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Democracy and Imperialism Discussion Forum 2013-4

Democracy and Imperialism Discussion Forum 2013-4 Discussion of Term 1 Lecture 6: The Democratic System: Key Questions

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  1. •Where did power lie in the Athenian democracy? •To what extent were citizens ‘on their own’ within Athenian democracy? •What degree of transparency did the system have?
  2. Where did power lie in Athenian Democracy? -In terms of 'power'; in a wide range of places in society. Economic power appears to largely remain in the realm of the aristocracy rather than the government itself; certainly in the time of Solon, the aristocracy according to Plutarch were kept in charge of the economic policy of the state. Later on we see the government distributing talents amongst the aristocracy, who organised the investment of the silver into triremes. The worker vacuum that appeared after the Persian wars due to Solon's reforms, and Athens' solution shows that the aristocracy were primarily responsible for the economy, and therefore held economic power in Athens rather than the state. In terms of political power, this varied greatly over time. The assessment of citizens' wealth during Solon's time, and the following categorization of each citizen's wealth into 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th class citizens, which was reflected in how much participation in the democracy they were allowed, suggests that the democratic power started out being held amongst the most wealthy. However, it is generally agreed that in the time of Cleisthenes democratic participation opened up to a wider public, and the participation required of all citizens in their demes and tribes' democratic activities points to a significant increase in political power being devolved towards the entirety of the citizens.
  3. Assuming that the question refers to political power, it would seem that the most of the control over the democracy lay in the hands of the boule and the prytanny that controlled it. The boule had the greatest control over the day to day affairs of the democracy and also had power to set the agenda for assemblies, although this does not necessarily mean that the assembly was powerless. This larger meeting of citizens could still vote on many issues, including some of the most important ones such as going to war. It is important to note that very few parts of the Athenian government were controlled by individuals , with only the posts of generals and treasurers being decided by election/ To what extent an individual was on their own in Athens largely depends on where they were; when voting in the assembly, the boule or on a jury an individual Athenian was fairly safe in a crowd of his fellow citizens and therefore had a certain level of anonymity. However if an Athenian wanted to propose a motion in the law courts or present a case in the law courts there was no way to get representation and he would have to rely instead on his own powers of persuasion. As is the nature of such a large and bureaucratic system where legislation was created by such large administrative bodies, the Athenian democracy might have struggled with absolute transparency. However in the cases where individuals were granted more power in the democracy (for example in the law courts, in military affairs) it would have been much easier to identify the individuals responsible for an enterprise’s success or failure.
  4. #1 - The question of demos vs. boule is a fair one. After all, the boule did control the agenda for the Assembly. However, one can expect a sufficiently canny speaker could either make his motion seem relevant to the matter at hand, convince the boule beforehand to support him, or make it such an issue of public concern the boule had to bring it up for discussion in the Assembly. The success of Themistocles, Pericles, Alcibiades and other great Athenian politicians besides demonstrates that the right amount of influence essentially nullified the ability of the boule to restrict what went on in the Assembly, and one can imagine the pressure of the people was as influential as that of an individual aristocrat, especially to those of the boule who identified more with the thetes.
  5. *•Where did power lie in the Athenian democracy? * Whoever was able to influence the demos, boule, assembly and prytanny (either through honest means or through bribery) held the most power in Athenian democracy. Whilst the boule controlled the agenda for the assembly and the prytanny were in charge of the boule, any eloquent speaker or wealthy man with the power to bribe the demos could attain the power to influence what was discussed and what decisions were made. Even if a man never served on the boule he could still hold power simply by controlling the men in the boule. * * *•To what extent were citizens ‘on their own’ within Athenian democracy? * Most citizens were not alone within Athenian democracy as those within the boule would have nine other members of their tribe who could potentially give them support and share their views. In addition the demos in the assembly may have been divided into factions who supported different speakers and influential individuals. Therefore the speakers were not alone as they had supporters, whilst the demos were not alone as they had others who shared their views.
