Sunday, April 3, 2011

More Dialog on Egypt

As I said yesterday, in Egypt we see a revolution in real time. What will happen, we cannot guess, but if there is an overthrow of the political system, it will echo across the Middle East.

Let us tamp down our idealism for a moment and look at the way people view government. As Americans, we think we have the best political system and that other countries should emulate what we have. That can’t happen for many reasons and we have to accept the fact that our political system may not be suited to other cultures.

I’ve come to believe that the overarching theme between people and their government has to do with freedom and the ability to control one’s life no matter what the political system.

Let’s examine Russia for a moment. Russia routinely polls their people and asks, “What Russian leader do you have the most respect for and what person you would like to lead the country?” The winner is almost always Stalin – the man who murdered 40 million of his own countrymen and runs neck and neck with Hitler for the title of worst human being of the twentieth century.

So what’s the lesson here? The Russian people have suffered under an autocratic regime for most of the county’s existence so that’s what they’re used to They feel uncomfortable with something different even if it is more democratic. People would rather ignore their government as long as it doesn’t interfere with their lives. If they perceive that the government is unfair and limits their opportunity to obtain what others have, they become dissatisfied.

Democracy can be an illusion if it is not successful. After all, people do not know how to govern themselves. They need leaders to take care of that for them. Those leaders, in turn, must govern in a way that produces stability and opportunity, regardless of the model.

Back to Athens we go quoting from Zimmern in The Greek Commonwealth, “It takes generations of teaching, not by argument but by suffering, before a people, however politically gifted, can be induced to take the trouble to govern itself. The Athenians took to politics as easily, and were as politically gifted, as any community in history. Yet their acceptance of self-government was tentative and hesitating. It came late, and almost as an afterthought, in the development of their polity.”

Aristocracy, early Polis, Draco, Solon’s reforms and their rejection, tyrants, and then the good work of Clisthenes before the Athenians had a stable system. It’s always a stew of timing -- the wealthy, and the commons getting to a mutually acceptable place at the same time.

Turmoil in Egypt and Its Link to Antiquity

The current turmoil in Egypt reminds me of the fall of the Soviet system in 1989: a wave of political emotion which erupted when countries with a common cause chose a path for change. The Soviet house of cards fell without a whimper.

Now we have the same thing happening in the land of Arab dictators.

The majority of Arab states are currently controlled by dictators, including Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, and Mauritania. The recent unrest in Tunisia has sparked a new wave, which has already spread to Egypt and Jordan, and may go further depending on the momentum created.

Looking at these events from a theoretical standpoint is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, we are seeing people come together to demand freedom and move to overcome a repressive regime. Although we don’t know the outcome, we hope for a change for the better in these countries. Second, we are witnessing history real time: the history we read about in the ancient world and wish we had experienced.

From a practical standpoint, we hope that bloodshed is minimized. This is certainly a wild card which depends on the path the regime wants to take.

I am reminded of the Age of the Tyrants in ancient Greece (650-510 B.C), which was referenced in an article I posted on November 3rd 2009. The Greek tyrants were an intermediate step between aristocratic political systems and the advent of the Polis. Tyrants rose to power because the aristocratic forms were oppressive and the people chose to support anyone who could replace the old rulers. Oddly, the tyrants were benevolent rulers in most cases and avoided the oppression we associate with the classical definition of a tyrant. Ultimately, they were deposed when their rule proved uneven and their attempts to establish hereditary control failed. The result was the Polis; a kind of evolved balance of power between the wealthy and the commoners.

Does any of the history relate to what we see in Egypt today? Revolutions often start with mobs, because mobs have uncontrollable power. But they are only the catalysts, not the engine of change, because mobs cannot run a government and they do not have the power to take control. The engine of the revolution is the power class and usually the military. Egypt’s last three leaders have been military men who have been closely aligned with and supported by their troops, so in this case the military is critically important. Whatever transition is derived from the current unrest must be formulated by a combination of those who will allow power to flow in a new direction and those who will take that power to lead.

How different are today’s events from those of the time of the Greek tyrants? One factor in the modern case is the students, who were not an organized block in ancient Greece. The Egyptian students are educated but have no prospects for jobs because of the economic situation in their country. They have heard how life can be better by communicating with their peers in other countries. So we have the second factor of technology at work. We can see how the internet and cell phones have destroyed a government’s ability to control the flow of information and prevent their people from finding out the truth.

The rest of the story is the same across the centuries.

Egypt was a British protectorate until given independence in 1922. The British stayed until 1956 when Nasser took over and created a form of socialist government, later undone by Sadat and Mubarak. Their goal was to increase the private sector economy, but change has been slow and a centralized government continues to rule without legitimate opposition. We have power and wealth on one side against those who are deprived of freedom and opportunity.

In the case of Athens under the tyrants, the same forces were opposed. Clisthenes gets the credit for breaking the mold and building a democracy after the tyrant Hippias was deposed. Clisthenes broke the back of the powerful by dividing four tribes into 139 demes, diluting their power. He then created the assembly of 500 elected by lot to prevent any aggregation of power. His solution worked for two and a half centuries.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Capitalism and Human Relationships – Ancient and Modern

I have been reading Paul Bohannan’s wonderful book Social Anthropology and came across the following, which I paraphrase for continuity:

“All traditional types of economy are based to one degree or another on kinship. As man developed through the stages of hunting and gathering, herding, horticulture, and finally agriculture, he relied on family units and other human associations to accomplish his objectives. Factory industrialism, on the other hand, is associated with the type of society based not on kinship but rather on contract, and usually goes hand in hand with the reduction of the family to the small nuclear group and the pronounced playing down of all other kinship organizations.”

Isn’t this interesting?

Before man became a capitalist, his well being was almost completely dependent on kinship relationships. Men decided early on that operating in a group was more efficient than operating alone, based on the benefits of a division of labor and productivity gains through specialization. From the family standpoint, we see a synergistic unit working together for a common purpose. Grandparents advised their offspring and helped with the care of their children. Parents worked and the fruits of their labor were enjoyed by those who were too old to work. The greater family unit was augmented by other kinship relationships derived from blood relationships or marriage.

Bohannan dates the beginning of factory industrialism to the time of the invention of the steam engine, circa 1760. To him, the steam engine set the stage for modern mass production. My position is that the capitalism of antiquity started the dislocation of the kinship unit long before factory industrialization became a reality.

