Were 4th century nomothetai selected by lot? Mirko Canevaro responds

By Mirko Canevaro

[This post is a response to a post by Keith Sutherland and to the discussion that followed in the comments thread.]

Dear all,

Thank you very much for your interest in my work! I’m afraid I’ve come here after too many messages, and although I’ve skimmed through all of this, it seems impractical to reply to everyone. But I hope by replying to the first three questions posed by Keith, I’ll offer some clarification.

Given that your claim (from the perspective of the sortinistas on this forum) is analogous to Holocaust denial, have I misunderstood you?

You haven’t — your presentation is basically accurate. I see that some find it strange that the same body would just be relabelled — yes, but not unparalleled. We have even an example of a city Assembly (in Halaisa, Sicily) that for particular purposes relabels itself (with the same numbers and procedures) as the Association of Priests of Apollo (and just yesterday I attended a Edinburgh Classics Departmental Meeting that mid-way through, for particular purposes, relabelled itself Board of Studies, to go back to Classics Departmental Meeting for the next item on the agenda).

Note also that even according to Hansen’s reconstruction (as he believes the decree of Teisamenos is authentic — I don’t), at the end of the fifth-century the Assembly did indeed choose to call itself nomothetai for the specific purpose of lawmaking. Ultimately, I think the long continuity of a nomothetic ideology (as I argue in a long piece of 2015) made sure that even when lawmaking (as making nomoi) was ‘democratised’, still they had to keep, nominally but also ideologically, a distinction between lawmaking and decree-making, because traditionally nomoi were made by nomothetai, not by a random assembly, as it were.

That said, my argument is that this is the most economical interpretation of the evidence, not that it’s safe. I think there is no evidence whatsoever that the nomothetai were selected by lot from those who have sworn the Heliastic Oath, and some evidence that they might be a relabelled Assembly. Lambert (doyen of Greek epigraphists), for instance, agrees on the first proposition, and finds the second possible and even likely, but notes that the nomothetai could also potentially be a subcommittee of the Assembly (selected god knows how) — he’s right, that’s also possible, if a bit less economical.

But the reason for which I think it is very unlikely that they might have been selected from those who swore the Judicial Oath is not just that they voted by show of hands (or that there is no evidence that they were). The reasons are deeper: this is a very important role, and we have plenty of evidence of the contents of the Judicial Oath – how is it possible that this didn’t even mention the potential role as nomothetai, and its requirements? Also, note that the Judicial Oath is very much aligned with the institutional design and ethos of the courts: an adversarial system, purely majoritarian, no debate allowed, no deliberation whatsoever. Conversely, wherever lawmaking is cited (by Aristotle and by others) among the powers of the demos (or of whoever is in charge), this falls under bouleutikon, roughly the deliberative, the kind of stuff reserved for institutions such as the Assembly and the Council.

The evidence shows that these two sides of decision-making were normally kept very separate, to the extent that if you wanted something (e.g a decree) to be approved ‘deliberatively’ AND checked for legality, you didn’t ask the Assembly or the Court to do both — you had it go through both bodies in succession, each doing its job: the Assembly, ‘deliberating’ about what’s useful in the future for the demos; the Court deciding (aggregatively) about what’s legal, as it were. Within Greek and Athenian institutional design, it seems very unlikely that a body (the 6,000 who had sworn the Judicial Oath) designed and bound (by the oath) to perform a very specific role, should be used to perform a very different one. So, in a way, I’m not 100% sure that the nomothetai were the Assembly (we probably can’t be sure), but I’m pretty sure they were not a selection of those who had sworn the Judicial Oath…

What has been the response to your paper by Hansen and other classical historians?

Generally positive (not to this paper in particular, to my work on nomothesia). Many have endorsed my reconstruction (in print or otherwise), some haven’t, of course. Mogens, of course, disagrees. P.J. Rhodes (who was one of my doctoral supervisors) kind of sits on the fence, agreeing on some stuff, disagreeing on other stuff. He defended in 2003 the idea that the nomothetai were selected from those who had sworn the Judicial Oath (against Piérart). He’s once again on the fence faced with my new arguments (which are rather different from those used by Piérart). People like Lambert, Liddel, Harris, Luraghi (and others) agree with me, others (like Carawan), as a result of this debate, have rethought the issue, and now disagree both with Hansen and with myself, potentially, but haven’t yet published new interpretations. We shall see. There will never be an ‘agreement’ on this — there wasn’t ‘agreement’ on Hansen’s interpretation before I came along (Rhodes and MacDowell disagreed on many issues), and we probably won’t settle this for good this time around, however many times Mogens and I reply to each other. But at every new piece, or reply, there’s some detail we figure out that we hadn’t figured out before.