  6. To what extent were citizens ‘on their own’ within Athenian democracy? They were not really on their own, I think that Athens made a point of making sure no citizen was on their own in the running of democracy due the fact they opposed to much individual power. The extent to which Athenians were on their own with democracy seems to be responsibility to attend as no transportation, accomodation, or reimbursement of costs was offered making it his personal business to attent. However, other aspects like the rotation of the role occupied by the prytanny, the numerous membership of the boule and the free for all assembly were all focused on making sure Athenians were not on their own with democracy.
  7. *Where did power lie in the Athenian democracy?* Whilst there was not necessarily a concept of the separation of powers or checks and balances as there is in democracies in the modern world, the Athenian system seems to have been careful to distribute power across as many different people as possible and preventing power being centralised into any one body of government. The closest that people got to one body controlling the majority of the power would be the Assembly, but as that was made up of all the citizens and as such had wildly different opinions about issues at different times, it would almost be misleading to call it the controlling body of Athenian politics. *To what extent were citizens ‘on their own’ within Athenian democracy?* Whilst the majority of people performing governmental positions (especially with regards to the positions allocated by lot) would have been untrained, and most likely actually uneducated as well, it seems likely that there would have been support networks in place for them whilst they were carrying out their duties. If nothing else, it would seem likely that any official would have had relatives who had been put into positions of power in the democracy, and would have been given advice from them on how the system works. Also, the fact that the magistrates would have taken office in the calmest months of the year politically, and that the agenda was predetermined for the first assembly of the year would have allowed them to ease themselves into the position. *What degree of transparency did the system have?* The fact that it was impossible for people to hold the most important positions in consecutive years, and fairly unlikely that they would hold more than once or twice in a lifetime, would have made the system fairly transparent, as a corrupt official would be unable to hide their abuses of power. The fact that the Boule was based essentially in the civic heart of the city, would have meant that the people would have been able to observe almost first hand what the top level of government was doing.
  8. In my opinion, power within the Athenian democracy lay somewhat with the Boule as they would deliberate and decide on what was to be discussed in the Assembly and what the likely outcomes would be, thus giving them a fair amount of power over the decision making process. However, if an individual was able to obtain some influence over the Boule, which probably would have been possible despite the annual changing of members, this could have given them more power within the system. Citizens were not really on their own in the democracy as they were either taking part as a member of the Assembly or the Boule. While individuals were still able to speak freely in these institutions, decisions had to be made by everyone and an individual with a more radical idea would need a lot of support from the other members in order to change anything dramatically. The conscious attempt to lessen the influence of elite individuals can be seen by the introduction of ostracism along with other changes that took place as the system evolved and this demonstrates how citizens who perhaps attempted to be too much ‘on their own’ in the democracy could be identified and removed from the system.
  9. To what extent were citizens ‘on their own’ within Athenian democracy? Interestingly enough I was thinking about this the other day in relation to, admittedly later, Attic New Comedy. Menander’s Dyskolos continuously draws a contrast between the ‘city-dwellers’ i.e. those with wealth, who can afford to actively engage in politics, and ‘country-bumkins’ – the ἰδιώτης who had to continuously work under harder circumstances. One does wonder if there is more reality to this contrast than just a humorous topos. We talked in the lecture about how citizens on the outlying demes would have had to work 20 miles to get to Athens (then somewhere to stay, another day in accommodation etc.); unless the state offered some sort of shuttle service (did they?) it is hard to imagine that farmers like Menander’s Gorgias would have had any active political participation. To what extent were these individuals overlooked is I think, an important development to the aforementioned question. cf. Menander, Dyskolos. Line. 20-5: When things were so bad that nothing more could happen, and his life was bitter, pain upon pain, his wife left him and went back to live with her son, the one from her first marriage. *He had a little farm, very small, here* *next door, where he supports — now not very well — * *his mother, himself, and a single faithful servant* *whom he inherited from his father. A fine young man* *the boy is already, with a mind beyond his years:* *the experience of troubles hastens maturity.*
  10. Whilst the boule had the most power in Athenian society, many individuals were able to gain considerable power within the system because it was embedded in oral tradition. The ability to persuade with rhetoric allowed some citizens was used extensively in the assembly and the law courts. It was the assembly that held the right to vote whether in Athens went to war so the individual who could persuade the assembly had considerable influence and power. However the oratory skill needed to be able to do this was often limited to the aristocracy who paid the sophists to teach them the art of rhetoric and sophistory, something that Aristophanes criticizes in his play Clouds. In terms on how on their own an individual was, depending on how much they wanted to take part in democratic activity, if chosen by lot for the boule or attended the assembly then there is considerable emphasis of the group rather than an individual. Yet if an individual chose to speak in the assembly or law courts there is a sense of one against the rest, and the individual must rely on their rhetoric skills to reverse the balance to an united group rather than just the individual.