Capitalism is a economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.

Sounds like what the Greeks, and later the Romans to a greater degree, were doing. They had mines, small factories, shipping companies and other types of businesses we see in the post-modern age. The difference is that with technology at a low level, the impact on society was less significant. Still, the model was operating.

Working in a business forced people to transition away from a kinship dependency, where output is produced and consumed by the same entity. In business, the output is produced by an individual who is recognized and compensated for a specific skill that he alone possesses. The skills of his kin are irrelevant. Now the worker’s compensation leads to the purchase of goods that will be consumed by his nuclear family. This dislocation from kin has a positive effect on productivity (skills match work), but tears apart the relationship between members of the extended family unit.

Fast forward to the present, where the industrial society is in full bloom. Are we now seeing the final destruction of the family unit because both husband and wife have to work to provide for themselves and their children? Without kin available as substitute caregivers, children are being outsourced to day care and sports coaches, who act as parental surrogates, while the nuclear family disintegrates.

We began this post by describing how mankind organized himself in groups because it saw the advantages of doing so. Was this purely out of necessity or are we inherently social beings as some suggest? Social networking is highly criticized today as being “against human behavior” because communications are not face to face. Perhaps we are adapting to a new kind of kinship with its own benefits – the kind that breaks the boundaries of geography.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Basileus as a Bridge Political Figure in Ancient Greece

Basileus is a strange word – hard to pronounce (Bas-sill-es) and difficult to define. It has an obscure origin, although the Mycenaeans used it as gwasileus. Many linguists consider it a non-Greek word adopted by Bronze Age Greeks from eastern Mediterranean origins. Although Basileus has had many definitions during the last three thousand years, it’s the one that was used during the Greek Dark Ages that we’ll focus on here.

After the fall of Mycenae in 1200 B.C, Greece sank into a period of decline commonly known as the Dark Ages, which lasted until approximately 800 B.C. During that time, Greece became separated from the Orient and collapsed into itself. Writing ceased as a sub-Mycenaean culture tried unsuccessfully to carry on what had come before. Most of what we know of the first half of the dark ages is told through items buried with the dead and remnants of pottery. The second half saw a reawakening of the Greek spirit and an evolving political system leading to the Polis as the ultimate end point.

With the death of the Mycenaean kings, the notion of hereditary royalty was erased. In its place rose the Basileus as a new kind of leader. He could never be a king because the king’s powers had been dispersed among the people. Priests served the role as spiritual advisors and the common people organized themselves in assemblies to handle local administration. The Basileus was left with (or took) the role of war leader and successor to the war leaders of the invaders from the north who combined with elements of local government. He was only able to dominate a small area – a single village and its environs because he did not possess the power to control more. Consequently, his war leading ability was confined to raids on other villages.

The Basileis were not wealthy and lived by agriculture – on their own land and the land assigned to them by the community. Their possessions were mainly treasures, food, and metals as described in the Iliad. They did not have a higher standing than their fellow tribesmen economically, politically, or by their customs which basically mirrored those of the wealthy. The reputation of any one of them depended on their own prowess -- the ability to be a military leader. Some locales had more than one Basileus working together as in Elis as described in the Odyssey.

The Basileus was absolutely fundamental to the development of the Polis because without him there would have been no unified structure to serve as its foundation. In the late dark age period, the Greeks could have gone in either of two directions politically: strengthen collective action through a complex political organization or move toward personal leadership. There is evidence that the latter was attempted; that the Basileus became more powerful for a time. But that path was a dead end and he was eventually replaced by an administrator type – like the Archons of Athens. He lacked the historical requirements for personal leadership – wealth, a significant following among the people, and precedent. Ultimately, the people were unwilling to cede power to the Basileus and turn him into a king. They kept the power for themselves and elected administrators who they felt they could control.

Aristotle and Democracy

Aristotle in his Politics lays out a thorough discussion of the various forms of government – monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy. His focus is the character of men and their ability to govern rather than identifying the best political system.

In Book 2, he is harshly critical of Plato and his Republic. Plato envisioned a communist society where all citizens are alike. To Aristotle this is impossible because the differentiation of functions is a law of nature. Moreover, the abolition of property will produce dissension and not harmony. As Aristotle pointed out, the advantages expected from the communism of property would be better secured if private property were used in a liberal spirit to relieve the wants of others. Private property makes men happier and enables them to cultivate generosity.

In Book 3, Aristotle tackles the aims of the state and how they are represented in the various governmental models.

“A constitution is the arrangement of magistracies in a state, especially of the highest of all. The government is everywhere sovereign in the state, and the constitution is in fact the government. For example, in democracies the people are supreme, but in oligarchies, the few; and, therefore, we say that these two forms of government also are different: and so in other cases.”

No matter what the form of government, knowledge of its true forms is essential to be able to understand its perversions.

“The true forms of government, therefore, are those in which the one, or the few, or the many, govern with a view to the common interest; but governments which rule with a view to the private interest, whether of the one or of the few, or of the many, are perversions.

It’s not a great leap to see how this statement applies to the United States today, where the Congress and the people have gravitated to their own parochial interests and away from the common good.

The common good made the Polis successful. When it was ignored, the Golden Age came to an end.

Aristotle goes on (Book 3 Chapter 7) to describe the perversion of Democracy as the needy. What does he mean by this? When Democracy becomes extreme and the numerous poor control the state, they will not be good rulers because they do not have the skill. Better to limit their function to a deliberative one, such as participation in the courts.

“Our conclusion, then, is that political society exists for the sake of noble actions, and not of mere companionship. Hence they who contribute most to such a society have a greater share in it than those who have the same or a greater freedom or nobility of birth but are inferior to them in political virtue; or than those who exceed them in wealth but are surpassed by them in virtue.”

This means that a successful political system must employ those possessing the greatest skill in its most important roles. But skill in itself is not enough, because power must be used for good.

“There is also a doubt as to what is to be the supreme power in the state: Is it the multitude, or the wealthy, or the good, or the one best man, or a tyrant? Any of these alternatives seems to involve disagreeable consequences.

