship have always been linked to fighting in defence of the polis. If you didn’t fight you were simply not a citizen, so morality does come into it (rather than just power), despite what Marxist historians like GEM de St. Croix believed.


  13. In the relatively recent literature on the origins of the Athenian democracy there is a controversy centered on whether Athens became a democracy with the Cleisthenic revolution of 508 or not until Ephialtes’ reforms of the 460s. In this academic controversy the thetes (rowers) figure only in the latter episode. I am of the opinion that Cleisthenes was the principal architect of the Athenian democracy. Unfortunately his motives can only be guessed at. There is some brief reference in the meager ancient sources (if my memory serves me correctly) about his giving political power to the people in order to win them over in his personal struggle with Isagoras for leadership in the polis. But we should be skeptical of this kind of simplistic (and hardly explained) utterance. The fact is that the founding of the Athenian democracy is shrouded in mystery. As for the entire notion of a quid pro quo, what revolutionaries–the actual agents of change–really think in these terms? Do those of us who want democracy in this country today want it for any Machiavellian purposes? Will we negotiate for it? No. The changes Cleisthenes introduced were so radical and extensive that it is more plausible, I would say, that he did so out of principle, i.e. because he was profoundly opposed to the oligarchical status quo and he simply wanted to see the empowerment of the people–and he found a way to do it. In a revolution it is not a question of what elites “allow” the people to have in some polite deal, it is a matter of what the people take–against fierce opposition and by any means necessary.


  14. Ted Aranda,

    >The changes Cleisthenes introduced were so radical and extensive that it is more plausible, I would say, that he did so out of principle, i.e. because he was profoundly opposed to the oligarchical status quo.

    That’s certainly plausible, but I’m not aware of any supporting evidence (or historians taking up that position). Most historians take Herodotus’s claim “he took into his faction the ordinary people” to indicate that democracy was the accidental by-product of a power struggle between aristocratic elites. Josiah Ober takes the view that it was a popular revolution but he has few supporters (P.J. Rhodes claims that he is guilty of “over-interpreting” Herodotus). Those, like Rhodes, who focus on Ephialtes’ reforms are normally referring to when Athens became self-consciously democratic and this would support the standard claim that democracy was the accidental by-product of Cleisthenes’ pragmatic and opportunistic acts.


  15. This is slightly off topic to refer you to an article of mine just out on the Belgian Youth Parliament’s decree. It links back to Yoram’s post and mentions many of the regular contributors here.
    Please visit and add your thoughts in the comments. It is an opportunity not only to correct my errors or omissions but also get your messages to a wider audience.
    It’s called “The New French Revolution”

    p.s. I’m working on a longer version to also mention John Burnheim and Tom Atlee’s ideas.


  16. @Ted and Keith,
    There is a sense in which the issue, re Cleisthenes, does not matter. If the question is “What about conditions in Athens made elites accept or abide by democracy for so long?” then it does not matter whether it was accidental or intentional in origin.

    At any rate, this still leaves open what this would mean today.


  17. I agree. The Athenian democracy existed. This is an incontrovertible fact. The question now is will we recognize the beauty and value of that system and adapt/adopt it for our own purposes today–namely to get out of the ruinous political morass we are in–regardless of the purposes of its ancient creator(s), which we might be unable to discern.


  18. >“What about conditions in Athens made elites accept or abide by democracy for so long?”

    This is the important question. The take-home message is that we need to avoid language deliberately designed to alienate the rich ‘n powerful. The initiative has always been driven by elite political actors and this is a fact of life that we need to learn to live with, like it or lump it. I’m reading Machiavelli’s Discorsi at the moment and would agree with the old fox that freedom is preserved by the tension between elite actors and the wisdom of crowds.


  19. Ahmed

    The comment facility at Truthout doesn’t seem to work.