  11. •To what extent were citizens ‘on their own’ within Athenian democracy? Athenian democracy was designed to integrate citizens into a group, not to isolate them. Cleisthenes' reforms of 508 BC reconstructed democracy into a geographic system, therefore integrating each citizen into a regional tribe. There must have been a sense of civic identity linked to belonging to a tribe, especially considering elections for the boule took 50 from each tribe, and they voted together. An Athenian citizen also cited their tribe in their name: it was a manner of identification, which would have reinforced the sense of belonging to a group of people. Yet, citizens were on their own in terms of their individual choice of vote, as this would probably have been done secretly. Although the vote would have been written on a tile and therefore publicly visible, it is unlikely the majority of Athenians were literate, so this would not have been a general problem.
  12. 1. Where did power lie within Athenian Democracy? It would be very easy to argue that the power in Athenian Democracy was distributed fairly evenly across many different political structures, such as the Boule, Assembly, Offices and Courts, with the existence of so many roles having the purpose of stopping a concentration of power in the hands of very few (also noting that the majority of these roles were chosen by lot to try and stop corruption). However, the idea that the Boule held the most power would not necessarily be incorrect as the members had control over the whole agenda of the assembly as well as meeting for 300 days of the year, as opposed to the Assembly's one meeting per month. In addition to this, power could lie with an individual powerful or wealthy enough to influence the 500 in the Boule into their way of thinking, with the power of rhetoric being another way to be convincing, even if that individual apparently had no official role within the Athenian Democratic system.
  13. 1. Most of the day-to-day power of Athens lay with the Boule, as those in it were essentially the overseers of Athens, and managed the city and its affairs more frequently, and most likely in more detail, than the monthly meeting of the Assembly. However, when it came to more important decisions, the voting of the Assembly was the most important - although, the Assembly was not particularly representative of the demos as a whole. 2. I would not say Athenian citizens were 'on their own' in nearly any sense of the phrase, I believe there must have been a variety of people with whom they were able to fall back on. On a personal level, if you were chosen for the Boule there would be forty-nine other people from your own tribe there with whom you could theoretically relate to and discuss things with. In terms of the Assembly, it is quite possible people went in groups of peers. Not only this but during the Assembly people could speak up about their own opinions on matters, and therefore this means as a citizen you would have the chance to listen to another person's views, and this would mean you were not alone on this level. However, in terms of those citizens who found it difficult to get to the Assembly, and/or were never chosen for the Boule, it may have felt like a lonely system. 3. I believe it would be very difficult for corruption to truly cause significant damage in this system, as there would be so many witnesses to such a crime, for example, if someone attempted to bribe the Boule to not present a certain issue during the Assembly, that would rely on five hundred people (or, in any case, at least quite a few) to not give them in.
  14. In terms of where political power lay in Athenian democracy it appears that the boule held the majority of power. The boule set the agenda for assembly meetings and was in control of everyday political affairs. It apperas unlikely that citizens were on their own within Athenian democracy as everyone had a chance to take part in the assembly or boule. The tribe system introduced by Cleisthenes ensured that Athenain citizens were less on their own than ever before. The system did have some degree of transparency as the day to day running of political affairs carried out by the boule could be observed by everyone in the heart of Athens.
