Archive for November 18th, 2020

We Are 30,000 Times Less Democratic Than Athens!

November 18, 2020

To pass a law in Athens, when Athens was at her greatest, one needed a minimum of 6,000 votes from 6,000 citizens. Out of a total population of 300,000 (including children, women and slaves). That means one vote for 50 inhabitants.  

To pass a law in the USA, one needs 200 votes in the national assembly (US Congress; actually 218 votes, a number unchanged for more than a century during which the US population more than tripled). Out of a population of 300 millions (actually, 330 millions). That means one vote for 1.5 million people. Now: (1.5)(10^6)/50 = 30,000.

The Athenian/Attica national assembly (ἐκκλησία, ekklesía) required a quorum of 6,000 citizens to pass (important) laws. A law approved by 50% or more would pass. Any free adult male above 20 was eligible to pass laws… And had the right to address the ekklesia (that was part of ISEGORIA). The officials of the democracy were in part elected by the Assembly and in part chosen by lottery in a process called sortition.

This required a considerable effort: the average citizen needed a day to travel from the average farm in Attica. Voters were financially compensated (when they had not been the effort on the families was too great). The Ecclesia was overseen by the council of 500 (boule). Those and the courts (a minimum of 200 people, on some occasions up to 6,000) were selected by lot. 

Selecting overseeing assemblies by lot prevented nepotism and the purchase of sympathy in exchange for gifts (a gift could be just a traffic of influence; Joe Biden once memorably described exactly how that happened in his long career… and added that it could not be avoided… well, with Athenian or Roman term limits, it could have been avoided…) 

The Athenian Constitution was as complex as the Roman one. In the Athenian and Roman Republic, citizens voted laws directly. In Rome the elected Tribunes of the People oversaw the National Assembly and its voting by “tribes”. In Athens there were no tribunes, but the the Boule, selected by lottery, oversaw the Ekklesia…

The Athenian democracy was severely criticized and even ridiculed by Socrates and Plato. But the latter, who wrote about it, belonged to the .1% of Athens, and had an obvious taste for dictatorship (Plato befriended the tyrant of Syracuse, something that was doubly strange, not just because the tyrant was a bloody tyrant, and it doesn’t look philosophical to befriend a tyrant… but also because the destruction of Athens as great power happened from her defeat during the siege of Syracuse, in 413 BCE). 

Many of these Platonic critiques were justified: some institutions inside Athens such as the military and the navy, needed to be professionalized at the highest level.

Contemporaneously, the Roman Republic had found how to accomplish this (but with an official aristocratic component, the Patricians, that Athens did not have). Rome avoided terrible mistakes such as the attack on Syracuse (Rome did attack Syracuse, but only when pretty sure of victory, and with a good motivation, whereas the Athenian scheme against Syracuse was grotesque, and not a just war…). Rome, in a much longer history, avoided the sort of crime against humanity Athens committed against Melos [1]. I am not saying Rome was soft and cuddly, far from it. But Rome wisely always waited to have excellent reasons to be really mean. The Melos atrocity made much of Greece fear Athens, and ally itself against Athens… Whereas Rome, by avoiding blatant atrocities before it turned plutocratic, kept an excellent reputation as fair and an acceptable ruler, and was well-considered, even by its natural enemies…

In any case, the European Middle Ages would institute such institutions, starting with the guilds (around 1000 CE) and the Feudal order (initially coming from the Counties Charlemagne had set-up)… and then the legal and medical orders… Followed by the judicial system set in place by Louis IX of France (the US system derives from it) and then the national police set-up by his grandson Philip IV Le Bel, King of France

  I call such institutions “Democratic Institutions”: they are part of the Deep State, and are compatible with both tyranny and democracy. And they are both necessary to make either optimal. But now we have them, so the debate launched by Socrates has been satisfactorily concluded.     

What we need to do is rebuild the DIRECT DEMOCRACY. How do we avoid disasters such as people voting according to what Big Money has decided? (As Prop 15 and 22 in California, on Nov 3, 2020) Simple: we make the purchase of minds illegal for violating isegoria. 

Nowadays voting in person is easy, because of the Internet. It is easier to verify the identity of someone using the Internet than using the methods used in California, November 3, 2020: identities were not even verified!

My leaders should not be the ignorant representatives who are supposed to be representing me. How could impartial knowledge be represented by greedy ignorance? How could long term wisdom be represented by self-obsessed professional prostitutes who made a career of influence trafficking?  

Last but not least, the number above, 30,000 as in 30,000 times less democratic is a minimum. Indeed our 200 legislators or so, being professionals influence traffickers, cannot be compared to the free citizens of Attica, who had no agenda, no masters, no employers, no higher-ups, and especially not plutocrats, or plutocratic institution to satisfy. So the “200” we put in the denominator should be actually restricted to the incorruptibles determined not to make politics into a career, nor to extract a career out of politics… Verily very few of them, and certainly none of the divas and stars which make the political world as we have it…

So let’s recapitulate: only a few hundreds of us vote… There is no isegoria, no parrhesia. Why should we call this democracy? Shouldn’t we instead call it ‘fake democracy”… To go along with the fake news, fake history, fake Federal Reserve bank, fake meritocracy, fake educational system, fake equality of chances, fake justice, fake debates, fake issues, fake problems, fake outrages, fake Paris Climate Accord… And now maybe even now a fake president (tell us ain’t true, Joe)… But all too real Global Deep Plutocracy?

Patrice Ayme 

***

[1] Athens invaded Melos in the summer of 416 BC and demanded that the Melians surrender and pay tribute to Athens or face annihilation. The Melians refused, so the Athenians laid siege to their city. Melos surrendered in the winter, and the Athenians executed their men and enslaved their women and children.

***

[2] The genesis of Rome, its slow rise as a (nearly direct, yet “mixed”) democracy was extremely full of conflicts, but just of the right size. Athens in the end of the Fifth Century BCE and the Fourth Century BCE found herself fighting for survival against the mightiest enemies, and actually plutocracies full of hatred for democracy, hell bent to destroy democracy by all and any means… (Sparta plus Persia in the 5C BCE; Macedonia plus Persia/Seleucids in the 4C BCE.)… So no wonder Athens got crazy….


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