If the poor, for example, because they are more in number, divide among themselves the property of the rich- is not this unjust? No, by heaven (will be the reply), for the supreme authority justly willed it. But if this is not injustice, pray what is? Again, when in the first division all has been taken, and the majority divide anew the property of the minority, is it not evident, if this goes on, that they will ruin the state? Yet surely, virtue is not the ruin of those who possess her, nor is justice destructive of a state; and therefore this law of confiscation clearly cannot be just. If it were, all the acts of a tyrant must of necessity be just; for he only coerces other men by superior power, just as the multitude coerce the rich. But is it just then that the few and the wealthy should be the rulers? And what if they, in like manner, rob and plunder the people- is this just? If so, the other case will likewise be just. But there can be no doubt that all these things are wrong and unjust.”


Doesn’t this property confiscation example sound amazingly similar to the Progressive agenda before us today in the United States – the leveling of wealth the current administration seeks? We must take care that social agendas do not break down our society for the wrong reasons. After all, human beings behave in ways that cannot be re-programmed into some kind of utopian construct.

Monday, March 28, 2011

How the Framers of Our Constitution Debated the Roman Republic

The American Constitutional Convention was authorized on February 21st, 1787, for the sole and express purpose of modifying the Articles of Confederation. By the time of the initial committee meetings on May 6th, however, the delegate’s philosophy had shifted toward a completely new government for the United States. Opinions had changed because the lawlessness of Shay’s Rebellion had emphasized the weaknesses in the Articles.

During the committee meetings and the full convention there was extensive discussion about the political systems of antiquity and their usefulness as models for the new government. The delegates considered the British Constitution, Roman Republic, and, to a lesser extent, the Greek Democracy as relevant political systems. They were also influenced by the philosopher Locke and the political theorist Montesquieu. The framers saw the monarch as the major problem with the British system; a tyrant imposing his will on the people. The Roman Republic, as the greatest political system with no monarch, would be better because the executive magistrate was elected and not born to his position.

Committee meetings were held until June 19th, for the purpose of creating a governmental model that could be presented to the whole convention. The entire committee agreed that two legislative bodies should be created: an Assembly and Senate modeling the Roman Republic. Debate on the method of electing members from these two bodies proved to be long and difficult, however. One extreme favored members of both bodies be selected by the states; the other favored members be elected by the people.

On June 6th, Madison argued for direct election of the assembly by the people, using the example of Rome and its factions to show how power could be accumulated for selfish purposes. Madison argued that the only way to avoid the accumulation of power is to divide power into small pieces by letting the people vote directly. No consensus was reached that day, and the discussion of assembly elections was tabled.

As the debate moved on to the model of the Senate, a proposal was made to have Senators elected by the people like the assembly. Small states immediately objected to the unfairness of the proposal and insisted that the Senate consist of equal numbers from each state. Early in the debate, a large number was considered, but Madison spoke against this describing how the number of Tribunes in Rome was enlarged, and the office became corrupt. All finally agreed that the number of Senators from each state should be a small number, and they settled on the number one.

On June 11th, the great Connecticut Compromise was submitted to the committee. It offered to break the deadlock on how to elect the legislature by calling for the people’s election of the assembly by apportioned districts and the states election of Senators. This creative solution removed the major roadblock to the continuation of the convention.

On June 16th, the committee took up its discussion regarding the executive magistrate’s position (President). Most delegates agreed that an executive was needed, because they had suffered through the gridlock of a leaderless Articles of Confederation. All feared tyranny, which could result if a single executive were able to accumulate power, so a dozen members proposed the two executive system of the Roman Consuls. After much debate, the number of was fixed at one based on concerns that two presidents with veto power would stifle government action.

The Convention began on June 20th, and five days later debate began on article four, which was the method of election of Senators. Mr. Pinkney of South Carolina made an impassioned speech about why the Senate should not be a copy of the English House of Lords because there were no titled classes in the United States. Portions of his speech follow:

“The people of the United States are more equal in their circumstances than the people of any other country – and they have few rich men among them.”

“The people of this country are not only very different from the inhabitants of any state we are acquainted with in the modern world; but I assert that their situation is different from either the people of Greece and Rome, or any other state we are acquainted with among the ancients. Can the orders introduced by Solon be found in the United States? Can the military habits and manners of Sparta be resembled in our habits and manners? Are the distinctions of Patrician and Plebian known among us? I apprehend not – because they are perfectly different.”

“Our true situation appears to me to be this – we are a new extensive country containing within itself the materials for forming a government capable of extending to its citizens civil and Religious liberty.”

“This is the great end of Republican establishments.”

Pinkney was right. The United States was unique. It had come together as thirteen colonies with mutual interests, and different agendas. In the end all agreed to create a political system combining the states with a federal government that would act for the good of the whole.

A couple of facts need additional clarification. The name Assembly was changed to House of Representatives in the August 6th revision of the Articles of the Constitution. I found no evidence of the name change being suggested during debate, so I'm not sure of the origin. The number of Senators from each state was changed to two on July 23rd. The convention debated two versus three, but decided three would be too expensive.

Conflict and Change in Political Systems

I continue to admire the work of Elman Service and his efforts to lay out the anthropological aspects of human society and political systems. In Origins of the State and Political Systems, Service spends a chapter on theories of government – surveying writings on the subject back to the original authors. These early political theorists included Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) of Tunis, Machiavelli, and Jean Bodin (1530-96), who influenced Montesquieu.

Khaldun’s fundamental belief was that conflict drives governmental change in a positive rather than negative way. In other words, conflict purifies political development in the way natural selection purifies species. If two political philosophies are in conflict within a state, the stronger will win, push the state forward, and make it better.

Bodin is like-minded on the importance of conflict in government, but had a more developed approach. He believed that statis (stability) in a culture is unattainable because of the character of man, so good political systems must be able to adapt and change.

I wonder whether the United States is too stable and unable to make itself better. The founding fathers felt (and stated), at the end of the Constitutional Convention, that the resulting document was imperfect, so they built in the amendment process to improve the system to correct any errors or omissions that revealed themselves later. Washington was quoted as saying he would be happy if the document survived for twenty-five years.

How has this theoretical flexibility served us? Take a look at a list of the amendments added since the Bill of Rights.

