Democracy without political parties: the case of ancient Athens George Tridimas

Here’s the abstract of a recent article by George Tridimas in the Journal of Institutional Economics:

Democracy without political parties: the case of ancient Athens

Political parties, formal, durable and mass organizations that inform voters on public policy issues, nominate candidates for office and fight elections for the right to govern, are ubiquitous in modern representative democracies but were absent from the direct participatory democracy of ancient Athens. The paper investigates how the political institutions of Athens may explain their absence. The arguments explored include voter homogeneity; the conditions at the start of the democracy, characterized by single constituency configuration of the demos, simple majority voting and lack of organized groups; the irrelevance of holding public office for determining public policy; appointment to public posts through sortition; and voting on single-dimension issues. The paper then discusses how in the absence of parties voters became informed and how political leaders were held accountable by the courts.

I’ve not yet read it. If you want to email me on ngruen at gmail, I might be able to help you out with access to the article.

7 Responses

  1. Nick,

    Given that the social, cultural and demographic conditions of ancient poleis (small size, voter homogeneity etc) no longer apply, presumably the implication is that modern democracies do require political parties?


  2. No idea. I’m not much of a one for discussing things from ‘first principles’ like that. Of course one can have an interesting discussion but it will be a bit like when people chew the fat before the next football game, saying who they think will win and why. (Or making economic forecasts when the main thing one should be doing when asked to make them is telling people from a position of some expertise, that the amount of value their expertise adds is next to nothing.)

    Nice to chat, but my heart won’t really be in it, because I’ll have no faith that I or anyone else can ever have much idea of whether they’re on the right track or not.

    I know enough to have a strong intuition that sortition is what our current political system needs a lot more of now. Of course, that too could be wrong, but I want to do everything I can to see that it’s tried and that good choices are made in bringing it about, and learning and building from it.


  3. Nick:> I know enough to have a strong intuition that sortition is what our current political system needs a lot more of now.

    Yes we all agree on that. The issue is whether it should replace or augment electoral politics.


  4. There’ll be plenty of time to find out.


  5. Here’s a link to the full text:

    Tridimas concludes that “democracy” was the unintended consequence of Cleisthenes’ attempts to further his family interests.


  6. @keithsutherland Thats the wrong link! The article of Tridimas is only to sale?


  7. Articles on are free. When I click the link I get an invitation to download the pdf — no charge.


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