What might be the implications for those of us who seek Athenian provenance for their modern sortition proposals?

I think you can still use Athens, but look elsewhere, at other institutions (the nomothetai are, in any case the unsafest of bases for any ancient parallel for modern practices, because they are the least attested, and the most controversial!). First, you should acknowledge that decree-making and law-making weren’t per se the province of the Council, the Assembly, the courts or whatever. The relevant procedures were ‘layered’, with passages in deliberative bodies selected by lot (the Council), aggregative/majoritarian bodies selected by lot (the courts), and deliberative bodies that were basically ‘direct’ (the Assembly). It makes little sense to look for a locus of sovereignty — the point is that each layer was meant to perform a slightly different role, and some of these layers were selected by lot and had important powers.

Also, give the Council a chance — the Council is often described as this preparatory body with no real power, but that’s just not the case. First, it had direct competence on various issues (relating for instance to financial administration). Second, the Assembly sometimes decided to make it kyrios on something, giving it the power to decide without going back to the Assembly. Third, keep in mind that around half of the decrees enacted in the fourth century were ‘probouleumatic’, that is they were fully drafted and worked out in the Council, and nodded-through quickly in the Assembly without any debate (the procheirotonia, that Hansen has so well reconstructed). Half of the enactments in Athens were basically discussed and decided by the Council alone — that’s important. (And, in the third century, that becomes almost all of them, incidentally.).

I hope this helps.

25 Responses

  1. P.S. By the way, as somebody wondered about it in the previous thread, I have it on good authority that Ober won that arm-wrestling match with Hansen. ;)

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  2. Ha, I have a hunch the debate between Mogens and yourself will have to be resolved in a similar manner — but an age handicap would have to apply!

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  3. I’m not qualified to comment on the controversy over Dem. 24.20-23 so would prefer to focus on Mirko’s response to my third question

    What might the implications be for those of us who seek Athenian provenance for their modern sortition proposals?

    Mirko:> The relevant procedures were ‘layered’, with passages in deliberative bodies selected by lot (the Council), aggregative/majoritarian bodies selected by lot (the courts), and deliberative bodies that were basically ‘direct’ (the Assembly).

    This mixture of democratic mechanisms is clearly of relevance to modern practice (which is also compounded by the increased focus on election) and should make those who argue for “pure” (sortition only) democracy pause for thought. And Euripides’ principle “the People rules by turns through annual successions” is clearly inapplicable to large modern states. No-one disputes the role of the council in decrees and other administrative matters but my concern is law-making and I’m not persuaded by Mirko’s claim that the procedures of the council and the assembly was deliberative in the modern sense of the word, but that would need a separate post based on his 2018 Leventis Studies paper. So I’m going to place a bet on Hansen winning the wrestling match.

    PS apologies for mis-spelling his name in the original post (it’s Canevaro, not Canevara).

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  4. Thanks, Keith. The ‘deliberative’ issue is a complex one. I find that some more activist-oriented political scientists/theorists are quite happy with the Assembly and the Council being deliberative, as they’re pushing a more down-to-earth notion of deliberation. More Habermasian ones are unhappy with it. I’m a historian, so I’m more concerned with describing what they were trying to do – my point is simply that they seemed to be perfectly capable of conceptualising, designing and implementing purely majoritarian, agonistic, aggregative decision-making forms, and that’s clearly not what they’re doing in the Council and in the Assembly – they’re trying to deliberate, whether the way they do it satisfied modern theories or not (and they seem to conceptualise what they’re doing in a recognisable way).

    By the way, as I haven’t followed this forum from the beginning, why are you so concerned with law-making per se, and not with the whole range of decree-making? The problem with law-making in Greece is that, democracy or not, the relevant procedures descend path-dependently from a rather authority-driven model (the Lawgiver etc.), and they have worries about the fact that laws should be unchangeable, or hard to change, that we don’t. In some respect, they treat laws the way we treat constitutional laws, so they’re a bit resistant to have straightforward democratic decision-making taking care of them (not just in Athens – in other Hellenistic cities we have nomographoi, nomothetai etc. who ‘upgrade’ decrees into laws, for instance, and we don’t know, again, who these were).

