Cammack: Deliberation in Ancient Greek Assemblies

A paper by Daniela Cammack, Yale University:

When an ancient Greek dêmos (“people,” “assembly”) deliberated, what did it do? On one view, it engaged in a form of public conversation along the lines theorized by contemporary deliberative democrats; on another, a small number of “active” citizens debated before a much larger, more “passive” audience. On either account, deliberation is represented as an external, speech-centered activity rather than an internal, thought-centered one. The democratic ideal, it is argued, was at least occasional participation in public speech.

This article questions that interpretation. A study of βουλεύομαι, “deliberate,” from Homer to Aristotle reveals three models of deliberation: internal, dialogical, and a partial combination that I shall call “guided,” in which speaking and deliberating were performed by advisers and decision-makers respectively. Assembly deliberation was almost always represented as guided deliberation. The dêmos—which is to say the audience—deliberated (ἐβουλεύετο), while those who spoke before it advised (συνεβούλευσε). Citizens thus did not fall short of a democratic ideal when they did not speak publicly. To the contrary, internal reflection, culminating in a vote, was precisely how the dêmos was expected to exercise its authority. The implications for our conceptualization of ancient Greek democracy are significant.

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39 Responses

  1. This is an important paper for those who seek to model their modern proposals on Athenian democracy, as it seeks to overturn the rich participatory perspective of Habermasian and other deliberative democrats. This is illustrated by the author’s conclusion:

    Although deliberation in ancient Greek assemblies is usually interpreted as group discussion or debate and associated above all with those who spoke publicly, this article has shown that βουλεύομαι, “deliberate,” was historically associated with internal decision-making and was typically ascribed to assembly audiences** rather than to those who addressed them. Assembly deliberation was almost always represented as what I have called “guided deliberation”; those who spoke did not deliberate but advised those who did. Metaphorically at least, in coming forward to advise, speakers cast themselves outside the deliberating dêmos. They posed as counsellors (σύμβουλοι), analogous to the counsellors to kings found elsewhere in the ancient evidence.

    Cammack’s binary perspective — advisors and deliberators — maps well onto the argumentative theory of reasoning (Mercier and Landemore, 2012). According to this hypothesis reasoning serves two distinct survival-related functions: a) convincing people and b) evaluating the arguments of others. The second module pertains to Cammack’s perspective on deliberation and requires listening (open-mindedly), deliberating within and then deciding. The first module, however, pertains to advisors, as speakers “have completed their deliberation in advance” (Cammack, p. 27) and thereby benefit from the confirmatory bias, an important tool for forensic rhetoric (Mercier and Landemore, 2012, pp. 251-4). The derivation of the term “deliberation” from the Latin liber (weight) gives additional credence to Cammack’s perspective — Fishkin arguing that deliberation involves the “weighing” of competing arguments.

    Extrapolating to modern states, a large random sample of the demos would serve the second function as it would deliberate and vote in the same way as other samples (by definition). But the selection of advisors is an altogether different matter and a good case could be made for election.

    ** This effective division of labour in the ecclesia was formalised in the fourth-century legislative courts.


    Mercier, H., & Landemore, H. (2012). Reasoning is for arguing: Understanding the successes and failures of deliberation. Political Psychology, 33(2), 243-258.


  2. Keith,
    Are there new facts or analysis in this piece, or is it mostly the same as her 2012 paper “Deliberation in Classical Athens: Not Talking, But Thinking (and Voting)?”


  3. Terry,

    The original paper has been extensively developed (argumentatively and evidentially) and split into two, the present one destined for Classical Philology and the theoretical/deliberative one for The Journal of Political Philosophy. It’s benefited from criticisms from Seyla Benhabib, Daniel Betti, Paul Cammack, Marianne Constable, Stefan Eich, Amos Espeland, Conor Farrington, Bryan Garsten, Eugene Garver, Robert Goodin, David Grewal, Beth Janairo, Helene Landemore, Melissa Lane, David Langslow, Vanessa Lim, Jane Mansbridge, Josiah Ober, Gary Remer, David Runciman, Daniel Schillinger, George Scialabba, Peter Spiegler, Richard Tuck, Philippe Urfalino, several anonymous referees and audiences at the 2012 meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, the 2013 meeting of the Northeastern Political Science Association, Harvard, Cambridge, Stanford, Yale, and Berkeley.

    In addition to its scholarly impact it should have a profound effect on how both deliberative democrats and sortition theorists formulate their practical proposals.

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  4. Keith,
    This article doesn’t have an impact on me, because I was already convinced of the value of mute weighing of arguments before I read here earlier paper several years ago. However, I disagree that it contradicts the more modern research on the benefits of active deliberation within a minipublic for refining proposals in seeking win-win options, etc. (things like diversity, fact-finding, impartiality, etc.). Regular readers of this Blog already know my view that the mute listening to arguments and secret voting should be the final step of a multi-body sortition process that ALSO includes prior active deliberation by a separate mini-public (and prior to that, the generation of raw proposals by any and all who wish.)


  5. Terry,

    My point is purely regarding the provenance of the deliberative democracy movement. Some authors (including those who ought to know better) argue that they are recreating Athenian democracy and Cammack has shown this to be untrue. Whilst I’m sure your proposal has great normative value it has never been tried, so it remains purely that — an ideal type.