11th Immunity of states from suits from out-of-state citizens and foreigners not living within the state borders. Lays the foundation for sovereign immunity, 1794

12th Revises Presidential election procedures, 1803

13th Abolishes slavery and Involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime,1865

14th Defines Citizenship and deals with post-Civil War issues, 1866

15th Prohibits the denial of suffrage based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude, 1869

16th Allows federal income tax, 1909

17th Direct election of Senators, 1912

18th Prohibition of Alcohol (Repealed by 21st amendment), 1917

19th Federal recognition of women's suffrage, 1919

20th Term Commencement for Congress (January 3) and the President (January 20). This amendment is also known as the "lame duck amendment", 1932

21st Repeals the Eighteenth Amendment; state and local prohibition no longer required by law, 1933

22nd Limits the president to two term, 1947

23rd Representation of Washington, D.C. in the Electoral College, 1960

24th Prohibition of the restriction of voting rights due to the non-payment of poll taxes, 1962

25th Presidential succession, 1965

26th Voting age nationally established at age 18 (see suffrage), 1971

27th Variance of congressional compensation, 1992

This is a pretty sorry list, because it contains zero structural changes in our government for two hundred years. Seven of the amendments extend rights or freedoms making us more democratic. The rest are procedural.

Lately, we have been discussing the Polis which as we have seen was an dynamic and adaptive political system over 350 years. The Roman Republic experienced a conflict of the classes from 509 B.C. to 287 when Lex Hortensia was adopted. The Republic continued on for another 200 years before it collapsed. Changes in the Republican government were dramatic: whole new legislative bodies were added, new magistracies created, and rights to govern extended to the Plebian Class.

At the present time, conflict in the United States is ideological, operating below the level of government, and unable affect change in the political system. The conflict Bodin requires is not possible because our political system is inert. The theoretical solution to this problem is the amendment process but amendments are too difficult to pass, so real change is impossible.

I dismiss quotations that venerate the Constitution as the perfect document because even the founders didn’t believe that. I also dismiss quotations that rave about how stable our political system is, because too stable is not a good thing. The fundamental problem is that no one represents all the people. When elected officials represent all the people, the whole country moves forward. When they represent only special interests, progress is diluted or not achieved at all.

There are only two forces that can change things: a push for changes in governmental structure so that the interests of all the people are represented, or some external factor that would unify the country. When the country is unified, the people as a whole force their elected officials to take action.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Democracy and Republic in America

We all know the terms Democracy and Republic, but may not know their history and the context of their definitions. Let’s take a look at them in more detail -- you may be surprised by what we discover.

The original usage as defined by the Romans and Greeks are not the same as those in use today, so it is instructive to follow the history. Once we understand the words, we’ll relate them to the political system of the United States which isn’t a Democracy or a Republic.

Democracy comes from the Greek (dēmokratía) or “the power to the people”. It began to be used after Clisthenes re-organized the Athenian tribes into Demes in 508 B.C. The original definition of democracy, then, is the political system of Athens in the late six and fifth centuries B.C. Beyond this practical definition, we have the theoretical, which defines the characteristics of a democracy as a political system which provides equality and freedom. Furthermore, in a typical democracy, an individual’s rights are protected by a constitution which lays out the governmental structure to support the its laws. Citizens participate in elections where they cast ballots and choose magistrates who will govern. In the case of Athens, the Constitution had been written by Solon and the laws and balance between the branches of government was fine-tuned up to the time of Pericles.

A long time passed between the Athenian Polis and the the rise of modern democracies. Those few examples in between are hardly more than anecdotes. In the western world, monarchies dominated from the fall of Rome until the time of the American Revolution.

The word Republic comes from the Latin res publica or “thing of the people”, implying the participation of the people in their political system. In antiquity, a Republic was defined simply as a political system with no monarch -- the Roman Republic being the most well known example. In Rome, there were three branches of government: Consuls (chief executive magistrate), Senate (wise experienced leaders), and the Assemblies (the people). The Roman Republic was in actuality an oligarchy, because Senators had the power and wealth to influence the way the Republic was administered. The Senate made foreign policy and introduced new laws to be voted on by the assembly. Citizens could only vote if they were landowners: woman, slaves, and the landless were out of luck.

Republics live in fear of tyranny so they create a structure to lower the risk of revolution. In Rome, two consuls were elected for one year terms and had veto control over each other. Other magistrates, such as tribunes, were also elected for a single year. Proconsuls were administrators of foreign territories and as military leaders were not allowed to bring their army onto the Italian peninsula – a rule broken by Caesar when he crossed the Rubicon.

Republics were only marginally more successful than Democracies in the period between antiquity and the modern age. One could cite Switzerland in the middle ages and Florence during the renaissance as examples. Again, innovative political models with equality and freedom were stifled by the medieval monarchical view.

So now we come to colonial America and its path to independence. The colonies, in the pre-revolution days, were Republics just like Rome. Each legislature had an aristocratic upper chamber and a lower chamber of ordinary citizens. The one difference was the governor who was either a toady to the British government or a company chartered by the British government.

As we all know, the American Revolution was an emotional event inspired by the oppressive laws the British government created to exploit the colonies. The colonies had not given much thought to the kind of political system they would need after independence was achieved, so there was a period of weak governance in the period before the Constitutional Convention. The Articles of Confederation had created a loose governmental model but it had too many flaws (no executive) to be effective. That’s why a convention was called in 1787 to amend the articles. Fifty-five men attended the convention as representatives of the colonies, and endured a hot summer in Philadelphia with the windows closed so no one could overhear their debate.

Political philosophies ran the gamut from those who felt no central government was necessary to those who wanted to eliminate the states. Many who liked the Articles of Confederation felt they had been tricked when the discussion of a new political system commenced. Most delegates were literate in Latin and well versed in the Roman and Greek political systems. They looked to antiquity to guide them past the monarchical model that had dominated the western world.

Many feared Democracy as “mob rule” citing the need to have controls against the lower classes, a problem faced by both the Romans and Greeks. The resulting Constitution created a Federation of states with a central government that was essentially an oligarchy. The president was to be selected by state legislatures (electors), the Senate by state legislatures, and only the representatives were to be directly elected by the people. The initial group of Senators included some of the richest men in the colonies, who were able to exert their individual influence over the business of the nation.

Washington was essentially a figurehead. The battle over the philosophy of the new government was waged between Hamilton and Jefferson, the former wanting a centralized government and the latter embracing the principles of Democracy. This was the Romans versus the Greeks redux. Jefferson eventually won the battle when he was able to build his Republican (his term for the opposite of Federalist) party through grass roots efforts in the states. The Federalists never won an election after 1796 and the government became more Democratic. Still, the vestiges of the Oligarchic Republic remained for a long time. The property ownership requirement for voting lasted until 1850 and Senators continued to be selected by the states until 1910.