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  5. Mirko,

    We’ll start a new thread on your fascinating majority rule vs consensus paper shortly, once we’ve finished discussing this issue. Given the focus on Graeber and deliberative/discursive democracy this will appeal to many of the radicals on this forum. My problem with this approach is the need for representative isegoria in large modern states and the need to adequately reflect the beliefs of those with nothing in particular to say, as activists and political anoraks are already quite well represented (see chapter 7 in my PhD thesis).

    As to why the focus on nomothesia, most of us on this forum are concerned citizens (not historians), who are seeking to improve modern democratic decision making. I view Fishkin’s experiments (loosely based on Hansen’s perspective on 4th century nomothesia) as one of the most promising models. Andre has pointed out the huge difference between the perspective on lawmaking between ancient and modern societies but Fishkin’s model does seem to have potential in the latter case, particularly in that it’s comfortable with agonism, forensic rhetoric, representative fidelity, majoritarianism and other liberal nostrums. And we were all encouraged that the 4th century switch to randomly-selected legislative courts appeared uncontroversial, until you came along and threw a spanner in the works!

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  6. *** Mirko Canevaro asks the kleroterians « why are you so concerned with law-making per se, and not with the whole range of decree-making? ». More generally, it can be asked « why were the kleroterians so centered about supposed allotted legislators » ?
    *** For reasons which are sensible, but debatable.
    *** First, because it is more striking for contemporary Westerners, who are acquainted with the idea of judicial juries. But note that in 4th century Athens the judicial juries were much more than the Western juries, and had paramount political power.
    *** Second because in the two last centuries the legislative power in representative systems was allocated to Parliaments, which were likewise the main entity in the institutional political power. This is somewhat outdated in many countries, where the election to Parliament is more a direct (if muddled) choice about policies than a selection of lawmakers, or where the president is paramount as in France (in the last presidential election 78% voters, in the following parliamentary election 49%).
    *** The idea of an allotted all-powerful Parliament was thus especially striking and attractive. But it is likewise dangerous.
    *** First because it can be lead to neglect the importance of other « powers » : as I said, an allotted parliament with everything else undemocratic in the political system could easily become a sham, as a law is what the judge or the executive person says it is.
    *** Second, the idea of an all-powerful allotted Parliament could be frightening for some people. The Athenian model as described by Canevaro with « layered » procedures, with passages in different kind of democratic bodies involving different kinds of deliberation, is I think more comforting.

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  7. *** Keith says « This mixture of democratic mechanisms is clearly of relevance to modern practice (which is also compounded by the increased focus on election) and should make those who argue for “pure” (sortition only) democracy pause for thought. »
    *** The two mechanisms of sovereignty in Athens – the assembled citizens and the allotted juries – were both democratic, because they were both giving perfect equality to citizens (putting aside the age limit).
    *** The election of financial and military managers, or of public advocates, was not a representative election. The People appointed managers, as king Louis XIV appointed Louvois for war and Colbert for economy. The idea of election giving a part of sovereign power, as in the mixed republic of Sparta, was anathema for Athenian democrats. Let’s quote Demosthenes (Against Leptines, 107-108, transl. by Vince & Vince) : « [In Sparta] whenever a man for his good conduct is elected to the Senate, or Gerusia, as they call it, he is absolute master of the mass of citizens. For at Sparta the prize of merit is to share with one’s peers the supremacy in the State; but with us the people is supreme, and any other form of supremacy is forbidden by imprecations and laws and other safeguards ».
    *** The model of representative election, giving sovereign power, or part of it, to a body which is not made from ordinary citizens, is not democratic (in the restricted sense, which was the ordinary Athenian sense, which I call ortho-democratic). We can try to promote an hybrid system, mixing bodies with representative-electoral legitimacy and bodies with (ortho-)democratic legitimacy. But we must distinguish such an hybrid model from a democratic model, which may mix various mechanisms, but only democratic ones.