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  6. *** A draft of the article may be found in Internet (draft May 9, 2018 on
    *** The article is interesting from a linguistic point of view, especially when the author underlines inaccurate translations.
    *** That the deliberations by assemblies of several thousand and juries of two hundred or more were not dialogical deliberations, that actually did not need linguistic demonstrations.
    *** Daniela Cammack ends the article by « Isocrates, Aeschines and Aristotle all likened the dêmos in democracies of their day to a collective monarch, and they were not wrong. Listening to speeches, considering the issues internally and voting en masse was exactly what deliberation—and thus, more importantly, rule—by an ancient Greek dêmos looked like. » That describes well the final step of an Athenian political process.
    *** But there are two flaws in Daniela Cammack’s study. I will consider here one : she forgets in the political processes the step of informal microdeliberations.
    *** This step is easily forgotten because it is undignified, it is scattered, it is not public, it is not easily studied (even by sociologically-minded political scientists in our societies). In the last French presidential election, I am convinced that it was especially important, because conservative-leaning electors who should vote Fillon could not stand (in families, with friends, in the canteens) the weight of others’ opinion about the « money-hungry » candidate. In ancient Greek Cities, with so important an Agora-life, and with citizens conscious of their political power, the informal microdeliberations step was of paramount importance. Let’s consider a proposal for a change in laws in the Second Athenian democracy. The proposal had to be published before the Monument for the Eponymous Heroes in the Agora. Afterwards it had to be read out in the Assembly. A following Assembly could decide to convene a legislative jury. Only later came the formal decisive deliberation which is the step Cammack is interested about. It is easy to see that the proposal had the time needed to be the subject of many informal microdeliberations. Especially in a simple and static society, where the data of the legislative deliberation did not evolve rapidly.
    *** We must not compare the situation with a contemporary criminal jury, who usually does not know anything of the case before the trial (and in some countries is forbidden to know).
    *** The ancient informal microdeliberations step had good sides ; especially jurors or assemblymen were acquainted with the issue, and not so easily carried by a good orator ; and the debates was less factional, with more mutual exchange and understanding between ordinary citizens. But there was a bad side : these (dialogical) microdeliberations did not follow good deliberation procedures, and isêgoria was not well guaranteed (it is a problem often underlined by Keith Sutherland). Socrates was sentenced by a jury, but very probably he had be previously sentenced by many informal microdeliberations as « the teacher of the bloody Tyrants Critias and Charmides », without in the dialogical microgroup any advocate of the philosopher. It was not easy task to convince the court jurors in such a situation.
    *** In a modern society, the informal microdeliberations will be always less important than in an Agora-centered ancient society ; and the Internet kind of microdeliberations may easily be ultra-factional. Therefore I think that at least an important element of modern ortho-democratic deliberation must be dialogical deliberation by small groups, but with procedures bringing a high level of isêgoria, including for instance injection of orator’s discourses and conversation with allotted samples of the social categories the subject especially impacts on.


  7. Big thanks to Andre, as always, for his thoughtful comments. Cammack’s paper is an exercise in Greek history — it’s relevance to modern proposals is my suggestion. Andre is right about the two principal differences (time and microdeliberations), and I agree that a modern orthodemocracy would need to introduce time gaps in between the formal deliberations. In 4th century Athens there were 7 stages in the legislative process and careful constitutional design would be needed to ensure something like this in modernity (Nadia Urbinati illustrates this in her consideration of Condorcet’s constitutional proposals).

    As for the need for microdeliberation, both the classical and modern examples indicate that this largely served to reinforce prejudice. The Athenian jurors might not have convicted Socrates if they had not already made their minds up before the trial; conservative-leaning French voters were swayed by (media-inspired) gossip regarding Fillon’s financial affairs (I assume by “stand”, he means “withstand”). But I don’t think the answer is dialogic deliberation by small groups, it’s the vital need to ensure representative isegoria. This is an extremely complex and messy task — it’s the longest chapter in my thesis and could arguably merit a full PhD. The protection of the interests of minorities is hard to ensure by democratic procedures (deliberative or otherwise), and would require constitutional safeguards.

    Look forward to hearing about the second “flaw” in Cammack’s study.


  8. *** The second flaw in Daniela Cammack’s study is her biased comments about the « ordinary citizen » role in isêgoria. She writes « The democratic ideal, it is argued, was at least occasional participation in public speech. This article questions that interpretation. ». I question her way of questioning.
    *** Cammack quotes Finley who noted that “isêgoria” was « sometimes employed by Greek writers as a synonym for “democracy “». I find strange to quote a modern historian. It is more natural to quote Herodotus, who uses the word “isêgoria” for dêmokratia in one of the first texts related to the democratic model (V, 78). Maybe the word, as “isonomia” , was used to identify the model before the word “dêmokratia” was coined.
    *** Cammack quotes a known passage of Plato’s Protagoras (319d). « When the Athenians have to decide (βουλεύσασθαι) something to do with the administration of the polis,” Socrates argues, “the man who rises to advise (συμβουλεύει) them…could equally well be a carpenter, a bronzesmith, a shoemaker, a merchant, a ship-owner, rich or poor, well-born or lowly…” As we know from other evidence, anyone who wished could indeed speak publicly at Athens; Socrates implies that anyone did. » No, Socrates implies that anybody was entitled to speak, and that this right was put into practice, without scandal or bewilderment. Cammack tries to discard this text by writing « Plato’s hostility to democracy means that this sketch may be a caricature or a reductio ad absurdum, not an accurate depiction of democratic ideals. Even if, as Peter Rhodes has argued, what Socrates describes “cannot be totally unlike what actually happened” (2016, 251), it is not a reliable guide to democratic ideology. ». Right, Plato is an arch-foe of democracy, but here the description of the democracy is a step in the philosophical reasoning of Socrates, it cannot be a reductio ad absurdum.
    *** Cammack quotes many texts, but she neglects the one developed text of democratic theory we got, the debate between Theseus and the Theban herald in Euripides’ Suppliant Women. (The one developed text : remember that for instance we know the famous sophist Protagoras was a democrat theorist from Plato, but Protagoras’works are lost, including the one about “politeia”, the political system). The discourse of Theseus about isonomia and isêgoria is clear (v 433-441, tr. E.P. Coleridge) : « when the laws are written down, rich and weak alike have equal justice, and it is open to the weaker to use the same language to the prosperous when he is reviled by him, and the weaker prevails over the stronger if he has justice on his side. Freedom’s mark is also seen in this: “Who has wholesome counsel to declare unto the state?” And he who chooses to do so gains renown, while he, who has no wish, remains silent. What greater equality can there be in a city? ». Theseus distinguishes between two equalities ; the second equality, of isêgoria, is a « right-to-do » equality, every citizen has right to speak publicly, but he knows he will be ridiculous if the audience finds his speech is without interest.
    *** The democratic ideal is that any citizen is entitled to speak publicly, not only an elite, as in various republican states where there was an Assembly but where the right to speak was a privilege. There may be in a democracy a de facto elite of politicians/orators, but it is something different. If for a problem we have only two options, A and B, with Demosthenes for A and Aeschines for B, the unlearned and unskilled citizen who, by pure self-conceit, would speak and add nothing, will be shouted down by the audience. But if there is another option C, which was supported by no known orator because of an implicit elite collusion, a common citizen can stand up, and propose this option C, and expect to be heard, even if he is not very good in his speech-making. What isêgoria guarantees, is that any conceivable serious option is allowed for debate. It is a very important point for democracy, and this point is discarded by Cammack.


