ATHENS: Checking, Balancing, DEBATING In REAL Democracy. LEARN From 25 Centuries Ago

It’s fashionable to claim implicitly that the present “representative democratic” regimes established first in US and France, have “checks and balances” … (Those sure are not too obvious at this point in Great Britain!… with its tradition based constitution.) [1]

A French PM is going on trial for alleged serious foreign and electoral corruption, a quarter of a century old… Several top French leaders since Mitterrand have been judicially examined (including Chirac, for corruption when he was mayor, buying favors with jobs, subsidized housing. The French “swamp” is deep ).

However, notice this check and balance by the judiciary doesn’t happen in the USA: the head of the French Constitutional Court was condemned… But never was a US Supreme condemned. Either the French elite circles are especially corrupt, or the US ones, even more so.

It’s the latter case, of course; contemplate the burning of all the documentation subsequent to seizing German property after 1918: this erasure of records enabled US plutocrats to acquire control of the German economy, foster Nazism; you will not read this in any decent history book… the definition of decency being to celebrate the establishment

Looking at civilization scale, the answer is clear: none of the dirty deals and conspiracies which top US plutocrats, with the help of the Washington swamp, set up, to help put the Nazis in power was even examined: they aren’t part of even suspected history. Some will say, that was long ago, who cares, how could it matter today.

Not true: we have forgotten a lot since, including ways and means to build a better democracy. The defeat of Athenian democracy, 2,425 years ago, at the fascist hands of Persia, Sparta and their satanic supporters, lasts until today: democracy never fully recovered. We are far from it, and closer to the system Hitler advocated.

Athenian democracy failed mostly because Athens was military vanquished by the big orange thing (the Persian empire to the east in the map above, all the way to India, south to Ethiopia, north to Crimea). Persia, the big orange was allied to the red states nasties led by muscular Sparta. Persia financed from scratch the Spartan fleet which defeated Athens in a surprise battle when the stranded Athenian fleet got caught on a huge beach. Athens would re-emerge in the following century as the pre-eminent Greek power again (after Thebes cut Sparta down to size). However not fast enough to not be vanquished by the Macedonian fascists led by senior general Antipater (who may have murdered Alexander, and certainly disobeyed him; Alexander himself, popular in Athens, which he had visited, was ambivalent about Athenian democracy…)

At some point in the 1970s, carried by the mood of Nixon’s impeachment, the acts and facts of the CIA in the Americas and South East Asia were exposed… But that didn’t last. Instead, Reaganism arose, a new form of non-self examining mild fascism, so-called “Neoliberalism (which started by closing up federal psychiatrist hospitals, releasing in the streets hundreds of thousands of the mentally deranged, while helping to balance Reagan’s federal budget). 

Ancient Greece had a few centuries of extreme mental (and engineering) creativity. Tapping on thousands of Egyptian civilization helped. But that creativity was centered on only a few city-states (the most prominent of which were Athens, Millet, etc.). Those states were democracies in the “PEOPLE POWER” sense of the term.

Those states appeared because of military, and especially naval, superiority. That superiority didn’t last: four successive giant tsunamis of fascisms beat them back into submission so well, they were creatively (Athens, from first century BCE to sixth century CE), if not physically (Millet around 400 BCE) annihilated. The first wave was Spartan-Persian, the second, Macedonian, the third, Roman, and the last “Catholic Orthodox” (final closure of intellectual activity by Roman imperial order).

Demos-Kratia, People-Power, was more than having “representatives”. Actually elected “representatives” were authorities such as those Athens delegated to enforce the law in, say, its emporium island of Delos (a central, extremely overpopulated island in the Aeagan sea, were trade was centralized). Laws were not debated and passed by elected “representatives”, but by We the People themselves.   

In Athens, a quorum of 6,000/80,000 needed to be achieved to pass the most important laws (“80,000” is an estimate of the number of male citizens; female citizens didn’t vote and neither did slaves, of course; it was too difficult for females to travel to the National Assembly, it was already very difficult for many male citizens to do so; slaves had not too many rights, but many had been saved from military executions… Enslaved, but saved, the paradox of ancient slavery…)  

Isegoria, the “equal right to address the assembly” was considered to be crucial. 

All the preceding give actions items to improve democracy:

First, consider Egypt. Although politically fascist, but mildly so, Egyptian women often had rights equal to those of men. That culminated into having several of the most important leaders of Egypt to be women (including the famous Nefertiti, who tried to impose monotheism; she succeeded short term, failed medium term, succeeded long term…) A not-very sexist society means a much more equal society. And what does an equal society do? It brings more honestly debating, thus a more intelligent society. So Egyptian civilizational superiority can be greatly traced to non-sexism.

Sexism was a defect of Athens, which was particular to Athens, and probably had to do with the specifics of Athenian history. It was more formal than real: first Athena, the goddess of war and wisdom, protected Athens, and, secondly, Pericles second wife from Millet, had enormous influence. I have argued she was much more important than Socrates. She is known to have written Pericles’ best discourses, and to have taught Socrates. She invented and explained the “Open Society” concept.

Paradoxically, racist, fascist Sparta, was less sexist than Athens, and not sexist at all, in many ways (girls were trained like boys initially).

So back to our actions items: we need direct democracy: having We The People vote directly. 

The present representative system gives extravagant powers to idiots who can, and will, be bought (if they want to be elected and a fortiori, re-elected, they will be bought) Right now, a (college educated) 29 year old bartender leads the nation (into impeachment), as famous “representative” Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez is doing, is beyond silly, it’s criminally idiotic (and I write this as a far-out leftist and climate protector, and fanatical progressive, not as a frantic supporter of presidential executive powers). 