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  8. Hi André, all very interesting. Your last point here is key not only for modern reflections but also for Athens itself, of course. There was in Athens plenty of institutional mixing with, as I said, ‘layers’ institutionally designed to perform a number of roles, and therefore meeting, deciding etc. in very different ways. But they were all ‘democratic’ in the sense that the demos was always in control. This is why, as I try to argue in the first part of the piece you’ve read, Aristotle refuses to call Athenian democracy, even fourth-century Athenian democracy, a mixed constitution, and considers it an ‘extreme’ democracy: because whatever the institutional mixing it implements, in all layers it is the demos that remains in charge, with no derogation to that principle, and therefore no actual ‘socio-economic’ mixing, which to him is the only real one.

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  9. > the demos was always in control

    Just because final decisions are made by majority vote in the population does not imply that the demos is “in control” . One might as well claim that the modern demos is in control of the selection of rulers because the final selection is made by majority vote among the electorate.

    Clearly whoever sets the agenda (or selects the candidates in an election) has overriding power: the voters can only select from the options on the menu. Clearly, if the voters do not have sufficient information and sufficient means to collect information and evaluate it then they are in no position to make an informed and considered decision even among the options on the menu.

    Thus, it is far from clear that the Athenian demos “was always in control”. The details of the process – who sets up the agenda, how information is collected and communicated – are what determines whether the process was indeed democratic, or merely formally symmetrical.

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  10. Yoram:> it is far from clear that the Athenian demos “was always in control”

    So why do you think Aristotle believed this was true of 4th century Athenian democracy? — especially as he had the advantage of witnessing it in person.

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  11. *** I agree with Yoram’s basic ideas about the importance of agenda setting and information.
    *** But I think the problem of agenda and information was much lesser in an ancient Greek City than in a modern, very complex and very dynamic society.
    *** Were the ancient democracies basically under popular control ? at least we see that all ancient thinkers thought it was true : the democrat ones, and the anti-democrat ones, who could not stand a system dominated by the poor and uneducated classes.
    *** In modern societies, true control by the People will be more difficult to establish. For instance we may be afraid that the power of big media be paramount in establishing the political agenda and in framing the political subjects. But the media will never get absolute power. Therefore the popular rule may reform the information system, diminishing the elites clout on it and establishing a great variety of sources; even small advances will enhance the popular control, and therefore the possibility of later reform. We can hope for a virtuous circle.
    *** For that reason I have doubts about the idea of an hybrid system. I am afraid that in such a system the oligarchizing elites will obstruct any reform about agenda setting and information, and thus largely lessening true popular control in the democratic part of the system, without possibility of a virtuous circle.

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  12. Mirko,
    A paper I wrote a few years ago on the lessons that Athenian democracy has for modern democratic reform is primarily focused on the value of this layered design. Although you may dispute my assertions (based on Hansen) about the nomothetai being randomly selected, I would be curious what you think of my other points… especially the argument that all Athenian democratic institutions were in a real sense “representative” (even the Assembly), and that the notion of “direct democracy” as taught to students today, meaning ALL citizens make decisions, was and is a mythology. If you have interest and time, that paper is here:
    https://www.publicdeliberation.net/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1220&context=jpd

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  13. Andre.

    > *** Were the ancient democracies basically under popular control ? at least we see that all ancient thinkers thought it was true : the democrat ones, and the anti-democrat ones, who could not stand a system dominated by the poor and uneducated classes.

    Possibly. Maybe all the details were well arranged and the system was indeed democratic. Maybe the Boule did indeed set the agenda and made sure that the citizens were well informed and that as a result they were happy with how the system worked. It would be interesting to know what the average Athenian citizen thought about their system, but of course such information does not exist.

    As for the sources that we do have. I am not sure how much the opinions expressed in those can be trusted. The aristocrats were surely unhappy that they were not in complete control. But maybe they still had disproportionate power. Maybe the system was still oligarchical but not aristocratic in the sense that the political elite did not belong to the old aristocracy.

    As for the supposedly democratic sources: these were people who achieved success through the system – they therefore had an interest in presenting the system in the best light: i.e., as being democratic. Politicians who are successful in a modern electoral system also like to present the system that serves them as being democratic. Of course it is nothing of the kind.

    It is therefore hard to know to what extent the Athenian system, or other ostensibly democratic Greek systems, were really democratic. It may very well be that some were more democratic than others. In any case, assuming that a system is democratic just because of the formality of majority voting is clearly unjustified.

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  14. Yoram:> The aristocrats were surely unhappy that they were not in complete control. But maybe they still had disproportionate power. Maybe the system was still oligarchical but not aristocratic in the sense that the political elite did not belong to the old aristocracy.