  9. Andre:> But if there is another option C, which was supported by no known orator because of an implicit elite collusion, a common citizen can stand up, and propose this option C, and expect to be heard, even if he is not very good in his speech-making.

    Is there much evidence for such an event? I suppose the epigraphic record would be less likely to feature it as the elite orators would be more interested in recording their own speeches. I think what is at issue is how ho boulomenos cashed out in practice. The modern equivalent would be the citizen initiative/petition as it strikes me as undemocratic to limit isegoria to the speech acts of a few hundred randomly-selected persons.


  10. I think Andre is gudding us well here. We don’t know how often “ordinary” citizens spoke in the Assembly or in the Council of 500, but Andre’s point about a low citizen offering option C reminds me of a point in my 2013 paper (Bouricius 2013) where I wrote that isegoria is a collective right to hear uncommon knowledge from any citizen, and not just an individual right to speak.

    “The second principle is isegoria – every citizen had the right to speak at the People’s Assembly. Few citizens ever actually spoke at the Assembly, but the right of any citizen to add new information or arguments was considered fundamental.

    “This is not the same as an individual right to have one’s vote counted. A single individual’s vote in the People’s Assembly in Athens, as in elections today, had little significance. For an individual’s vote to make any difference there would need to be a tie that the individual’s vote broke (or created). Indeed, votes on most matters before the People’s Assembly were never actually counted. Instead, nine randomly selected citizens simply estimated the show of hands.

    “Josiah Ober has argued that Athenian democracy’s institutional ability to harness latent and diffuse knowledge spread throughout the population was a critical factor in allowing it to flourish (Ober 2008). The true significance of isegoria is the opportunity of any citizen to give information, rather than merely a vote. Unlike a single vote, a single piece of information has the serious potential to swing the ultimate decision. Isegoria was not only an individual right, but also a community benefit. The polis would be unlikely to suffer if one individual couldn’t vote, but could lose a lot if a citizen with crucial information or argument was denied the right to contribute it, and the People’s Assembly made a bad decision as a result. Isegoria protects such “speech acts” rather than merely voting rights.”


    Bouricius, Terrill G. “Democracy Through Multi-Body Sortition: Athenian Lessons for the Modern Day.” Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 9 : Iss. 1 , Article 11 (2013):

    Ober, Josiah, 2008. “Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens,” Princeton: Princeton University Press.


  11. > What isêgoria guarantees, is that any conceivable serious option is allowed for debate

    It was exactly the function of the Boule to represent the democratic opinion at the the agenda setting stage.

    Whether or not average citizens occasionally did speak at the Assembly, it is clear that such a mass body cannot be democratic, giving great advantage to the rich and famous. However, the Boule, made up of average citizens, by preparing the agenda for the Assembly, including in many cases coming up with specific proposals, represented popular ideas and values and thus mitigated the inherently elitist nature of the Assembly.


  12. Terry,

    I believe Ober’s book is rather thin on evidence to support your conclusion on isegoria — I devoted a section of my PhD to it, but my classics supervisor suggested I drop it, as she was of the view that isegoria was largely an egalitarian rather than epistemic ideal.


    Given the sheer size of the Council of 500, it’s not clear that its modus operandi differed greatly from the assembly, in that voting would have been the primary activity of most council members (bear in mind the optimum size of a deliberative body is 12-24). It was this isonomic function of the council that served to protect the agenda of the sovereign assembly from aristocratic dominance. The demographics of the council (average citizens) was no different from that of the assembly.