  20. The only thing I think could go wrong is that you put a live link in your response that got marked as spam.


  21. *** Keith Sutherland writes, quoting John Dunn, that the Athenian dêmokratia « was the accidental by-product of a severely local response to protracted local difficulties. ». Terry Bouricius writes : « In order to shore up his position as leader against Isagoras and other potential aristocratic rivals, Cleisthenes launched an astonishingly comprehensive social re-engineering project ». (« Astonishingly », indeed ! ). Ted Aranda says « The changes Cleisthenes introduced were so radical and extensive that it is more plausible (..) that he did so out of principle ». Actually the ideological view of the story and the personal view are not contradictory. Cleisthenes was most probably at once the leader of a faction in an internecine nobiliary bloody feud and an intellectual acquainted with some of the contemporary « advanced » ideas. The coincidence resulted in the installation of the Athenian dêmokratia, which probably would have been later without the personality of Cleisthenes, but, as Terry Bouricius rightly underlines, was only one item among the ancient democracies.
    *** An interesting book about Cleisthenes as intellectual : « Cleisthenes the Athenian: An Essay on the Representation of Space and Time in Greek Political Thought from the End of the Sixth Century to the Death of Plato » by Lévêque & Vidal-Naquet.
    *** AhmedRTeleb concentrates rightly on the question : « What about conditions in Athens made elites accept or abide by democracy for so long? ». We must remember that a part of the elites was always hostile, and that the situation was different for the times of Cleisthenes, Ephialtes, Pericles or Demosthenes.
    *** Let’s consider the times of Cleisthenes. I think we can accept various answers to AhmedRTeleb’s question, and that there were converging factors.
    • The nobiliary elite was strongly divided by long feuds (something current in Archaic Greece), and for instance the Alcmeonid faction of Cleisthenes, facing defeat, prefered to follow his leader’s « jump ».
    • The noble families had such a prestige among the masses that the nobles joining up the democratic side felt confident to lead the new regime (and, actually, all the Athenian leaders up to Pericles were of high lineage).
    • Possibly (it is speculation, as we dont’ have any sociological knowledge of this time) there was some opposition between « old families » and the « nouveaux-riches », who could prefer the Solonic model.
    • The noble families had felt humiliated by the Pisistratid tyranny, which apparently had enjoyed a strong popular support ; and many could have thought that the real choice was not between democracy and aristocracy or the Solonic mixed republic, but between democracy and tyranny. (We must remember that Cleisthenes’dêmokratia did not follow in time the short-lived Solonic republic, but the Pisistratid tyranny ; more generally in Ancient Greece the age of the first democracies follows the age of the first tyrannies).


  22. The relationship between military options and political options in Classical Greek Cities is interesting, indeed.
    *** A pure oligarchy would have been so inferior in military manpower that it would have to live under a foreign benevolent military umbrella – quite possible (it is the quite reasonable option of the contemporary Costa-Rica), but eventually hazardous, and somewhat humiliating in the mental context of Classical Greece. After the defeat of Athens against Sparta, this option was easily blended with collaborationism.
    *** « Dêmokratia » would give the City a great and motivated military manpower, and specially in Athens a naval manpower as the low urban classes could be easily enlisted in the war fleet (specially manual workers, who were not salaried working in permanent jobs with a boss – something looking too much like slavery -, but temporary workers on a task basis). That would please those, in the elite as in the masses, favoring imperialism, with its moral or material rewards ; or more generally the « patriot » party, afraid of the foreign military threats.
    *** A third option was a « republic » (« politeia » in a specific Aristotelian sense) or « broadly-based oligarchy », disenfranchizing legally or practically the lower classes, dominated by the higher classes, but associating to the power the medium classes, specially the farmers, which were the classical suppliers of heavy infantry (« hoplites »). This was sensible as military option, allowing for a reasonable degree of military safety in the Athenian case. It failed in Athens as a political option, as apparently the medium classes turned down it – by distrust of the oligarchists, by strong civic identity and ideological commitment to dêmokratia, by fear of civil war with the proud urban poors ? Anyway the events of 411-410 BC demonstrated that this « moderate » solution was not actually workable – it reverted « spontaneously » to dêmokratia.
    *** In the Fourth Century Athens, the anti-democrat thinkers (Plato, Aristotle) built great philosophical systems against dêmokratia, but apparently the majority of the Athenian elite accepted the system. The intelligent conservative side supported policies of welfare allowed by efficient financial management, which could lessen the imperialist temptation among the poor classes and buy « social peace », and, playing on the lineage pride of the Athenians, favored a law forbiding mass naturalizations. All that worked fine, until the dreadful clash with the massive military power of the Macedonians : lack of money to hire enough mercenaries, legal (and mental) inability to recruit massively outside the born-citizens, even in emergency – the City was crushed.