    Given that Aristotle (Mirko’s principal source) was a metic (resident alien without citizen rights), why should he want to protect the power of the “old aristocracy”? My understanding is that the consensus among classical historians is that Aristotle was opposed to 4th century democracy as it was not a (socio-economically) mixed system, so why is it that you think you know better? Of course if you define democracy in terms of the unchecked power of randomly-selected bodies then no amount of historical evidence will convince you otherwise.

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  15. *** Yoram Gat thinks that maybe the 4th century Athenian system (extreme democracy according to Aristotle) included hidden elitist mechanisms that prevented true democracy, or limited it severely.
    *** OK, this is possible, as the one political scientist whose we have the works, Aristotle, was against the system, and not from a democratic point of view.
    *** For an historian, it is an interesting question, but without high possibility of an answer.
    *** For a 21st century kleroterian, it is not really a problem. The Athenian model cannot clearly be directly transposed to a modern society, but it gives us ideas about a true democracy. As for the covert elitist mechanisms, they are not so interesting. Most 21st century elitist mechanisms, as the mass media power, or international capitalist pressure, would be modern phenomena.
    *** Yoram writes : « assuming that a system is democratic just because of the formality of majority voting is clearly unjustified ». Ok. But let’s note that no ancient democrat author said that. I quoted 2 days ago Demosthenes : the Spartans, when giving sovereign powers to elected senators, are far from democracy. Elsewhere there is no democracy without free speech, without judicial review by allotted courts etc. In 4th century democrat discourse, majority voting is not enough.

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  16. *** Yoram Gat writes about 4th century Athens: “Maybe the system was still oligarchical but not aristocratic in the sense that the political elite did not belong to the old aristocracy ». And he seems to believe that Aristotle’s hostility to the system may be explained by an aristocratic hostility to a new elite.
    *** The elite Aristotle wished to protect from the crowd was based on ploutos = wealth, eugeneia = good birth, paideia = education, culture according to Politics, VI, 2, 7 ; 1317b-39 ; in Politics, IV, 4, 22 ; 1291b-28-30, aretê = virtue, quality is added. Eugeneia = good birth is explained in Politics, IV, 8, 9 ; 1294a-20 : « Good birth means old wealth and quality »
    *** In ancient Greece, as in any ancient society, in the World of Tradition, it was better to be older in one’s status. Therefore it was better to be older in the elite.
    *** But there is no evidence in Demosthenes and Aristotle’s time that such a feeling was paramount, and that there was a strong divide between old elite families and new ones (maybe an important factor in older times, but not at the time).
    *** Aristotle obsession through the Politics was not protecting an old nobility from a new bourgeois elite but protecting the elite from the crowd. As said the Marxist historian de Sainte-Croix « democracy, in Aristotle’s view, can too easily become (if I may be forgiven a momentary lapse into highly anachronistic and inappropriate terminology) the dictatorship of the proletariat ! ».
    *** Aristotle being obsessed by that, it is quite possible he ignored some hidden mechanisms giving to the elite « disproportionate power », as suspects Yoram. But the textual evidence does not allow us to suppose that Aristotle’s hostility against democracy was actually against a new bourgeois brand of the elite. It was hostility towards popular control.

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  17. Andre,

    First, I completely agree that since the Greek world and our world are very different, the details of the Athenian system matter little to us. We will have to design our own systems with their own details. However, I think it is important to realize that it is those details that could make the difference between a democratic system and a system where political equality is a charade. Confident statements about the Athenian “demos being always in control” are thus problematic not only because they are historically unjustified but because they may give the impression that the details do not matter and thus mislead us when we think about modern democracy.

    Now, regarding the historical question (which is interesting despite being largely irrelevant to modern times): Again, I am not making any hard and fast assertions about the ancient Greek world. But I think there is good reason to be skeptical about the extent to which Athens was (and other nominally democratic poleis were) democratic. The Athenian system had both democratic elements (primarily the central role of the allotted Boule) and anti-democratic elements (primarily the role played by prominent figures).

