The Lasting Influence of Athenian Democracy upon Western History

Essay by Monty725College, UndergraduateA, April 2007

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The Lasting Influence of Athenian

Democracy upon Western History

History 100.14

Western Civilisation

November 14th, 2006

Democracy can be defined as rule by the people, and since the 19th century it has become one of the dominant methods of governing a nation. Despite this, democracy originated much earlier: the democratic system of government had its first roots in the manifestation of democracy found in fifth century B.C. Athens, and ever since it has been viewed as one of the ideal models upon which we as societies can model our institutions. However, democracy as it was found in classical Athens was a flawed creation and the rest of Western history has suffered from this obsession with a form of government that is far from ideal for the purposes of modern day society. As time has gone on, we have forgotten the flaws of Athenian democracy while praising its few benefits to a disproportionate degree.

If the Western world is going to continue the institution of democracy and its spread around the world, we need to abandon Athenian democracy as an imaginary ideal form to follow, and instead should pursue the ideals the Athenians themselves had in mind: universal participation, dedication, and enlightenment.

Democratic governments can be evaluated by several factors, and if we evaluate the form of democracy found in classical Athens, it comes up wanting in several ways. The first of these is the idea of inclusion, that is to say, who is able to participate in the political process. Though Athens is seen as the cradle of democracy, the democracy featured there failed on this account. The system of direct democracy featured in Athens, despite its small size, was one of the least inclusive seen in history. The slave population (accounting for about one third of the population of...