  23. *** In ancient times very strong obstacles for dêmokratia occured on the side of the « common people » : inability to meet and deliberate, except in a small State (even Athens was too big) ; low levels of schooling and literacy ; traditional deference towards the dominant classes ; authoritarian and inegalitarian traditions in social life ; lack of precise theoretical basis for the cardinal institution of lot … These obstacles have mostly disappeared in modern societies.
    *** But in the ancient Greek Cities some factors worked for dêmokratia among the elites : in some cases very strong divisions among the elites ; the strong agonistic spirit inside any elite ; the big and motivated military manpower this political system ensured to the City ; the fear of revolution, or of dictatorial undertaking with popular support.
    *** Limiting to the contemporary European societies, we see that the elites, even competing, are generally quite close ; and that they don’t fear seriously any foreign agression or any revolution. A modern-democracy-through-sortition project can be supported among the elites by some individuals, for idealistic or personal motives ; or by very specific subgroups ; but on the whole the elites have no collective strong reason to support the project.
    *** The situation is therefore the opposite. Considering the very interesting questions of Ahmed R Teleb, we could be very pessimistic about any prospect of dêmokratia. But remember the other side, the side of the « common people » : very strong obstacles have disappeared.


  24. Andre

    No-one would dispute that the deference/education/egalitarian obstacles have been overcome in modern societies, but the problem of scale remains. I agree that Athens was too big for serious meeting and deliberation, nevertheless it remained an option available to all citizens (as is voting in modern democracies), sortition being used merely as a way to elect magistrates and jurors. If you wish to draw the analogy with ancient practice then you cannot simply airbrush out the fact that the ecclesia was the central institution of Athenian democracy and you require a modern analogue. Athenian democracy was not “democracy-through-sortition”, it was a direct democracy.

    By all means construct an entirely new (representative) model for modern democracy, but you cannot justify it by ancient precedent. If representation is the foundation for your model then you need to acknowledge that sortition could only be part of the solution, for reasons that we have already discussed. There never has been, and never can be, “democracy-through-sortition” [alone].


  25. Keith,

    Not so fast… As you know, in the reforms of 403 BCE the Citizen Assembly voted to transfer all power for making laws from the Assembly to the allotted juries (Nomothetai), other than a few special matters, such as making war. The Assembly was still very important (a gatekeeper, along with the allotted Council of 500, for deciding whether some matter deserved the formation of a law-making jury, for example). But the central function of the democracy was no longer carried out by the assembly, but by juries. Also the Assembly meeting space was never able to accommodate all citizens…and when full, later citizens were turned away. The Assembly of perhaps 6,000 was merely a SAMPLE of the full citizenry. As we know today, a sample of 6,000 is equally statistically adequate for a population of 30,000, or 300,000,000 citizens. They had unwittingly solved the problem of scale. I would argue, Athenian democracy was ALWAYS a representative system…it’s just that the sampling was based on first-come-first-included, rather than scientific.


  26. >Not so fast… As you know, in the reforms of 403 BCE the Citizen Assembly voted to transfer all power for making laws from the Assembly to the allotted juries

    I believe what happened is that the Assembly took a decision in every particular case whether or not to establish a jury. Your notion that the Assembly was a representative institution is not shared by any scholars of the Athenian democracy that I’m aware of — they all refer to it as the primary institution of a direct democracy. So a modern analogue of the Athenian legislative process would require the following:

    1. ANYONE can make a proposal (ho boulomenos)
    2. EVERYONE decides whether to appoint a nomothetic panel
    3. A representative SAMPLE determines the final outcome

    Sortition is only one stage of three. By all means argue the case for a sortition-only system (by overcoming the practical and theoretical objections), but don’t seek to claim past precedent as it just twists the historical evidence.


  27. Keith,

    I agree that scholars (and others) have endlessly, but erroneously, perpetuated the false notion that ALL citizens of Athens could participate in the Assembly. This never happened, and never could. Any citizen may have had a CHANCE to be a part of the 6,000 or so sample that gathered in the Pnyx, but the vast majority of citizens were always NOT there. This is referred to as “direct democracy” — when people get to self-select to be part of the sample that deliberates and votes. But my point is that the Athenian system of “DIRECT DEMOCRACY” was, in fact, a system of REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY, except that the representative sample was self-selected.The sample in attendance was presumed to be a representative sample of the full citizenry (though the Athenians didn’t use that terminology) . I am simply suggesting we use essentially the same representative concept Athens did, but with a more accurate means of forming the samples, that is more accurately representative, and also manageable in size (as the Athenians did with the nomothetai).


  28. Terry: In my study of Athens I don’t recall that the 403 reforms were quite as drastic as you characterize them. In any case, when scholars and others refer to the Athenian democracy, especially when considering it as a useful model for today, they generally have in mind the earlier, purer form with just the Assembly as the sovereign decision-making body. No need for unnecessary complications!