    It is known that some notables (“rheores kai strategoi”) had disproportional influence in Athenian politics. Do we think those notables were a representative cross section of the Athenian citizenry (in terms of wealth, nobility, education, as well as other criteria)? If not, do we think that those notables represented the ideas and interests of the Athenian citizens as opposed than their own? Unless we answer one of those questions positively, then we must accept that the Athenian system was to some extent undemocratic. How strong this effect was is hard to know (and of course the strength could vary over time).

    If Aristotle tended to ignore this effect, this is a missing element in his analysis – not evidence that it did not occur. The very existence of the phrase “rheores kai strategoi” shows that Athenians were quite aware of the political influence of notables. Whether they were concerned about it I don’t know. Maybe you are aware of some indicators?

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  18. Yoram:> The very existence of the phrase “rhetores kai strategoi” shows that Athenians were quite aware of the political influence of notables.

    Of course they were.

    >Whether they were concerned about it I don’t know.

    Certainly not, ‘the demos never produced spokesmen in the Assembly
    from their own ranks.’ (Finley, 1983, p. 27)

    >do we think that those notables represented the ideas and interests of the Athenian citizens as opposed to their own?

    One of the key objections of the anti-democrats was that 4th century rhetores pandered to the wishes of the demos. As Alexandre Ledru-Rollin put it: ‘there go the people, I must follow them for I am their leader’. And you have to be a hardcore materialist to believe that political agents are not capable in principle of acting against their own personal and/or class interests.

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  19. *** Keith Sutherland quotes Finley : ‘the demos never produced spokesmen in the Assembly from their own ranks.’ (Finley, 1983, p. 27).
    *** I am not specialist about the biographies of ancient Attic (4th century) orators, and I am not sure how much we can trust the data we have about spokesmen of 4th century Athens. But very important orators as Demades and Aeschines are not reported as belonging by origin to the highest strata of the Athenian society.
    *** I am afraid that some modern historians’ intellectual bias, following an elitarian model, lead them to select in the data we have, and to underestimate the social climbing by some gifted orators.
    *** In contemporary France, most intellectuals came from median and higher strata. But some very known came from lower strata (Pierre Bourdieu, for instance). Statistical dominance is different from absolute formulas as Finley’s.
    *** And, as always, we must distinguish Demosthenes’ time and Pericles’ time.
    *** Clearly, gifted orators from socially low origin became part of the « political elite », the « politeuomenoi ». They were no more ordinary citizens.
    *** The historian Claude Mossé wrote « In few political speeches of the last decades of the fourth century the orators use the term “idiotai” to design ordinary citizens, facing the political leaders called “politeuomenoi”. The existence of a political class is not a new fact .What is new is to be conscious of its reality and how its members differ from the whole of ordinary citizens. »
    But maybe that came from the fact that the political elite was not as linked to the social elite as before.
    *** I know that the existence of a « political elite» is seen by many kleroterians as by essence anti-democratic. I don’t agree. In the democratic deliberations, face-to-face discussions by ordinary citizens are not enough, public orators are needed – as in a criminal trial, the presence of advocates is needed. And if there are orators, some will be brighter than the others, and we will have a rhetorical elite. It is not possible to avoid elite phenomena. A democracy has to counter the oligarchizing drift of any elite. In ancient Athens, the strong agonistic spirit was useful against crystallisation of the political elite into an oligarchic class, and this agonistic spirit was enhanced by the system. In Western contemporary societies, the social and cultural data are different, and a dêmokratia would have to consider how to prevent any oligarchic drift.
    *** Yoram Gat writes « It is known that some notables (“rhetores kai strategoi”) had disproportional influence in Athenian politics. Do we think those notables were a representative cross section of the Athenian citizenry (in terms of wealth, nobility, education, as well as other criteria)? » Sure, they were not. Few specific elites (rhetorical, , civil service, military, sciences) are made from a representative cross section of the general society. And even if it is exceptionally the case, the mere fact of being an elite creates specific moral and material interests. More diverse origin of an elite will be a good thing, but it is not the one parameter.
    *** The modern problem is not only about elites of orators or of public managers. For instance modern democratic debates will have often to consider scientific knowledge, including knowledge of non-experimental and not so hard sciences. There is a danger of oligarchizing tendencies in the elite of some scientific field, giving to the common citizens an information biased by specific moral or material interests, and by phenomena of ideological consensus. How to counter would be a hard problem for a modern dêmokratia.

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  20. Andre:> *** Clearly, gifted orators from socially low origin became part of the « political elite », the « politeuomenoi ». They were no more ordinary citizens.