In the (apparently more honest) French Republic, the head of the National Assembly has just been indicted (for nepotism, a few years back in his hometown; the charges are nothing relative to what the Bidens should face…). He is the fourth most important authority in France (behind the President, PM, and President of the Senate). All these indictments of the French political elite are symptomatic of too much power into to few hands… and the fact that this abundance of unjust power attracts low morality type.

The attraction of vicious individuals by, and to, a vicious system is central to plutocratic theory: a vicious political system attracts vicious would-be office holders, it’s selective for the Dark Side, making itself sustainable by self-selection of the worst.

A magnificent example of this was Nazism, which filled up many of its official positions by low lives and psychopaths (I just contradicted Hannah Arendt’”Banality of Evil” thesis and explained why).

So “representatives” should NOT be the only ones to pass laws. Ideally representatives should spend lots of time, as in present Switzerland, making laws passed by referendums more palatable to pre-existing laws and the constitution (a constitutional council inspects every single law, and if found unconstitutional, rejects it; moreover laws passed by referendums can be sued for unconstitutionality by citizens and organizations, so the existing Swiss system is full of checks and balances neither France nor the US have).

Athenian democracy was direct: each citizen had the right, and duty, to attend the national assembly (ekklesia), and debate laws. At a time of their own choosing.[2]

The Athenian democratic system had other checks and balances, also found in other Greek city-states: “Archons” were elected by law and served for just one year. They constituted a sort of board of directors. After that, they stayed “Archons” for the rest of their lives, presumably helping the democratic debate. Selecting by lot meant any citizen could end up Archon, and so every citizen was motivated to know more about what was going on.

Athenian Democratic Constitution, fourth century BCE, above. The Roman Republican Constitution Was Roughly As Complicated… And much more favorable to having an aristocracy. Although it had a cap on wealth. (Roman imperial constitution didn’t really exist, as no provision existed for the legal transfer of power)

ISEGORIA was the right to address the national assembly (the ekklesia) with equal time and opportunity. It was viewed as special to Athens. The historian Herodotus even characterized the Athenian political system as isegoria, beyond democracy. Philosopher Demosthenes, desperately opposing Macedonia, a century latter, confirmed that Athens rested on those public debates, isegoria.

Nowadays, the Internet could be used for debating and passing laws, achieving ISEGORIA at a level never achieved in Athens (that would be progress). Instead of now being the fief of a few plutocrats, wealthy enough to buy all politicians from Mongolia to Patagonia, and Washington to Paris, some of these plutocrats are not even college educated, and still speak and behave as if they were the rulers of the world (Gates, Zuck being examples of that; by contrast Bezos and Musk have graduate engineering education).

Improving democracy from what we have now, demands new structures. Many of those existed 25 centuries ago, and have not be reproduced, but should be: history can be a guide. Without the full panoply of Athenian level democracy, People-Power is illusory. But history is not enough. Technology unthinkable in the times of Solon, makes it now possible to go much further. In particular, we don’t need to walk to a particular building to debate: we can debate on the Internet (in properly encrypted with maximum legal force). So we can debate much more.

How many individuals know we could run pretty much the society we have now, without net emissions of CO2? Very few people know this, even among those who professionally represent the subject. Why so much ignorance even on such a crucial subject, even among the advising leadership? Lack of debate and concomitant tribal effects.

We do not need a revolution. We can keep representative democracy as it is, but introduce Direct Democracy by referendums, little by little, a referendum at a time, and ever more. Each referendum will help to free us from the tyranny of representative democracy.

Involving the entire citizenship into the leadership of the state will motivate all to become more cognizant, wise and attentive to what really matters. Thus general intelligence and wisdom will grow, as needed. Nothing less will do. It’s a matter of survival, and not just of civilization.

Patrice Ayme

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[1] The French and US Constitutions are written down, the British one is just a set of habits. The informality of the British system enfolded from the way the England was created by a succession of invasions, and recesses of the state, dating from Roman times. In the Eleventh century alone, English power was swept by Viking power (Cnuth), and then the French invaders, after 1066 CE set up an increasingly complex system involving many entities, and concepts, some even coming directly from Toulouse  where a Greco-Roman like assembly had survived (thus increasing the powers of the London Parliament through Montford).

The present day French constitution has recently morphed into the EU representative democratic system as European institutions and government, like the European Parliament, or the European Supreme Court, etc., act often in… Archon-like role…

To make the EU more democratic, continent sized referendums should be held (say after 4 million signatures overall, on top of mandatory quota country by country). And then the EU Parliament and Supreme Court should synchronize them as done in Switzerland.

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[2] The Ekklesia was meta-controlled by another assembly, the Boule, which was formed of elected representatives. As I already hinted, this is basically what the Swiss system is evolving into.

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2 Responses to “ATHENS: Checking, Balancing, DEBATING In REAL Democracy. LEARN From 25 Centuries Ago”

  1. Patrice Ayme Says:

    (((Doro Böhm)))
    @doroboehm
    Replying to
    @Tyranosopher
    The Greek democracy did have one major flaw: It left out women! In this aspect we could do better. No. We have to do better 👍🏼🍀🏆 We should not fall back but evolve 😉

    Like

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Athens was very sexist, in appearance… maybe because Athena was her goddess? In truth, though, Athens’ most important philosopher was… ASPASIA, Pericles’ 2nd wife. Sparta was NOT sexist (maybe bcs so racist & fascist otherwise?). Nobody suggested to fall back, or doing worse.

      Like

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