    Keith: Terry is quite right that, strictly speaking, the 6,000-citizen Assembly was only a sample of the citizenry, presumably statistically representative (more or less), and therefore the Athenian democracy was not a true direct democracy in the sense that all citizens participated as legislators at any one time. But I agree, if this is indeed what you are intimating, that this is more a technicality than a defining feature of the system. The intent was clearly to have the demos assemble en masse to legislate, to the degree that this was physically possible. All the ancient commentators considered the Assembly to be the embodiment of the collective demos. No one was concerned that not everyone attended. It was the Council of 500, chosen through sortition, that was seen as an executive committee of the people, the people in microcosm. Thus you are right that in principle Athens was a direct democracy, not a “representative democracy” (an oxymoron, by the way), with the Assembly being the central institution. I disagree, however, that the Assembly “was too big for serious meeting and deliberation.” The question, to me, is “Can a true direct democracy based on Athens be created today?” I think the answer is yes. I refer you to the model constitution that we at Democracy for the USA have devised. It is presented on “The Idea” page of our website, The plan is to expand both of the key Athenian institutions, the Assembly and the Council. In a modern democracy there would simply be many of them! The assemblies, consisting literally of all of the citizens, would remain the sovereign legislative bodies. No representative bodies of any kind selected by any method would usurp their supremacy. The entire population being engaged in decision making is, we believe, essential to democracy. Random-sample representative bodies alone are inadequate. Your “modern analogue,” which is missing assemblies, is neither a correct analogue of Athens nor, I would say, an ideal modern democracy.


  29. Agree with Ted on his analysis of Athenian democracy.

    Terry — neither you, Ted nor I are experts in this area, so we need to accept the scholarly consensus and (in particular) guard against the danger of wishful thinking. The key point is that every citizen COULD attend, even if it meant getting up early in the morning. By contrast your own scheme is entirely Madisonian in spirit, as it excludes the people from any share in government.

    Ted, I would take issue that the concept “representative democracy” is necessarily oxymoronic (although empirically it always has been the case). I need to take a look at your website before responding in full — will have to leave it for the weekend.

    PS I raided the populist/progressive era section of your excellent book for my own PhD (with due acknowledgements). I’m trying to argue that modern democracy is moving (functionally speaking) into a quasi-direct mode and was interested to read of the historical connection between populism and direct democracy. Can I send you the draft of this chapter for your comments?


  30. Ted,

    I’ve had a look at your website now. Your proposal seems very similar to the one that Arthur Robbins has proposed in his book, reviewed on this site:

    This review led to a long, and somewhat heated exchange between Arthur and the usual suspects (ie Yoram, Terry and myself). Our principal objection is that if everyone gets to decide then it matters little what mechanism you use (voting, direct participation or whatever), you still end up with the problem of “rational” ignorance — why should anyone take the trouble to inform themselves and deliberate if their final share of the decision mechanism (yea or nay) is so small that it’s not worth the effort? Given the existence of large modern states, it doesn’t make any difference if you divide it up into smaller assemblies as your personal impotence is unaffected wrt the final decision outcome.

    Terry, Yoram and myself are united regarding the need for representation in large modern states, but we disagree as to how to achieve this. Terry and Yoram argue for 100% sortition as their goal is to disenfranchise the rich ‘n powerful oligarchy. My position accepts that elites will always be with us (see Harrington’s argument on the emergence of natural aristocracies), so we need to quarantine them. Hence my acceptance of the role of politicians, but the need to leave the decision outcome in the hands of a well-informed statistically-accurate sample of the demos. This model, based on Harrington’s own proposal, is a modern analogue of 4th century Athenian practice.

    The proposal we are outlining is one of deliberation, not participation. I don’t think these two distinct strands will ever agree with each other. Deliberation is good (especially if conducted by a representative microcosm); and participation is good. But take your pick, you can’t have it both ways.


  31. > The key point is that every citizen COULD attend, even if it meant getting up early in the morning. By contrast your own scheme is entirely Madisonian in spirit, as it excludes the people from any share in government.

    As we have pointed out many times (and as no doubt we would have to point out again in the future), in a sortition-based government every citizen COULD participate by writing a proposal and submitting it for consideration to every member of the allotted chamber in the hope that a majority of them would support it. This is no different than getting up early in the morning in the hope of speaking up and garnering a majority of votes in the assembly.