  13. Concerning the deliberation in the Athenian Council of Five Hundred.
    *** Which was the amount of dialogical deliberation in the Council? Small given the sheer size, says Keith Sutherland. But it was a permanent body (summoned everyday except holidays cf. Aristotle, Constitution of Athens 43,3), inevitably slightly biased towards people with leisure (rich or retired); and that allowed for dialogic microdeliberations between members outside the decision work. We are not able to evaluate quantitatively the actual amount of dialogical deliberation.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Concerning the role of the Council of Five Hundred for the decree proposals before the Assembly debates..
    *** I will quote Hansen (The Athenian Democracy.. p 140), who followed a study by Rhodes (The Athenian Boule 1972, pp 78-81): “An exhaustive study of all the decrees that are preserved epigraphically shows that some half of the Assembly’s decrees were ratifications of concrete proposals by the Council, and the other half were proposed directly in the Assembly, either as a response to an open probouleuma (open = indicating only the matter to be debated, without proposal) or as an alternative to a concrete probouleuma from the Council”.
    *** Therefore Yoram Gat is right when he says that proposals coming outside of the political elite (or the socio-cultural elite) could be introduced through the Council. We are not able to evaluate quantitatively.

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  15. About the psychic role of isêgoria
    *** Given the high level of agonistic spirit in ancient Greek mind, and especially in the Athenian political elite, maybe the isêgoria principle was not so much necessary in decision practice, maybe any reasonable proposal could usually find support by a young ambitious orator, even if it was not liked inside the social elite.
    *** But the isêgoria principle had a strong psychic value: it stated that any citizen was entitled to participate in sovereignty, and not only in judging proposals, but likewise in issuing proposals (a point Daniela Cammack tends towards discarding). This double entitlement affirms the political equality – whereas in our “representative democracies” the general franchise is psychically counterbalanced by the “principle of distinction” implied by the election of representatives and by the submissiveness towards the “Sages” of High Courts.

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  16. Andre,

    As you point out it is not possible to evaluate the numerical balance between proposals initiated by the Athenian elite and ordinary citizens. The social conditions that you mention make it plausible that not all the proposals issued by the council had their ultimate origin in the various elites, but we should remember that, as the secretariat for the assembly, submitting a proposal via the council was the correct procedure. But this tells us nothing about the characteristics of the original proposer, and the principal function of the council was to vote on whether or not to issue a probouleuma, rather than to “deliberate” in the manner theorised by Habermasians and some sortitionists. I discussed this with Peter Rhodes (the author you cite) a couple of years ago and he agreed about the danger of anachronism.

    However, unlike Cammack, my principal concern is whether or not this has any relevance to modernity — the difference in scale, culture and social characteristics between small poleis and large multicultural states should make us sceptical.

    I agree with you that the isegoria principle is an essential component of democracy. In small societies this can be viewed in psychological terms but in large modern states the principal concern should be how to ensure representative isegoria.


  17. …about the Boule (Council of 500). We do not know what sort of citizens most often initiated proposals, nor how they were deliberated and refined before going to the assembly. Ketin and Yoram have contrasting opinions that fits their preferred reality.
    As for the issue of whether they engaged in active dialogic deliberation, Keith is skeptical because 500 seems too many to him (like in the Assembly). However, we know that a subset of 50 members of the Council served for one month in rotation (they had ten months in a year) known as the Prytaneis, to prepare the agenda for and convene the full Council of 500. While some proposals certainly passed through as drafted by individual citizens, it seems likely that some deliberation and re-working must have been done by this group of 50, and likely by the full 500 as well, before going to the Assembly (which often, though not necessarily, rubber stamped such decrees).


  18. Terry,

    I think we all (?) agree that dialogical deliberation is not possible in a body of 500 people. No doubt some people spoke more than others (as on this forum). It would have made administrative sense to delegate the drafting of proposals to a sub-committee, but given the democratic norm of the sovereignty of the people’s assembly, it would be unlikely that policies were developed in a substantive sense by such a small, and undemocratic, group. It’s hard to see what the council as a collective body did other than vote on the assembly agenda. It’s unfortunate that the historical record is imprecise on this but that would suggest that the council was a secretarial rather than political body. That certainly seems to be the view of most historians who don’t have an axe to grind.


  19. *** The ancient isêgoria has two aspects. An epistemic one : it guaranteed that any conceivable serious option was allowed for debate. A symbolic and psychic one : it affirmed the political equality of citizens in both sides of sovereign decision (issuing a proposal and judging among the proposals).
    *** Any isêgoria system in a modern dêmokratia must meet these two requirements. A system where proposals could be issued only by mass petitions and through elected politicians will be somewhat dubious for the first requirement, and even more for the second. I think the system must include at least a process where ordinary citizens of a small jury may be part of isêgoria. Clearly there would be a random risk, but counterbalanced by the other ways (petition and politicians), and that would be a clear assertion of the entitlement of any citizen to issue proposals.
    *** Keith says « unlike Cammack, my principal concern is whether or not this has any relevance to modernity ». Actually the way Daniela Cammacks « attacks » the ancient isêgoria is so strange and biased that I have some doubts. Maybe, consciously or not, she is thinking about contemporary societies, with influence of a model where the citizens vote, but about proposals screened by elites.


  20. *** Keith says “the council was a secretarial rather than political body. That certainly seems to be the view of most historians who don’t have an axe to grind.”
    *** The problem is that here historians, whatever their bias or lack of bias, don’t have the data. Contemporary political scientists may study how the US Senate works, outside the official rules and processes; and for instance whether there are dialogical microdebates between senators, or between senators and external persons. But we have no such studies about the Athenian Council.


  21. Andre,

    You suggest that dialogical deliberation within small randomly-selected groups would deliver the epistemic and psychological benefits of isegoria. Why so? (You also insist on calling such groups “juries”, although they would better approximate the Athenian agora or the Habermasian coffee-house). From an epistemic perspective few of the issues dealt with by modern legislatures fall within the everyday experience of average citizens, so they are unlikely to be a fruitful source for innovative (and viable) proposals. I’m not in any way disparaging the aggregate judgment of ordinary persons (the principal function of juries) but this is an aspect of isonomia, not isegoria. And the vast majority of citizens will not get to deliberate and therefore will not receive the psychological benefits of participation. It sounds like a recipe for exclusion.