Today, the American model sits somewhere between the Greek and Roman – maybe more on the side of Rome. Nowhere in America are officials nominated or elected by lot as the Greeks did. Broad public participation in government has been replaced by lobbyists who influence legislation by acting for large corporations or groups - the new oligarchy. The people have been removed from the process and even though Americans take pride in the voting franchise, they have less and less ability to control the way government operates.

Three Political Systems Compared

I thought it would be interesting to create a timeline to show the evolution of three great political systems: Greek, Roman, and British.

Between them we cover the two great civilizations of antiquity and their political systems – Democracy and Republic. Britain is, perhaps, the father of the great modern political systems.

The Greeks were at it early as they were influenced by the empires of the Eastern Mediterranean: Egypt, Persia, Crete, and Mesopotamia. They had a mature Polis when Rome was just starting its Republic. Neither Greece nor Britain could move forward to the Middles Ages until Rome collapsed.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Reflections on Pericles and Democracy

Let’s take an objective look at Pericles defense of democracy and separate political rhetoric and the occasion of a funeral from the reality of the Athenian Polis in 431 B.C. It was a stirring speech, designed to honor the dead and motivate the living in a time of war – a war that would last another twenty-seven years.

______________

When it is a question of settling private disputes, everyone is equal before the law: when it is a question of putting one person before another in positions of public responsibility, what counts is not membership of a particular class, but the actual ability which the man possesses.

The Athenian Polis was a balance between branches of a government -- Archons, Council of 500 and Assembly. The Archons were the “wise men” elected from the aristocratic class for one year. The Council of 500 were chosen by lot from nominees of the people and also served for one year. The Assembly was made up of all male citizens. The council introduced new laws which were voted on by the assembly, while the archons acted as government administrators. This system was designed to allow broad participation and prevent the accumulation of power.

The court system was made up of non-professionals organized to facilitate fair trials of accused citizens. Common citizens served as jurors and members of the appeals court.


Did Pericles correctly describe Athenian society? Yes, if we’re speaking of the rights of citizens. I would say its as accurate as labeling the United States as a democracy. Not all citizens and classes are satisfied with their political system at any one time, but when the many classes can be balanced in a way that creates stability, it becomes successful.

I declare that our city is an education to Greece, and I declare that in my opinion each single one of our citizens, in all the manifold aspects of life, is able to show himself the rightful lord and owner of his own person, and do this, moreover, with exceptional grace and exceptional versatility. And to show that this is no empty boasting for the present occasion, but real tangible fact, you have only to consider the power which our city possesses and which has been won by those very qualities which I have mentioned. Athens, alone of the states we know, comes to her testing time in a greatness that surpasses what was imagined of her. In her case, and in her case alone, no invading enemy is ashamed at being defeated, and no subject can complain of being governed by people unfit for their responsibilities. Mighty indeed are the marks and monuments of our empire which we have left. Future ages will wonder at us, as the present age wonders at us now. We do not need the praises of a Homer, or of anyone else whose words may delight us for the moment, but whose estimation of facts will fall short of what is really true. For our adventurous spirit has forced an entry into every sea and into every land; and everywhere we have left behind us everlasting memorials of good done to our friends or suffering inflicted on our enemies.

Pericles is right to say that Athens exceeded what was expected of her, because they knew they had gone where no political system had gone before. They had created a complex agrarian society with citizen participation in government and laws to protect the people.

Two caveats apply here, however. Pericles ignores the might of Sparta during a time when the two Poleis were at war. He derides the unique Spartan oligarchy which, in fact, was successful as a rival political system. Secondly, he hides Athenian imperialism under the cloak of “adventurous spirit.” Imperialism was a direct cause of the Peloponnesian War which Athens would lose.


What I would prefer is that you should fix your eyes every day on the greatness of Athens as she realty is, and should fall in love with her. When you realize her greatness, then reflect that what made her great was men with a spirit of adventure, men who knew their duty, men who were ashamed to live below a certain standard. If they ever failed in an enterprise, they made up their minds that at any rate the city should not find their courage lacking to her, and they gave to her the best contribution that they could. They gave her their lives, to her and to all of us, and for their own selves they won praises that never grow old.

These statements reflect the confidence and pride of Athens. That pride supported free thinkers who moved the culture forward and the soldiers that defended her.

I couldn’t help thinking of the colonial spirit used to describe the early United States. People came to North America because of their adventurous spirit. The west was settled by the same motivation. Sadly, much of this spirit has been compromised in the post-modern world as we dumb it down for the sake of socialist ideals. The Athenians would point out that we are tearing down, block by block, that which made us great – liberty.


For famous men have the whole earth as their memorial: it is not only the inscriptions on their graves in their own country that mark diem out; no, in foreign lands also, not in any visible form but in people's hearts, their memory abides and grows. It is for you to try to be like them. Make up your minds that happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous.”

Pericles made the point that wars are a part of life and having the courage to fight and win is the only guarantee of freedom. This is another way of stating that which made Athens excel – it was a society that provided the freedom and encouragement to be seek happiness through pursuing one’s interests. A philosopher could be a philosopher, and was encouraged in the effort, rather than being a goods producer. When people are allowed to uses the tools they are born with, rather than being stifled by economics, they contribute more to the advancement of their culture.

Pericles and the Defense of Democracy

In 431 B.C, at a funeral for dead soldiers from the first year of the Peloponnesian War, Pericles gave a speech in defense of Democracy. Much of the text survives because it was recorded by Thucydides and it gives us insight into a great Athenian’s view of his political system. I have included the highlights below.

Our constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the whole people. When it is a question of settling private disputes, everyone is equal before the law: when it is a question of putting one person before another in positions of public responsibility, what counts is not membership of a particular class, but the actual ability which the man possesses. No one, so long as he has it in him to be of service to the state, is kept in political obscurity because of poverty.

Just as our political life is free and open, so is our day-to-day life in our relations with each other. We do not get into a state with our next-door neighbor if he enjoys himself in his own way, nor do we give him the kind of black looks which, though they do no real harm, still do hurt people's feelings. We are free and tolerant in our private lives; but in public affairs we keep to the law. This is because it commands our deep respect.

We give our obedience to those whom we put in positions of authority, and we obey the laws themselves, especially those which are for the protection of the oppressed, and those unwritten laws which it is an acknowledged shame to break.

