Bertrand Russell on Athenian democracy

In his 1945 book History of Western Philosophy Betrand Russell writes the following (p. 74):

Athenian democracy, though it had the grave limitation of not including slaves or women, was in some respects more democratic than any modern system. Judges and most executive officers were chosen by lot, and served for short periods; they were thus average citizens like our jurymen, with the prejudices and lack of professionalism characteristic of average citizens.

It is remarkable that the reason given for the Athenian system being more democratic than modern systems is not the standard superficial argument about the Assembly voting directly on laws. Russell’s appeal to the fact that Athenian judges and officers had, as a result of being chosen by lot, the same outlook as the average citizen is an adumbration of Manin’s pure theory of elections (“the principle of distinction”).

One Response

  1. As a longtime member of the Bertrand Russell Society, I’ll have to make sure my fellow Russellians know about this shout-out! (I’m guessing Russell is following Aristotle here–I seem to recall he also focused upon the courts more than the assembly.)

    Liked by 1 person

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