    What you overlook is that isegoria is primarily an egalitarian norm — the (formally) equal right for all citizens to advise their peers. In classical Athens this was a genuine possibility (although few citizens chose to exercise their right), but in large modern states it is impossible, hence the need for representation. Given the patchy (and elite dominated) isegoria in direct democracy, arguably the modern variant is an improvement, especially in the open-ended context of Representative Claim theory. Millions of ordinary citizens who lacked rhetorical talents chose Candidate Trump to exercise their isegoria rights vicariously, ditto with those of us who subscribe to newspapers with editorial positions close to our own preferences and beliefs. Modern isegoria is essentially representative as it’s not possible to scale up ancient practices to large states that bare scant resemblance to the Athenian polis.

    Regarding the lack of information on the workings of the Athenian council, don’t you think this indicates it was primarily an administrative magistracy? If it were a political body, then one would anticipate some reference to it as a source of controversial proposals. The absence of commentary on the transition to the 4th century legislative courts is generally taken to mean that this was done primarily for administrative convenience, and a similar argument could be applied to the workings of the council. The burden of proof is on those who seek to argue that it served some proto-Habermasian role.


  22. Keith wrote of André’s comments on isegoria:
    >”What you overlook is that isegoria is primarily an egalitarian norm — the (formally) equal right for all citizens to advise their peers. In classical Athens this was a genuine possibility (although few citizens chose to exercise their right), but in large modern states it is impossible, hence the need for representation.”

    I know the concept of “representative isegoria” is a key element of your recent work, but I still view it as an oxymoron. Plus, there certainly are alternative ways that isegoria can be scaled up to a society of hundreds of millions. Isegoria does not require that every citizen HEAR every idea or proposal (yes, THAT would not be impossible). Isegoria means that any citizen who wishes may contribute arguments, opinions, or proposals, with an equal (impartial) opportunity to influence final decisions. That likelihood of affecting the outcome may diminish as numbers increase, but the political equality can be maintained. As André has previously pointed out that with modern technology, such as the Internet, there are many possible ways of allowing any who wish to offer input… Some sort of crowdsourcing system could assure that all submissions are reviewed by a random sample of other citizens, who can advance those that they believe are interesting and useful, and that such a grass-roots filtration system can bring valued ideas and information to the mini-public that is establishing agendas, or the one crafting proposals, or evaluating proposals, etc. Isegoria requires that ANY citizen may offer ideas or proposals, or it isn’t isegoria.


  23. Terry,

    I agree that any citizen should be able to make an initiative, but we differ on how the proposals should be winnowed down in a democratically acceptable way. We don’t know the deliberative style of the 4th century Athenian council but we do know that anyone who spoke in the assembly had to run the risk of hectoring and abuse before there was a majority of citizens prepared to send the proposal for deliberative scrutiny. To my mind the modern equivalent is the need to garner sufficient online signatures for a petition and/or pass the necessary threshold of a public votation. I appreciate that this will make the initiative subject to rational ignorance but I’m afraid that’s the price you have to pay for democracy (the deliberative scrutiny comes later). I know you want to do the winnowing down by committees established by (voluntary) allotment, but this has the effect of excluding the public in its collective capacity from participation in the political process, and I don’t think that is something democrats should aspire to.

    If you want to understand representative isegoria, I recommend Michael Saward’s book The Representative Claim. The author is no apologist for electoralism (in fact he chaired our sortition panel at the PSA a couple of years ago).


  24. *** Keith Sutherland writes (24 May, 6 :18) : « The absence of commentary on the transition to the 4th century legislative courts is generally taken to mean that this was done primarily for administrative convenience » .
    *** Reasoning from absence is dangerous, especially when we don’t have data. We have got no speech for the relevant period, except Lysias ( our corpus of Attic orators is later) and Aristotle is not interested by the institutional change (Constitution of Athens, 41, 2) because the one interesting point for him is that the common citizens control assembly and juries. As for later orators, we find the unhistorical mind so strange for us: reading Demosthenes Against Leptines, 90-93, we could think the existing legislative process dates back to Solon !
    *** The transition in the 4th century Athenian Democracy to legislative juries was only a part of a change in the system giving the last word to allotted juries likewise in judicial matters, and giving to juries power of review against decrees and against laws : the « graphê para nomon », proceedings about illegality (the first example being in late 5th century, but later common) and the « graphê nomon mê epitêdeion theinai », proceedings about bringing an unsuitable law. The difference between the two proceedings corresponding to a new distinction between laws and decrees. The juries got last word in all important field outside peace, war and external relations.
    *** Although keeping the basic principles of dêmokratia, it was a wide change in the democratic system, and a coherent one ; we must not consider the legislative juries in isolation.
    *** Clearly pragmatic convenience was a strong argument for the new system. But it would not be enough without a large acceptance of the idea of juries as a good channel of popular sovereignty.
    *** From the last times of the 5th century we have two discourses about democracy : the Funeral Oration of Pericles, more precisely of Pericles according to Thucydides, which does not mention lot (a strange thing considering the relationship of democracy and lot in so many texts, beginning with Herodotus), and Theseus in the Suppliant women who says that through lot « ho dêmos anassei », the dêmos reigns, very strong words. It seems we have here two different versions of dêmokratia. In the Second Democracy of 4th century the Theseus version won, probably helped by pragmatic considerations of convenience, but likewise from other considerations, as better thought out decisions, more coherent legal system (which Demosthenes says is good for ordinary citizens, not used to legal complexity), more legal stability (answering the conservative criticism).


