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Parallels between USA and classical Athens

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  • Parallels between USA and classical Athens

    To continue the ideas of comparing "now" to "then", and hopefully learning something. I thought of a parallel between the US and classical Athens.

    Both states are democracies. Both states are dominant powers within their trading and military alliances.

    In Athens, the voting class was defined much more narrowly than in the US now, but each member voted on legislation and policy directly, not through any elected representative. That body was larger than the US Congress is now (over twice as large by some reports) and proved, eventually, to be even more unwieldly. This lead to the rise of demagogues who by a combination of genuine influence and oratic ability were able to wield great influence out of proportion to their real place in Athenian society. These demagogues (and anyone willing to raise a voice against them) were vulnerable to being judged in the court of ever fickle public opinion and often on very slim (and possibly false) evidence.

    In the US, the size of Congress is fixed (535 members) but due to the large constituencies, the feeling of the individual voter are often lost. (that can be both good and bad) The cost of running an effective election campaign has left those in and seeking public office vulnerable to special interests and large donors, both corporate and individuals. Also once in office, those same interests, by virtue of our collective prosperity, are also willing to buy lobbying representatives to influence legislation as it is being drafted and debated on. The media, with its love of controversy (which sells better than moderation), is more than willing to give a microphone to anyone willing to talk loud and sometimes sound articulate. They bring facts (and allegations and rhetoric) to the court of public opinion with little concern for whom they might prop up or cut down.

    The Athenians eventually offended all their allies, who joined up in a military alliance with Sparta to bring Athens down to everyone else's level and leave Sparta as the reigning Greek power of the time.

    Doug H.

  • #2
    To continue the ideas of comparing "now" to "then", and hopefully learning something. I thought of a parallel between the US and classical Athens.

    Both states are democracies. Both states are dominant powers within their trading and military alliances.

    In Athens, the voting class was defined much more narrowly than in the US now, but each member voted on legislation and policy directly, not through any elected representative. That body was larger than the US Congress is now (over twice as large by some reports) and proved, eventually, to be even more unwieldly. This lead to the rise of demagogues who by a combination of genuine influence and oratic ability were able to wield great influence out of proportion to their real place in Athenian society. These demagogues (and anyone willing to raise a voice against them) were vulnerable to being judged in the court of ever fickle public opinion and often on very slim (and possibly false) evidence.

    In the US, the size of Congress is fixed (535 members) but due to the large constituencies, the feeling of the individual voter are often lost. (that can be both good and bad) The cost of running an effective election campaign has left those in and seeking public office vulnerable to special interests and large donors, both corporate and individuals. Also once in office, those same interests, by virtue of our collective prosperity, are also willing to buy lobbying representatives to influence legislation as it is being drafted and debated on. The media, with its love of controversy (which sells better than moderation), is more than willing to give a microphone to anyone willing to talk loud and sometimes sound articulate. They bring facts (and allegations and rhetoric) to the court of public opinion with little concern for whom they might prop up or cut down.

    The Athenians eventually offended all their allies, who joined up in a military alliance with Sparta to bring Athens down to everyone else's level and leave Sparta as the reigning Greek power of the time.

    Doug H.

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    • #3
      Remember: The Athenian democracy was the same that sentenced Socrates to drink hemlock. [img]/infopop/emoticons/icon_frown.gif[/img]

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