For the purposes of this article, I’ll be dealing with Athenian democracy, as that is what people are most familiar with, and as it is really the only city-state that actively practiced democracy for any length of time.
Greece is in a lot of financial turmoil. Again. That’s not why I wrote this article, but it’s an interesting timely coincidence. I don’t want to talk about the Greeks of today, though. I want to talk about the ancient ones.
Here are some fun facts on Greek Democracy, the ancestor of our present system. Some things are the same. Some things have changed. Some were better back then, and some we’ve actually improved on. Anyway, here are 8 things I found interesting about our fore-forefathers. I hope you find them enlightening, as well.
1. Greek comic poets performed political satire in the theatre to influence voters. It was very similar to present day satirists and comedians like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
2. Greeks had direct democracy, whereas today we have representative (or Republican) democracy. Direct democracy wouldn’t really work in a society of our size, but it certainly had its advantages over our system. For instance, politicians couldn’t tell you they would vote for your interests and then do the exact opposite because you voted for yourself.
3. In Athens, 20 percent of the population participated in politics. This only includes males, as females did not have voting rights. Today, voter turnout varies widely, but for a presidential election it often ends up around 54-58 percent.
4. Greeks held votes in the Assembly, which led to American Congress and British Parliament. But, as mentioned in a prior point, it was direct, not representative, democracy.
5. Greece had no political parties.
6. Athens introduced the idea of being paid to vote. The Greeks found that getting people into the Assembly could sometimes be a problem. Paying the voters kept the number of legislators up. We see the effects of this influence today in Congress.
7. Greeks believed there is no authority higher than that of the people. America professes this belief, but there seems to be a disconnect in the actuality.
8. The word “idiot” is derived from Greek “idiotes,” meaning someone who minds their own business or is not actively interested in politics. Today, we call that an average citizen.