  25. Andre,

    The relative silence on the transition from lawmaking by assembly to legislative juries suggests that it was an uncontroversial move — probably for Aristotle’s reasons. If, as Yoram suggests, the assembly was oligarchic (and juries democratic) then one might have expected the oligarchs to object. This might encourage us to hope that a modern-day transition from mass to jury democracy might be equally uncontroversial.

    The relative silence over the deliberative proceedings in the council would suggest to me that it was not viewed as a “political” body. I agree that the absence of evidence leaves theorists free to speculate wildly, but I can’t think of a more plausible explanation. If, as most historians argue, the assembly was the sovereign body, then any attempt by the council to preempt this role would have been controversial and would surely have emerged somewhere in the written record?


  26. A couple of comments:
    1. Keith argues that if shifting final authority for law making to lottery bodies was a big deal (rather than a mere administrative efficiency move), then wouldn’t that fact “surely have emerged somewhere in the written record?” No. The written record is incredibly sparse, and it is writing about the long-standing status quo system that persisted over many decades that is most likely to happen to have some surviving written bits. Any writing about those elements that changed relatively quickly (such as the reforms around 403 BCE) only had a sliver of a chance of having survived to the present day.

    2. Pericles not speaking about lottery is not unexpected. His means of influence was the oration in the Assembly, and it is THAT feature of Athenian democracy that he naturally loved and preferred. He had less influence over lottery bodies, and likely cared less about them.


  27. Terry,

    I’m sure that’s true, but if the overturning of the lawmaking role of the “oligarchic” assembly was a truly revolutionary change then one would have anticipated some coverage. The Athenian “revolution” (Ober’s phrase) of 507-8 has entered into the historical record — less so the reforms of 403 BCE. My classics supervisor (who studied under P.J. Rhodes), had not even heard of the the nomothetai, and insists the legislative courts were largely an administrative convenience. If Aristotle has no interest in these reforms, then the reforms cannot have been viewed as particularly significant at the time. If they transferred power from the elites to the masses then Aristotle would have been viscerally opposed to them.

    Sortition advocates should be wary about projecting their own priorities onto the historical record.


  28. *** Keith Sutherland writes : « If Aristotle has no interest in these reforms, then the reforms cannot have been viewed as particularly significant at the time. If they transferred power from the elites to the masses then Aristotle would have been viscerally opposed to them. »
    *** Keith is probably partly right, but let’s look to Aristotle’s Constitution of Athens 41,2 about the 4th century democratic system ( for him, the eleventh constitution): « Eleventh was the constitution established after the return from Phyle and from Peiraeus, from which date the constitution has continued down to its present form, constantly taking on additions to the power of the multitude. The people has made itself master of everything, and administers everything by decrees and by jury courts in which the people is the ruling power, for even the cases tried by the Council have come to the people. » (tr. Rackham).
    *** Clearly Aristotle thinks the new system is even worse, giving more power to the common people, but without clear reference to the institutional reforms, except about the loss by the Council of most of its judicial authority (not the more important reform).
    *** Aristotle is dominated by an evolution idea : the Athenian democracy is evolving towards always more democracy, with the contemporary state as the terminal / perfect stage, and therefore the worst one.
    *** But he is not able to be clear about the institutional reforms. We can understand why, I think. On one hand, Aristotle does not like the power of courts (the legislative allotted body being seen as a kind of court), which multiplies the power of the dêmos, and where sortition declares strongly the political equality of citizens. On the other hand, the new system was an answer to the conservative criticisms about the legal instability and the legal disorder, and Aristotle does not want to acknowledge it. Hence his lack of clarity.
    *** The 4th century reforms were clearly a progress towards efficiency and better « rule of law ». But about the actual influence of the elites ? It is not clear.


  29. *** Terry Bouricius says “Pericles not speaking about lottery is not unexpected. His means of influence was the oration in the Assembly, and it is THAT feature of Athenian democracy that he naturally loved and preferred. He had less influence over lottery bodies, and likely cared less about them »
    *** If Terry’s argument is founded on the pure rhetorical skill, we can easily object that an orator skill was very useful likewise in front of the juries – maybe more, as it was probably uneasy to be well heard by an audience of many thousands. The most famous speech of Demosthenes, about the Crown, was in front of a jury.
    *** On the other hand Bouricius may be right supposing that the neglect of lot by Pericles (if we trust Thucydides) was linked to his kind of influence. A charismatic leader will like speeches in front of the crowd, and will not like a debate in a court, with the symmetry between the two sides, and a procedure demanding equal hearing by the jurors.
    *** But let us not forget that we don’t have the real words of Pericles, we have a text by Thucydides, admirer of the leader, but not of the democratic system itself. He may have discarded the lot as the worst element of the democratic system along his own ideas, or he may have exaggerated a leaning of Pericles.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Andre,

    The people has made itself master of everything, and administers everything by decrees and by jury courts in which the people is the ruling power, for even the cases tried by the Council have come to the people.

    Presumably Aristotle was referring to the Council of the Areopagus, not the Boule? If so, then this diminution of aristocratic power is the significant change, as he implies that the division between assembly decrees and jury courts is no different from the 5th century hybrid (the people are masters of everything in both cases). I don’t think there is any evidence that the 4th century reforms led to a marked reduction in elite power. I still claim, pace Terry, that if it was a significant change it would have attracted the same attention as Cleisthenes’ reforms.

    Note that I still believe the 4th century legislative model is a useful template for a modern demokratia, but I’m not going to let my practical concerns lead me into over-interpreting the past. We really don’t know why the ancients used sortition (and, frankly, I don’t particularly care). The modern case, imho, is for sortition as a reliable tool for statistical representation.