  15. *Where did power lie in Athenian democracy?* Power did seem to lie with the boule, as most people have already argued, because they could choose what motions would go to the assembly to be voted on. If the demos wished to vote on something in particular and the boule did not give them the chance to vote on this topic then of course it would not be decided. However, the boule could not decide themselves on the outcome of a vote, e.g. whether to go to war, and therefore even if the boule did want to go to war and the assembly voted conversely, then this decision could not be challenged. Here, the demos would clearly have the most power as a majority verdict from them could overrule the boule’s wishes.
  16. To what extent were citizens ‘on their own’ within Athenian democracy? Athenian democracy was designed so that citizens should not be on their own in order to minimise the possibility of prominent individuals gaining power. By grouping people into classes and tribes they were given a sense of belonging and therefore would not feel like they were on their own. However, Athenian democracy also allowed for ostracism which essentially isolated citizens so in certain cases they were on their own.
  17. *1) Where did power lie in the Athenian democracy?* It would seem that the majority of the power in the Athenian democracy lay with the boule. They set the agenda for what the assembly could discuss, essentially deciding what were important things that needed to be dealt with by the ekklesia. While the ekklesia ultimately decided upon and discussed various issues (such as administration of magistrates, issues of food supply and voting on going to war), they could only do so with issues that had first been moved/considered and brought up by the boule, hence the boule had the real power. However, as the boule was drawn randomly at lot from the ten tribes, the power still lay with the masses: you just had to wait your turn to hold this power.
  18. •Where did power lie in the Athenian democracy? The obvious answer would be the citizens themselves, as the concept behind democracy, especially after the reforms of Ephialtes, was to provide the demos with the powers that were formerly held by the aristocracy. However, what seems to be an issue in this is the role of those with an innate understanding of rhetoric, and their ability to sway the opinions of the otherwise politically-unaware citizens. Individuals such as Thenistocles and Pericles both represent this, with Herodotus and Thucydides going out of their way to comment on this within their own respective Histories. •To what extent were citizens ‘on their own’ within Athenian democracy? Again, this links back to the question before. The principle should mean that the citizens are alone in ruling the polis, but the system was subject to corruption due to either the oratorical abilities of others, an unwillingness to claim responsibility so therefore following the lead of another, or a combination of both. •What degree of transparency did the system have? At first glance, the original system set up by Cleisthenes seemed legitimately good; the demes and trittyes forming tribes which each represented the opinions of their territories in the boule. However, on closer inspection, the formation of the tribes seemed to favour Cleisthenes, and it wasn't until the Ephialtic reforms that the aristocracy began to lose much more of their powers, so initially, the system was very transparent.
  19. 1. In theory, the power in Athens lay in the hands of all of the citizens of Athens, the 'ordinary people' as any one of them ould be elected as part of the boule and therefore would have a vital role in deciding the agenda of the assembley and consequently what were the important decisions being made within Athens. However, to say that this system could not be obstructed in any way is untrue. Individual, most likely aristocrats, could have the opportunity to convince or even bribe members of the boule to make sure what they wanted to be discussed became part of the agenda and could you persuasive rhetoric in front of the assembley to achieve their goals. It is unlikely that those from agricultural backgrounds living beyond the city would have been able or willing to make the long journey in to be part of the assembley on a regular basis. It therefore seems likely that wealthy aristocrats within the city of Athens would have aa disproportionately large amount of power to compel change compared to the rest of the demos.
  20. 1) The power in Athenian democracy lay mostly in the Boule, as it could put debates to the Assembly. However, it had no control on the outcome and voting on of these debates, so it would be unfair to say that the boule had direct control over the democracy of Athens. In regards to the assembly and political power of individuals, it seems plain to me, and has been asserted by many already, that all it really took was an individual with a keen eye for politics and a considerable amount of wealth at their disposal to influence the Assembly. Although the boule did give considerable power to the people of Athens, it was still open to corruption and bribery which suggests that the power in Athenian democracy still, to some extent, lay where it always had, with the aristocrats and nobles that could afford to buy it.

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