The classical unities

According to Wikipedia, it was Italian Renaissance philosopher Gian Giorgio Trissino who came up with the “classical unities” as a prescriptive theory of dramatic tragedy. The three unities are:

  • Unity of action: a tragedy should have one principal action.
  • Unity of time: the action in a tragedy should occur over a period of no more than 24 hours.
  • Unity of place: a tragedy should exist in a single physical location.

When considering how sortition (and elections) can be conducted in a way that would be resistant to manipulation, such unities are crucial, argues Trent Clark in an article in the Idaho State Journal.

Ancient Athens was home to one of the world’s first democracies. The Greek orator and reformer Cleisthenes initiated citizen “voting” in 508 BC. His solution: Give every voter one black stone and one white stone. On each decision, whether to go to war, accept a treaty, send trade delegations, etc., the citizens would cast a stone (white for “yes,” black for “no”) into a jar. The contents of the jar determined the policy of the city. As many as 6,000 Athenians would participate.

In early Athens, serving in government was a civic obligation, like jury duty today. Military assignments were based on skill with weapons and history as a soldier. But other posts were randomly drawn, a process called “sortition.” Tokens with a citizen’s name, or pinakia, were arranged across a large flat tablet or kleroterion. Multi-colored dice were used to select rows and columns, pointing to a random name for each open position.

Cleisthenes found it essential that all this occur at a known location, at a designated time, in public. Citizens needed to see that the process was not rigged or “fixed” by the city’s tribal bosses.

2 Responses

  1. How often must it be repeated? A lottery does not leave an audit trail, so only an open, public draw by trusted drawers can be valid. The US Green Card lottery is especially remiss in this regard.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Trent Clark presents the topic with an interest in shoring up current American Republican Party voting changes and attacking Democratic Party positions. Interestingly, although mentioning sortition, he is more interested in Athenian voting, yet makes numerous factual errors and misleading statements. Voting was rarely conducted using the secret ballot that he praises (except in specific situations such as court trials and ostracisms), but rather generally conducted by a public raising of hands in the assembly. His description of “multi-colored dice” with the keroterion, the thuggery of “tribal bosses,” and statement that government service was “obligatory” reveal that he really doesn’t know much at all about Athenian democracy.

    Like

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