this scene. You are at a hillside in a Greek city. Benches are cut
into the rocky slopes, surrounding a central platform. You are one
in a crowd of 6000 men, of all classes and occupations, seated here.
You watch priests conduct prayers, then sacrifices. Then a lone
man ascends the platform, and starts the Assembly. He, the herald,
bellows "Who wishes to speak?" And someone in the crowd stands up
and starts expressing his opinions.
This is democracy in its first forms, originating in Athens, the
noted Greek polis. The assembly is conducted more than 40 times
annually, where male citizens debate and vote on state issues, as
well as make their own laws. Everyone has his own freedom of speech,
and is entitled a chance to become public officials, who are determined
through lottery. These officials, numbering about 700, together
with a Council of 500, formed the Executive ruling Athen's everyday
Democracy has existed long before the United States broke free of
British rule, long before Thomas Jefferson wrote his Declaration
of Independence. Its roots even lead back to the Sumerian civilization,
when its primitive twin existed in the form of allowing citizens
the right to vote for their king in the event of war. Today, it
is the most widely practiced political system in the world. It has
eliminated most other forms of political organization; Communism
has crumbled and was doomed ever since Russia embraced democracy;
the monarchy too has succumbed, as in most areas, absolute monarchy
has been replaced with constitutional monarchy, at the ever pervading
influence of democracy. Continuing in our current direction, our
grandchildren will not even see other forms of political organization,
so furious is democracy in expanding its influence to dominate the
But why is this system so popular? Does it not have its flaws? Certainly.
The demokratia in Athens has long been criticized for allowing only
a small representation of the population, 40000 men out of 400000
people, to have a say in the state's affairs. Today, many individuals
will probably proudly declare that in his own country, each adult
citizen has the right to vote. But what is this vote for? Why, the
government of course, he says. Besides that? Freedom of speech,
But, dear readers, is this true? We claim to practise democracy,
but do we do so like the Athenians? How many countries today allow
their people to speak up against the ruling party and yet be devoid
of persecution? How many citizens can proudly say that they were
personally involved in coming up with the legislation in their country?
And yet how many others can claim they enjoy all the full human
rights as stated in the country's constitution?
For upon close reflection, is not the democracy we practise today
flawed, and more like oligarchy? We select our leaders, but then
have little say over what they do to the country. Is that not like
having a few select privileged men in the country rule over the
vast majority? We are purported to have the freedom of choice, but
how many people in the world are actually able to vote for the leader
of their choice without fearing for the lives of their families,
lest the opposition or ruling party harm them for exercising this
vote in the 'wrong' manner?
The Athenians cannot claim to have attained total democracy, because
of their representation by only the men. But for those who enjoyed
this privilege, did they actually have more freedom and more 'democracy'
than we do today? What then is true democracy? Have we achieved
this today? Are we truly more liberal in our ways of thinking than
the Athenians, or are we, who claim to be more advanced, actually
behind them and more conservative?
theatre : the centerstage where the speaker stands to address the
crowd during the Assembly
Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, known for
establishing the Declaration of Independence for America.
One of the fundamental aspects of democracy : Freedom of Speech
Tne Romans continued the Greek tradition of Assemblies, within their
Tne Athenians had their government sitting on top of the hill!