  31. *** About the loss of judicial powers by “the Council” according to Aristotle’s Constitution of Athens 41.2, Keith Sutherland says “Presumably Aristotle was referring to the Council of the Areopagus, not the Boule? ». No, in this book Council alone means the Council of the Five Hundred ; when the author speaks about the Council of Areopagus it is explicit.
    *** The move is considered by Aristotle himself as useful against bribery and influence « they seem to act rightly in doing this, for a few are more easily corrupted by gain and by influence than the many » ; the Courts, selected daily, were not easily corrupted ; and the bulk of potential jurors was too big to be corrupted.
    *** The move could be considered as democratic because the Council, being permanent, was more easily under influence of elite networks (networks for influence may act for persons but likewise for specific views) .
    *** But, globally, I think that there is much right in Keith Sutherland opinion ; the institutional changes in the Second Democracy may have lessened the elite influence, but at least not in a dramatic and spectacular way.
    *** The dêmos ruled through the assembly ; and it later ruled more through juries (this way « ho dêmos anassei », according to Theseus). It was a change in the weight of the channels of popular rule, not a revolution towards dêmokratia or from dêmokratia.
    *** In a modern society likewise there are two possible channels for popular sovereignty : general vote on precise points, as in a referendum, and decision by allotted body. Given the complexity of modern issues, needing usually a thorough study, the allotted body channel will be usually the best one.


  32. Andre,

    That’s very interesting for two reasons:

    1) Aristotle’s reference to the Council of 500 as “the few” would suggest that it was possible to gain influence by bribing a few key (?) members, as it’s hard to see how anyone could bribe 500 randomly-selected persons (the 6,000 jury pool and the 500 council members are not that far apart in this respect). This would suggest that many probouleuma may have their ultimate origin in elite proposals that were introduced and supported by placemen within the council.

    2) Your reference to the ease with which one can corrupt a “permanent” (one-year) body should warn us against anything other than ad hoc juries, selected for short terms to deal with specific legislative proposals. Sortition may shield against ex-ante corruption but is even more liable to ex-post influence than election, as it is not constrained by party discipline or the need to keep voters on side (for subsequent elections). Whilst this is a double-edged sword (politicians need campaign donations), the ultimate currency of democracy is votes, not dollars. I believe Hillary Clinton outspent Trump significantly, but it did not win her the election.

    >The move could be considered as democratic because the Council, being permanent, was more easily under influence of elite networks.

    That is certainly a strong argument against Yoram’s view of the council as the quintessence of Athenian democracy. Note that juries do reserve a key role for elite advocates, but their influence is quarantined to speech acts and is entirely public and adversarial, unlike the (presumed) “deliberative” style of the council, which is supposedly a prophylactic against elite domination of the political process.


  33. *** These comments by Keith may have quite a weight. But we must take into account Aristotle’s deep hostility to democracy and his evolution pattern: any new stage in Athenian democracy must be more perfectly democratic / worse.
    *** The influence of elite networks in Athens may have been different according their kind. A network around a charismatic leader as Pericles could prefer the Assembly as playground. Another elite network could prefer get around the Council. The juries were less sensitive to influence; but we must remind the informal microdeliberation stage. Plutarch (much later after the events) gave a vivid description of manipulation of public opinion by Alcibiades network about the Sicily expedition (Life of Nicias, 12, 17).
    *** Bribery among a permanent allotted body was especially a risk in Athens for two reasons: many Athenian citizens were very poor (Philocleon and his family are very happy about his juror’s salary, see Wasps 605-16; modern jurors would not be so happy, at least in developed countries); and in a (relatively) small society corruption could be carried through acquaintances, especially at the local (deme) level – and the Council was selected by demes (the one Athenian body like that).
    *** In a modern ortho-democracy in a developed country , I think juror bribery would not be a major risk. But some kinds of abusive influence would be dangerous: through the mass media; and through informal networks helped by Internet. The problems would be quite different from those of an ancient democracy.


  34. A point about the Council of the Five Hundred.
    *** The Council was clearly for the Athenians a basic element of the democratic system – but as help to the sovereignty, not as a channel for sovereignty. The proof: as any other body of magistrates, its members, after being allotted, had to submit to clearance (dokimasia). Thus a citizen could be excluded from the Council as suspect of antidemocratic leanings – see Lysias, “For Mantitheus” and “Against Philon – whereas any such exclusion of the Assembly or the Juries was unthinkable. According to the basic democratic principle, exclusion from the sovereignty process could not be carried for suspect thought, only for some deeply anticivic proven acts. Actually, dokimasia, whether for magistrates or councillors, implied a kind of “principle of distinction” (as it appears in Lysias in “Against Philon” 24-25)


  35. André,
    I don’t think the pre-evaluation of all members of the Council of 500 (which ALSO applied to the courts) known as dokimasia should be considered as an example of the “principle of distinction.” According to Hansen, it prevented those who were ineligible (such as non-citizens, below age, or who had committed crimes), or were “unworthy” as in having participated in anti-democratic conspiracy. Those who “passed” did not possess “distinction” (there was no review for competence)… those who failed were “unworthy,” while ordinary eligible citizens were worthy.


  36. Andre is right to remind us that, while elite influence and corruption are endemic, they will take a different form in ancient and modern demokratia.

    >In a modern ortho-democracy in a developed country . . . some kinds of abusive influence would be dangerous: through the mass media; and through informal networks helped by Internet.