    Yes, I’m sure Finley (and every other historian) would agree. Irrespective of their social origins, once they became (semi-professional) rhetors they were no longer “from their own ranks”.

    >It is not possible to avoid elite phenomena.

    Neither possible, nor desirable (they will just go under cover). Better to acknowledge them and maximise agonistic constraints.

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  21. >There is a danger of oligarchizing tendencies in the elite of some scientific field, giving to the common citizens an information biased by specific moral or material interests, and by phenomena of ideological consensus. How to counter would be a hard problem for a modern dêmokratia.

    Yes, there are suspicions (particularly amongst populist politicians) that this is the case with the climate change issue. Given that publication is a key indicator of scientific status, the transition to the open access model is going to make the problem even worse (as what gets published will be determined by research councils and other government-funded agencies).

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  22. Andre,

    > It is not possible to avoid elite phenomena. A democracy has to counter the oligarchizing drift of any elite.

    A system that provides the elites privileged platforms to sound off their ideas and promote their agendas is not a system that counters oligarchical tendencies but one that amplifies them.

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  23. Very quickly on the specific point of agenda setting – the Council (selected by lot from the whole population of Attica, in such a way that all areas are represented) has full control on agenda setting, and a sub-group of that in charge only for one day, runs the meeting. Notice that the Council has rules against iteration: one cannot serve two years in a row, and no one can serve more than twice. On Finley and the ‘elite spokespersons’. In fact, recent research by Claire Taylor, Stephen Lambert and Peter Liddel has finally properly used the prosopographical data of the hundreds of extant fourth century inscribed decrees, plus the literary evidence of decrees, and it turns out that the vast majority of proposers appear only once, are otherwise unknown, and are very unlikely to be elite (while, for instance, actually elite people attested in liturgical contexts are for over 80% attested repeatedly). On top of that, Council proposers are almost invariably unknown and likely to be non-elite (as you would expect given the selection by lot). It just wasn’t the case that a small group of professional speakers did all the speaking and proposing in the Assembly and the Council. Sure, there were semi-professional speakers and politicians. but most people speaking weren’t like that. Aeschines (3.220), in polemic with Demosthenes, gives us a good picture of what it was probably like: “But you criticize me for not coming before the people continually, but at intervals. And you think we won’t notice that you are borrowing this requirement not from democracy but from a different constitution. In oligarchies it is not the volunteer who speaks but the man with power, while in democracies it is the volunteer, at a time of his choosing. And speaking at intervals is the mark of a man who engages in politics at the right occasion and when it is beneficial, while missing not a single day is the mark of a professional and a hireling.” It was a combination of a few professionals and a very large number of very occasional speakers.

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  24. Mirko,

    My interest in 4th century Athenian practice is in lawmaking, not decrees. In your various papers you confirm that the role of the Council in lawmaking was limited to putting the topic on the Assembly agenda, rather than deliberating and coming up with their own proposals. Were the proposals to the Assembly for new laws made primarily by rhetores or idiotes? We also believed that the Assembly elected five spokesmen to defend the old laws, and Finley’s (and Manin’s) principle of distinction would have applied to these elections. We also believed that the deliberative style of the nomothetai was forensic, and this is normally the province of elite rhetors (although ordinary citizens could hire a speechwriter), and that even-handedness was ensured by the use of a water clock and the disapproval of thorubos**. If your view that the nomothetai were not selected at random from those who had sworn the heliastic oath is confirmed by your peers, then the role of sortition in 4th century nomothesia is limited to subsequent challenges in the law courts. I hope and pray you are proved wrong as I don’t want to rewrite my PhD thesis!

    ** I published Victor Bers’ original article in our St. Croix festschrift

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  25. PS, you might well ask why I’m focusing exclusively on nomoi as opposed to psephismata, as the former were such a small part of Athenian political practice. The answer of course is that few of us on this forum are interested in classical history** per se — my project being more akin to Burke and Hare [notorious Edinburgh grave robbers]. As I put it in the acknowledgements in my thesis:

    I am eternally grateful to my second supervisor, Professor Lynette Mitchell, for allowing me to pillage the classical literature for evidence in support of my modern project and for half closing her eyes to contextual niceties.

    ** In 1969 I switched my undergraduate degree from history to sociology in the first week after the head of department told us that history ended in 1600 and everything since then was news.

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