And here is another point. When our work is over, we are in a position to enjoy all kinds of recreation for our spirits. There are various kinds of contests and sacrifices regularly throughout the year; in our own homes we find a beauty and a good taste which delight us every day and which drive away our cares. Then the greatness of our city brings it about that all the good things from all over the world flow in to us, so that to us it seems just as natural to enjoy foreign goods as our own local products.

Our love of what is beautiful does not lead to extravagance: our love of the things of the mind does not make us soft. We regard wealth as something to be properly used, rather than as something to boast about. As for poverty, no one need be ashamed to admit it: the real shame is in not taking practical measures to escape from it.

Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well: even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well-informed on general politics -- this is a peculiarity of ours: we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all. We Athenians, in our own persons, take our decisions on policy or submit them to proper discussions: for we do not think that there is an incompatibility between words and deeds; the worst thing is to rush into action before the consequences have been properly debated.

I declare that our city is an education to Greece, and I declare that in my opinion each single one of our citizens, in all the manifold aspects of life, is able to show himself the rightful lord and owner of his own person, and do this, moreover, with exceptional grace and exceptional versatility. And to show that this is no empty boasting for the present occasion, but real tangible fact, you have only to consider the power which our city possesses and which has been won by those very qualities which I have mentioned. Athens, alone of the states we know, comes to her testing time in a greatness that surpasses what was imagined of her. In her case, and in her case alone, no invading enemy is ashamed at being defeated, and no subject can complain of being governed by people unfit for their responsibilities. Mighty indeed are the marks and monuments of our empire which we have left. Future ages will wonder at us, as the present age wonders at us now. We do not need the praises of a Homer, or of anyone else whose words may delight us for the moment, but whose estimation of facts will fall short of what is really true. For our adventurous spirit has forced an entry into every sea and into every land; and everywhere we have left behind us everlasting memorials of good done to our friends or suffering inflicted on our enemies.

This, then, is the kind of city for which these men, who could not bear the thought of losing her, nobly fought and nobly died. It is only natural that every one of us who survive them should be willing to undergo hardships in her service. And it was for this reason that I have spoken at such length about our city, because I wanted to make it clear that for us there is more at stake than there is for others who lack our advantages; also I wanted my words of praise for the dead to be set in the bright light of evidence. And now the most important of these words has been spoken. I have sung the praises of our city; but it was the courage and gallantry of these men, and of people like them, which made her splendid. Nor would you find it true in the case of many of the Greeks, as it is true of them, that no words can do more than justice to their deeds.

What I would prefer is that you should fix your eyes every day on the greatness of Athens as she realty is, and should fall in love with her. When you realize her greatness, then reflect that what made her great was men with a spirit of adventure, men who knew their duty, men who were ashamed to live below a certain standard. If they ever failed in an enterprise, they made up their minds that at any rate the city should not find their courage lacking to her, and they gave to her the best contribution that they could. They gave her their lives, to her and to all of us, and for their own selves they won praises that never grow old, the most splendid of sepulchers -- not the sepulcher in which their bodies are laid, but where their glory remains eternal in men's minds, always there on the right occasion to stir others to speech or to action. For famous men have the whole earth as their memorial: it is not only the inscriptions on their graves in their own country that mark diem out; no, in foreign lands also, not in any visible form but in people's hearts, their memory abides and grows. It is for you to try to be like them. Make up your minds that happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous.”

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Three Ages of Man - Repression, Freedom, and the End of Responsibility

One of my core beliefs is that human beings in society differentiate themselves by aptitude and intelligence. People have a strong desire to become self-actualized -- to control their lives and have the freedom to pursue whatever interests them. Man knows (or senses) that when he lives alone he cannot become self-actualized because he must spend all his time trying to survive, so he decides to live with others. But society can be repressive so man has fought for freedom throughout history – to get out from under repressive elements limiting his opportunities. Modern man, for the most part, has achieved that goal, although he must except the fact that freedom has its price and that price is responsibility. When a man has control over his life he must be responsible to himself and his family.

Since mankind appeared on the earth, he has separated himself from the other animals through the use of his highly developed brain. At first he had to compete with other hominids for supremacy, but by the end of the Paleolithic Era the competition was eliminated and Homo Sapiens stood as the sole surviving Human species.

During the Neolithic Period, man became a farmer and gave up the life of a nomad. He developed tools and lived in tribes of 150-2000. There was no real social or economic stratification in those primitive clans, although the accumulation of herds led to differences in wealth. At the dawn of the Bronze Age, man began to live in larger groups. Villages were formed and social stratification began. With stratification came repression. The wealthy used their power to control the poor. The poor had no rights, so those at the bottom of the economic scale became dependent on the wealthy. The average man was repressed socio-economically but remained responsible for his own life and the lives of his family.

We move on through the Bronze Age to the Iron Age and the advent of complex societies and governments where both Athens and Rome provide us with examples of attempts to overcome inequality and repression through the creation of legal systems which would extend basic rights to all people. Still the people were repressed and governments continued to be controlled by wealthy aristocracies. When these classical governments failed, mankind endured a long winter of the Dark Ages lasting a thousand years. I characterize human society from the late Stone Age through the Renaissance as a repression society where the weak are controlled by the strong while individuals retained responsible for their own lives.

The renaissance caused a reawakening of the human spirit and a sense of the value of the individual in society. This new found power of the people led to the American and French Revolutions ushering in a new political age with legitimate rights held by the people and a real opportunity to control their government. I characterize this period in human society as the end of repression and the dawn of freedom. During this time people continued to maintain responsibility for their own lives.

Now we come to the third age of man in society: the end of personal responsibility. This is a time when freedom prevails but personal responsibility is dead. Beginning circa 1970 with the political indoctrination of projected responsibility, there followed a movement of human behavior toward this projection. I not sure of the origin of the former – possibly it was the creation of liberal academics, who were idealistic in believing that all those who needed help could be saved and that government was the savior. I label this projection because the indoctrinators were unconsciously denying the legitimacy of human responsibility.

What evidence do we have of this new age in action?

1. Murderers who were abused as children are now sympathetic figures.

2. The responsibility for human stupidity and negligence has been transferred to corporations. If I drive an ATV down a hill and break my neck, it’s the vehicle’s fault. If I stick my hand in the spinning blade of a lawnmower and get hurt it’s the manufacturer’s fault. If I eat packing materials and get sick it’s the fault of the shipper.