  32. Goodness me, they’re going to need a very large mailbox (and an army of “impartial” assistants to help them sift through its contents). Better resourced petitioners might even stuff the brown envelopes full of cash and other inducements, and well-resourced and educated citizens will write in a much more persuasive way than others. This may well lead to a whole new industry that would probably be referred to as “lobbying”.


  33. > Goodness me, they’re going to need a very large mailbox

    Indeed. It’s funny (and somewhat sad) how you cannot make up your mind whether this is ridiculous or essential. It is this sort of formality (being able to submit one proposal out of many thousands) that you insist is a meaningful expression of the political power of the average citizen in a democracy.

    > Better resourced petitioners might even stuff the brown envelopes full of cash and other inducements

    So you are claiming that a majority among the delegates would be willing to take bribes and no a single one of them is going to alert the authorities?

    > well-resourced and educated citizens will write in a much more persuasive way than others.

    If some people, “well-resourced” or not, educated or not, manage to convince the delegates that their policy proposals are worth voting for, then it makes sense that those proposals should become policy. I would think that this is what democracy is about.

    > This may well lead to a whole new industry that would probably be referred to as “lobbying”.

    Or it might be called political activism, or organizing, or campaigning, or some other names. There is nothing wrong with such activity as long as it does not privilege certain groups over others. It will be up to the allotted chamber to regulate it as it sees fit and it will be up to the individual delegates to decide how to handle mail sent to them or any other forms of communication.


  34. >It is this sort of formality (being able to submit one proposal out of many thousands) that you insist is a meaningful expression of the political power of the average citizen in a democracy.

    Yes, but the issue is how to filter the proposals. The mechanism that I’ve consistently advocated is the (unconsidered) verdict of the demos. In 4th century Athens the whole ecclesia decided which proposals to send to their allotted subcommittee for deliberation; in the modern version, everybody should have the chance to decide by voting on the e-petition proposals.

    >Or it might be called political activism, or organizing, or campaigning, or some other names. There is nothing wrong with such activity as long as it does not privilege certain groups over others. It will be up to the allotted chamber to regulate it as it sees fit

    The only way of regulating such activity is by exposing it to the full glare of publicity, rather than the random volitions of a small group.


  35. Setting agendas, proposing laws and lobbying all need to be democratized as well…not just the disposing of final draft bills. Since rational ignorance is JUST as much of a problem when it comes to picking issues to refer to a jury for decision, it makes no sense to distribute this decision to millions of people voting in a polularity contest or e-petition. Some hot-button topics will always rise to the top, while other crucial topics (infrastructure repair?) will languish. It is vital that an allotted body deliberate thoughtfully on what matters need new bills drafted. this can’t be left to elites nor to rationally ignorant (necessarily ill-informed) everybody. All need an equal CHANCE to be a part of an agenda-setting body.

    On the matter suggested that “in a sortition-based government every citizen COULD participate by writing a proposal and submitting it for consideration to every member of the allotted chamber…”

    This begs for yet a different application of a lottery. If the sheer volume of lobbying letters, or proposals is too great, then they should be randomly assigned to random members of the allotted body to read.


  36. Terry:

    >Some hot-button topics will always rise to the top, while other crucial topics (infrastructure repair?) will languish.

    Yes indeed. My original proposal in The Party’s Over was for all proposals to originate from government ministers — in the above example transport, trade and industry etc. But I was persuaded that it needed to be democratised, hence the addition of “political” proposals in my second book. As to exactly how that should be done (election, initiative or a combination thereof) I don’t have a strong view but the suggestion that individual speech acts should be the exclusive privilege of a body that only has an aggregate statistical mandate is entirely undemocratic. The Athenians would have had no truck with it, and neither should we. Your double randomisation proposal would certainly reduce the risk of corruption but has no democratic or epistemic merits.


  37. Keith: Sure, I’d love to see your draft!


  38. Keith: I forgot a minor detail, my email address!


  39. @Keith,
    I’m new to Athenian political practice, but everything I’ve seen indicates that it was the Council that set the agenda. I’ve also read that the Council appointed some of its members to oversee what was discussed and put to a vote.

    Is this other people’s understanding also?


  40. Ahmed,

    Typically, we’ve had this back and forth with Keith several times before. For example, see here and the discussion thereabouts.


  41. If you look at the Manin, Urbinati and Landemore article, they are clear that the Council was the “secretariat” for the Assembly. The allotment principle was designed to ensure the sovereignty of he Asssembly — to protect it against domination by oligarchic influences. There is no evidence that the agenda was established by a deliberative process and I’m not aware of any scholars who claim that it was a representative institution. Yoram’s comment is misleading in that all I’m doing is conveying the scholarly consensus and guarding against the wishful thinking prevalent on this blog that Athens was primarily a sortition-based democracy. This is simply untrue, it was a direct participative democracy that used sortition for the rotation of magistrates and jurors.


