The word democracy is held in awe these days. Mention it almost anywhere and you’ll get instant nods of approval.
People actually believe that democracy gives us harmony and peace, not to mention wealth. They are sure that it is the ultimate and inevitable end of human development, created by the wise and noble Greeks and given to us, the enlightened society that took it to the ends of the Earth!
But if the ancient Greeks could see what we call ‘democracy,’ they would spit at it. They’d probably want to burn it down.
As many problems as they had (and they had plenty), they were not fools, and it wouldn’t take them a day to condemn what the West now worships.
Why would the old Greeks be so upset? Let’s take a look at their (Athenian) system and see how our modern form stacks up:
#1: Greek citizen assemblies met 40 times per year in an open, public forum. Any citizen could speak and any citizen could vote. A vote of those present was final.
Contrast that with what passes for (American) democracy now: Only special people are allowed to attend the assemblies. On top of that, there are far, far more meetings than anyone could hope to follow: General sessions, meetings for dozens of committees, party caucuses and more, running at all hours. No one person can come remotely close to keeping up with it all.
The citizen is clearly unable to participate or even to understand what’s going on. Just this fact would cause the “fathers of civilization” to pronounce our system a fraud, and rightly so. The citizens are non-participants.
#2: Laws were inscribed on stone pillars (stelae) and posted in prominent locations so that everyone would see them.
Greek laws were accessible to every Greek. Not only were they required to be posted, but this requirement also guaranteed that there couldn’t be too many of them.
If you were to take an ancient Greek to see “our laws,” they’d be looking at more than 80,000 pages of almost indecipherable language. (And those would be only the Federal laws.)
Because of this, the Greeks would be insulted when you assured them that we have “the rule of law.” They would say that when people can’t know the law, they are living in a tyranny, and no amount of fancy argumentation would convince them otherwise.
And, again, they would be right. If you are ignorant of the law (80,000 pages of government-speak) but are still subject to punishment under the law, you are living in a tyranny. The founders would have no confusion about that.