In the United States, the legal profession has become a major contributor to the death of responsibility. There is a daily drumbeat of commercials featuring attorneys looking for new clients to add to their victims list. There are so many lawyers they have to invent new ways to make money – sue McDonalds because its customers get fat, perhaps? Since we keep electing lawyers to Congress, we keep extending the umbrella they provide over the trial lawyers association, protecting its sources of income. So more lawyers means more law suits and more transfer of responsibility.

3. Politicians who break the law should be given a second chance, as long as their publicist is able to build a nice contrition story. They’re human and made a mistake, so we have to forgive.

4. Corporations are evil. They try to enslave their workers, and rob their customers.

5. If a person does not have money or a job, its not their fault -- they have been disadvantaged by the evil in society. Government must make up for this inequality.

Politicians no longer feel responsible to the American people. Their re-election rate is so high because groups that benefit from the legislator’s efforts provide the money and propaganda that produces more votes than the opposition.

The lack of responsibility has also reached the educational system where teachers have given up responsibility to accurately grade students. Now everyone gets good grades, because no one wants to limit a student’s opportunities by giving him/her a low grade. Why are colleges so focused on standardized test scores? Because grades are no longer a measure of a student’s capability.

The list goes on and on.

Now that I’ve painted an ugly picture, you may wonder when third age ends and the fourth age begins.

The end of responsibility is directly related to the distance man has removed himself from REAL living. Remember the guy at the beginning who lives alone in the woods? That’s REAL living. What we have now is something else.

Although we can observe the imbalance of human responsibility, does anyone care? Is this even a bad thing, or just some higher form of human existence? During the Paleolithic Period, people who had bad eyes died. That was natural selection. Now people get glasses and live a normal life. Is the end of responsibility a similar progression?

To me the logical endpoint of the denial of responsibility is “1984” in reality – a time where the government, and their investors (corporations) take care of all of us. Where all jobs are government jobs or we work for a government contractor.

What could prevent this unhappy reality? We'd need a catastrophic event – war, famine, climate change. Something that would force man to be responsible again. Responsible for his survival and the survival of those that matter to him.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Evolution of the Polis

The Greek Polis is held up as one of the greatest political innovations of all time. Its guarantee of freedom, fair-minded legal institutions, and democratic character are well known to most of us. Like other Greek cultural institutions, the Polis reached its mature form during the fifth century B.C.

But the Polis did not appear out of thin air or develop over a short period of time. It was forged by the heat and hammer of life in ancient Greece – the geography and its isolating influence, the collapse of Mycenae and its aristocratic model, and finally the cultural isolation that existed during the Dark Ages. The heat that finally formed the Polis was population growth. When Greek villages became large enough to be called cities, they were able to support a more complex political system. A new wealthy class wanted the goods to fit their aristocratic lifestyle. Those goods required artisans to produce them. A warrior class developed to protect the Polis from attack – military power from the people and not paid mercenaries of a king. Farming capability expanded as more food was required by a larger population. At the center of it, we see human beings who divided themselves, like they always do, by capability and effort.

As populations grew, the social classes came into conflict. The Greek word Stasis is used to describe this. Out of this conflict a simple political structure was created – not restrictive enough on the wealthy to control them but certainly a structure that attempted to bring basic rights to the lower classes. This political incubator created a system of magistrates, councils, and a people’s assembly. All original ideas. On the judicial side, wise law givers were granted the power to make legal decisions for the community.

Still the class conflict continued. Emigration acted as a safety valve but the land could only support so many. Finally, in the middle of the seventh century, revolutions against the new institutions erupted. The systems that developed could not meet the needs of the people so opportunists seized power and became tyrants. These Greek tyrants were unlike what we commonly think of when we hear the word. These men were not morally corrupt. They were power hungry individuals who took advantage of an available political situation. Many, in fact, were welcomed as men who could achieve through threats and force the aims people did not think they could achieve otherwise. They lasted only a couple of generations but, paradoxically, the tyrants strengthened the future Polis by cleaning out its defects and forcing the people to raise their political conscious to the point of governing themselves.

Greeks, Americans, and Political Factions

As you’ve noticed I have been reading about ancient Greek drama. I was interested in the transition from serious drama to comedy that occurred in the time of Aristophanes, and the chapter on the subject mentioned Aristophanes political views. The following description comes from H.J. Rose, The Handbook of Greek Literature:

“Aristophanes was a supporter of the old Conservative party in Athens. That is to say he was opposed to extreme democracy and to the Peloponnesian War. Not advocating peace at any price but supporting whatever steps were necessary to avoid war. He took this position as a traditional Athenian who as a member of the land holding class, saw little gain from imperial expansion and overseas trade and much to lose if Attica was invaded by the Spartans. The opposite group, containing those who were more staunchly democratic, were artisans and tradesmen who saw a benefit from the demand for goods that war would bring. Rowers would be needed for the navy, the poor would be absorbed into the service, and be paid.”

So what we see here is a left wing of hawks and a right wing of doves. Interesting to compare it to the United States where the left wing are doves and the right wing hawks. What is the difference?

In our country Democrats favor the people and Republicans favor business. Generally speaking the Democrats worry about what can be done domestically to improve the lives of the public. That focus is more important to them than foreign policy which is complicated and takes money away from domestic needs. The Republicans favor a strong foreign policy because it protects their business interests -- more important to them than the needs of the people.

The key difference between Greece and the United States is that the Greeks, as an agrarian society, could do well producing for domestic consumption. In our world economy that doesn’t work. Wages are highest in the United States, so to be competitive we have to produce goods elsewhere. That production is protected by a strong foreign policy.

Of course the Greeks would laugh at the irony of the recent efforts of the “party of the people” which is moving away from the democracy they espouse to a bureaucratic government of regulation and control. If this goes far enough the we’ll end up less of a democracy than we are today – perhaps an oligarchy of the Congress.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Plato and Aristotle on Sparta

I thought it might be interesting to read Plato and Aristotle’s views on Sparta because their philosophical approach could be an interesting contrast with that of the historians. The impact these two great thinkers have had on our modern civilization is enormous as it relates to philosophical thought, religious philosophy, and the evolution of modern science. As a former philosophy student with a god-like reverence for these “fathers of philosophy”, I expected interesting insights. Unfortunately, what I found was disappointing, for reasons I will explain.

