Democracy and its origin
Democracy has been derived from two Greek words: demos (people) and kratos (power). After the creation of the UN, the 15th September was marked by the UN as a day of “Democracy” all over the world.
A new system of government in Ancient Greece
Democracy is a gift of Athens (the richest and most important people of ancient Greece) to the world because it was a system whereby people could make decisions, express ideas and thoughts for themselves or simply it was rule of people chosen by people.
Systems of government in Ancient Greece
Different countries had various ways and styles of ruling a state; here are some of them:
- Monarchy: government by a monarch (king, queen, emperor or empress). It was usually hereditary.
- Oligarchy: A state ruled by a few rich or well-to-do people.
- Dictatorship: A state ruled by a single man who manages and makes all the laws.
The above mentioned ways of government were rejected by Athens and they began a new system of government called “Democracy” in 510 B. C.
From all over the Greece a Council of 500 men and a large Assembly were formed.
The adult male inhabitants of the city were citizens, except slaves and women.
The Assembly was attended by adult males who were entitled to vote, make decisions to run the city.
The Assembly met forty times a year on a hill called the Pnyx. The Assembly could not take place unless the specified range of six thousand citizens or more were present. The new laws decided by the Council used to be discussed in the Assembly. Everyone had a right to speak once. It was up to people while they approved it or rejected the new laws.
Shouting and interruption of the gathered people was a sign of disapproval. Voting was done through show of hands.
Getting rid of Citizens
The Athenians were mentally developed people so they never wanted a citizen to became autocratically powerful and take control of the city. A system was organized there for getting rid of such people.
Voting processes were held once a year at the Assembly. If a citizen was not disliked by the majority, simply the people wrote his name on a small pottery called “Ostraka” and according to the rule if more than 6000 Ostrakas were found on a single name, that person use to be “Ostracized” – or forced to leave the city for ten years.
The merit of Athenian democracy was the treating of poor and rich equally before the law. All were equal and treated in accordance with the law of the land. In Athens there were no law courts and judges. The accused were judge by jury (group consisted of more than 200 men). There were no lawyers so the defendants spoke for themselves to clarify. The defendants were allowed for a specified time. A water clock was there and they would have to stop when all the water had run out.
2500 years of democracy
Today governments in many countries are based on democracy. There are some differences between modern democracy and democracy of Athens in 500 BC theoretically, but the ideas and thoughts of freedom of speech and voting are still important aspects which the world is following.
Is democracy under threat?
We can see that the important merits of ancient democracy are slowly eroding. Some of the finest thinkers of our times have criticized the system thus:
“Democracy means the opportunity to be everyone’s slave.” – Karl Kraus
“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” – Winston Churchill
“The great thing about democracy is that it gives every voter a chance to do something stupid.” – Art Spander