  42. Keith overstates the scholarly support for his position that the Boule was merely a functionary administrative body. We can’t know exactly what it did, and almost certainly its power waxed and waned over the years.

    The Assembly was NOT the key institution for Greek democracy, as many oligarchies in Greece also maintained popular assemblies of citizens…but with the agenda set by the oligarchy! Classics scholar Josiah Ober has noted evidence from another Greek democratic city-state not far from Athens, that:

    “In terms of making a participatory Greek democracy work, the key institution was a popular deliberative council chosen from the entire citizen body. The Greek recognition of the centrality of a popular council for democracy is underlined by a recently discovered inscription from Eretria. In ca. 340 B.C. the Eretrian democracy promulgated a decree offering rewards to a potential tyrant killer, that is, to anyone who took direct and violent action against those who sought to overthrow the existing democratic government. In a revealing passage, the decree orders all citizens to fight without waiting to receive orders if anyone tries to establish “some constitution other than a Council and a prutaneia (a subset of the Council) appointed by lot from all Eretrians.”
    [Ober, Josiah. “What the Ancient Greeks Can Tell Us About Democracy.” Version 1.0 .September 2007, Stanford page 7 accessed May 20, 2012, citing Knoepfler 2001, 2002; translation Teegarden 2007]


  43. Terry

    The Ober quote just confirms the scholarly consensus that the role of the council was to protect the assembly against oligarchic influence — a good example of the Stone/Dowlen (prophylactic) Lottery Thesis. The only word that buttresses your claim is “deliberative”. I asked P.J. Rhodes (the author of the leading monograph on the Athenian boule) at a conference last year whether the council was deliberative in the modern sense of the word and he replied that there was no evidence to support that view. Bear in mind also that Ober has been accused of overinterpreting what little evidence there is (from Herodotus).


  44. Keith,

    The Council’s role was to protect the sovereignty of the DEMOS generally, whether the citizenry was acting through the Assembly, the Court or legislative jury. Remember, the allotted member of the Court jury could, and often did, overrule the Assembly. My argument is not that the allotted Council was superior to the Assembly, but that it was seen as the vital linchpin to allow the existence of democracy.

    As for Rhodes stating that there is no evidence the Council was deliberative…it is just as correct to say there is no evidence supporting your contention that they were NOT deliberative. The only “evidence” is an unsupported assertion by some scholars, which is contradicted by other scholars (and by the way Manin, Urbinati and Landemore may be political science scholars, but they would admit they are not classical Greek scholars using original sources, unlike Ober).

    As to whether the Council was “deliberative,” clearly it was. They worked out the wording for all kinds of decrees and laws though the kinds of final decisions they were allowed to make were limited.
    Hansen discusses (in the Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes) kinds of decrees the Council was allowed to adopt without reference back to the Assembly, the fact that the Assembly often delegated amending authority on some matter to the Council, and that no nomothetai could be established to consider a proposed law unless the Council had placed it on the agenda of the Assembly. We even know the voting procedure the Council used following deliberation (show of hands). The Council deliberated and then advised the Assembly and legislative juries. The Council was expressly prohibited from declaring war, or imprisoning people, but received foreign diplomats and ran most of the Polis’s foreign policy.


  45. Terry,

    I’m happy to agree with all that. My only issue is whether the agenda for the assembly was produced endogenously by the council, or whether they were more of a conduit for ho boulomenos. Probably a bit of both — as the body who supervised the various magistracies, no doubt they came up with many proposals to improve the day to day running of the polis. But if you look at the record for political prosecutions, my impression it’s that most of them were aimed at the usual suspects — i.e. demosthenes and co — this would suggest that most “political” laws did not arise out of the internal deliberations of a group of citizens selected at random. Most people would have not been attracted by the rewards and punishments that came from a life of public service.


  46. Terry,

    To put the question of the role of the boule slightly differently, what would have been the quality of the deliberative exchange within a group of 500 randomly-selected citizens, few of whom would have had any significant prior experience of discursive debate? It’s easy to imagine such a group having some sort of gatekeeping or judgment function, thereby preserving the primacy of the demos, but I think those who see the Athenian council in terms of the procedural norms of deliberative democracy are guilty of anachronism.


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