Plato discusses Sparta in Laws; Aristotle in Politics. Plato wrote Laws as his last work in 360 B.C. at age 67 or so. Aristotle write Politics in 350 B.C. at 34.

When you study the writings, it quickly becomes apparent there are factors influencing the writing that have to be considered before any definitive interpretation can begin. These factors relate to their biases as Athenians, the condition of Sparta when they wrote, and their knowledge of Sparta during its most influential period.

Plato was born during the Peloponnesian War and was twenty-three years old when it ended. Aristotle was thirteen when the Spartans lost the battle of Leuctra, ending their role as the superior military power of Greece. I contend that both Philosophers were biased against Sparta for several reasons. In the first place, as Athenians, they would naturally think their own political system was the best. Secondly, both of them (particularly Plato) would have reason to resent Sparta for the Peloponnesian War and its occupation of Athens. Thirdly, they both had reason to reject the Spartan political system as too radical because it stifled the kind of independent thought they believed was important to mankind. The Spartan system did not fit their concept of the ideal political system – it wasn’t a monarchy, oligarchy, or democracy.

At the time Plato and Aristotle were writing, Sparta was a second rate power and worse. The end of the Peloponnesian War had been a false victory (Pyrrhic?) for Sparta because it forced them to govern other Poleis. The Spartans proved to be bad managers and in a short time their control over the defeated enemies was lost. Moreover the Spartan system became degraded through the influence of Athens as its citizens became more interested in wealth and the trappings of luxury than the historical military ideal. The great Spartan army had become one of mercenaries rather than citizen soldiers. Obviously, Plato and Aristotle saw what was happening and blamed the failure of Sparta on its quirky culture. I don’t know what history the philosophers had access to which would have taught them about Sparta at its zenith (Herodotus for sure), but it certainly would have been more difficult to criticize the Spartan system during a time when it was the leading power in Greece and responsible for the protection of Athens as its ally.

More details on Plato and Aristotle's views of Sparta to follow.

The Unique Spartan Political System

The Spartans were unique among Greeks because the political system they developed never quite made it to a democracy. Elsewhere kings were overthrown by an aristocratic class, which became the governing body of the Polis, and later extended democratic rights to the common people. In Sparta, however, the kings came to some kind of accommodation with the wealthy where they would give up some power in return for the continuation of their authority. This sharing of power created the stability Sparta needed to survive for six centuries.

Sparta had two kings -- hereditary kings, one from each of two families. The kings were the sole military commanders and religious leaders but nothing more. When it came to governance, they could only act as advisors to the oligarchy. Sparta had a governing council called the Gerusia consisting of twenty-eight men plus the two kings. This body advised the assembly, could veto legislation if it disapproved, and also presided over trials for capital offences. Members had to be sixty years of age and served for life. The assembly consisted of all adult Spartiates over twenty years of age – a number on the order of 5000. The assembly had limited power but was allowed to debate the merits of legislation to try and influence its passage.

There is one other component of the Spartan political system we have not mentioned – the Ephors. The creation of Ephoric office was said to have been part of the mid-seventh century reforms of Lycurgus. Five were elected by the assembly each year, and their powers were varied and extensive. They had disciplinary control over other magistrates, conducted foreign policy, and presided over the assembly and council. Their powers even included some controls over the king. For example, they could summon the kings to a meeting, fine them for bad behavior, or even recommend the king be impeached. Perhaps the Ephors most powerful role was in foreign policy, because they were to ones who met with foreign dignitaries and negotiated treaties.

What is it about the Spartans that made them carry on a model of hereditary kings and go down a path different from all of Greece? Somehow they developed a unique character: secretive, organized, and religious -- closed to the outside. We will look at them again in coming posts to see what they have to teach us.

Democracy in America? Not according to the Greeks.

What we call democracies in the western world, especially in the United States, would be seen as something less by the ancient Athenians. They would assert that there is very little democracy here because Americans are not able to participate directly in their government.

The first Athenian democracy was created by Cleisthenes in 507 B.C, when the people elected him along with others who were dedicated to replacing the aristocratic oligarchy. This political change was accomplished through legislation, not violence.

The Athenian political system, before the reforms, had many elements of a democratic system, but was heavily influenced by the aristocratic class. The principle legislative body was the Assembly (Ecclesia) which consisted of all citizens who came to the assembly meetings. Because of the unwieldy character of so large a group, a council of 500 was created to debate and consider new legislation before it was brought before the assembly. Governmental administration was handled by ten senior magistrates, called Archons, who were elected by the people. When an Archon’s term of office ended he could become a member of the Areopagas, an aristocratic council of elders who acted as a court of appeal. Lastly, there was a elected board of ten generals who were in charge of commanding the army and navy during time of war. Aristocratic influence was seen in the Council of 500 which was heavily tilted toward the upper class. Archons, themselves, were wealthy aristocrats, and the Areopagas was made up of former Archons.

The new laws sought to break the aristocratic hold on high office by removing their influence. Candidates for Archon were now chosen by lot from the Council of 500. A system of ostracism was introduced to prevent accumulation of power. Any senior official deemed to be corrupt could be banished for ten years by a vote of the Assembly. Other changes included limiting the power of the Areopagas to appeal for murder trials, and transferring supervision of the conduct of government to the Council of 500.

This great Athenian democracy thrived through the time of Pericles 462-429 B.C, but was degraded during the Peloponnesian War, which ended in 404. The Athenians were defeated by Sparta and would never again experience the great democracy they had invented.

If we agree that the definition of democracy is anything we want it to be, then I suppose America has a democracy, but it’s funny how the term has be used by feminist types to suggest the Greeks didn’t have a democracy because women couldn’t vote. In their view, only contemporary America would meet the true definition. How absurd! Democracies are defined by the ability of people to have a say in government, not whether one class or the other has equal rights.

A political system will only be strong if informed citizens vote. That is citizens who are intelligent enough and motivated enough to analyze the issues before voting. Those who vote without knowledge of the issues or support candidates because they are told who to support are corrupt. Quality government comes from quality votes, not the number of them.

The other problem we have in the United States is that the people’s power ends with their vote. Because they elect representatives and do not participate in government themselves, their surrogates are open to the kind of corruption that makes them beholden to the rich and powerful rather than the people they represent.