    That’s why I insist that modern isegoria must be representative (a notion that Terry finds oxymoronic). This is a difficult task but requires that media be both plural and each outlet speak for a significant subset of citizens. As we have seen recently the corruption of social media is a more dangerous problem than the domination of the MSM by ‘oligarchic’ forces. If newspapers and TV channels are dependent on subscriptions then their voice will be naturally attuned to the beliefs and preferences of their subscribers (rather than the interests of paid advertisers including foreign governments). As in most things, a ‘least-worst’ perspective is better than the utopian ideal of free public media.

    I agree with Terry that dokimasia is not an example of the principle of distinction, but the fact that the procedure was used for councillors indicates that the Boule was another collective magistracy rather than a representative sovereign body.


  37. *** I wrote : « dokimasia, whether for magistrates or councilors, implied a kind of “principle of distinction” »
    *** Terry Bouricius replied « Those who “passed” did not possess “distinction” (there was no review for competence)… those who failed were “unworthy,” while ordinary eligible citizens were worthy. »
    *** Ok, I wrote « a kind of » because it was not the strong « principle of distinction » implied in election. But there was a feeble kind of it, as appears in Lysias speeches about various proceedings of dokimasia. Not about any technical competence, right, but about moral and civic parameters which could never be used to deprive the citizen from his sovereignty roles as ekklêsiastês or dikastês, in the Assembly and the Juries.
    *** In Lysias’ speeches For Mantitheus and Against Philon, the dokimasia accusations are founded partially on some questionable behavior during the past oligarchic regime, but the debate extends to various aspects of civic behavior, and implies the idea of a kind of selection. I quote :
    * For Mantitheus, §9: « it seems to me, gentlemen, that although in other trials one ought to confine one’s defense to the actual points of the accusation, in the case of scrutinies (en de tais dokimasias) one has a right to render an account of one’s whole life »
    §18 : « not to take the fact of a man’s wearing his hair long as a reason for hating him » (long hair was an elite habit, easily linked to antidemocratic leanings)
    * Against Philon: §5 « What I say is that only those have the right to sit in Council on our concerns who, besides holding the citizenship, have their hearts set upon it. »
    §25 « the danger is that good men, when they observe that they and the bad are honored alike, will desist from their good behavior, expecting that the same persons who honor the wicked may well be forgetful of the virtuous. » (therefore selection into the Council is seen as an honor).
    *** Hansen writes (Athenian Democracy … p 218) that dokimasia was “not an examination of the candidate’s competence, but only of his formal qualifications, conduct and political convictions”. Sure, clearance (dokimasia) is not the same thing than election, it does not chooses the best, it excludes the worst. And it does not consider the supposed competence. But, I hold, dokimasia implied a feeble principle of distinction, which did not work for the sovereignty political processes in Athens.
    *** Hansen thinks exclusion through dokimasia were rare, and even that “dokimasia must have been virtually always a mere formality” . But we have few data (we would have even less if Lysias would not have become a classic of Attic oratory) and we must consider that all candidates to any allotted magistracy (including Council) were volunteers: those with suspect behavior would rather have excluded themselves than risked the stigma of official rejection.
    *** The subject of dokimasia is not only historical. A modern ortho-democracy should distinguish minipublics exercising sovereignty, which must mirror the civic body, and other political bodies, including allotted ones, where some kind of clearance could be useful. Anyway clearance has to be distinguished from election, which takes into account other parameters.
    *** In a new modern ortho-democracy, for politicians selected as managers or permanent advisers, clearance could follow a simple way: exclusion of all persons who publicly opposed the democracy-through-minipublics. Clearance of politicians will be less easy after the first generation elapsed.


  38. *** Keith Sutherland writes (May 26, 12 :43) « My classics supervisor (who studied under P.J. Rhodes), had not even heard of the the nomothetai, and insists the legislative courts were largely an administrative convenience. »
    *** If Keith’s « classics supervisor (who studied under P.J. Rhodes), had not even heard of the the nomothetai » – a subject studied by Rhodes himself (who did not study only the Boulê !), with interpretations contrary to Hansen’s on some points, that is strange.
    *** The explanation must be that this classicist was not interested by the subject of the institutional change in the 4th century. But that means that for us kleroterians he is not a relevant expert.
    *** The expert must have general competence, but, too, interest in the specific field we are interested in.
    *** The problem is the following : the interest in a specific field is sometimes a random event in an academic career, bot more often probably is linked to philosophical, political etc personal interests. Most historians studying gender in past societies are interested in gender in contemporary societies. Hansen does not conceal he is interested in the democratic idea in his own world.
    *** Therefore we cannot follow a simplistic divide between on one hand historians without bias and on the other hand theorists « who have an axe to grind », as says Keith.
    *** My conclusion herewith.
    * We must consider only true experts of the field we are interested in.
    * We must try – which is difficult, I know – to spot those who are unable to consider the data they don’t like. As I said, I have doubts about Daniela Cammack given her strange treatment of isêgoria. Paul Demont’s treatment of political lot is even more dubious.
    * Third, even for historians of unquestionable scientific value as Morgen Hansen, we must be somewhat cautious when their writing is not about historical facts, but about plausibility feelings or about « philosophical interpretations ».

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Andre,

    My classics supervisor, Prof. Lynette Mitchell, is primarily interested in the 5th century. She was certainly not opposed to me using the 4th century legislative process as a template for a modern demokratia, and has been very supportive of my thesis (and is certainly not wedded to the predominant Cambridge school view that ideas can only be studied in context). Her concerns were purely historical and were twofold: 1) lawmaking was a relatively minor aspect of Athenian politics, particularly in the light of 4th century nostalgia for the laws of Solon; 2) the change to legislative juries was primarily for administrative convenience (although epistemic considerations did apply), but arguments for the descriptive representativity of allotted juries are anachronistic.


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