Western Democracy: The History and Legacy of Representative Governments in the West from the Ancient World to Today

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*Includes pictures *Includes a bibliography for further reading In today's modern world every political regime, even the most authoritarian or repressive, describes itself as democracy or a Democratic People's Republic. The concept of rule by the people, on behalf of the people, has come to be accepted as the norm, and very few would overtly espouse the cause of dictatorship, absolute monarchy or oligarchy as the most desirable political system upon which to base the government of any country. It is also generally accepted that democracy, as a political ideology, began in Greece, specifically in Athens, in the 7th century BCE and reached its zenith in the 5th century under the leadership of Pericles. Dating an exact starting point is impossible, but at the beginning of the 7th century BCE, Solon inaugurated a series of reforms that began the movement away from rule by individuals, or tyrants, and by the end of that century the reforms of Cleisthenes provided the basis of the Athenian democratic system that culminated in the radical institutions introduced by Ephialtes and Pericles in the 5th century. The result was the first, and possibly only, truly participative democratic state. Of course, not every inhabitant of Athens enjoyed the right to vote. Only full citizens could do that, and they represented approximately 30% of Athens's male population, numbering between 30,000 and 60,000 during Athens' Golden Age and declining rapidly throughout the Peoloponnesian War. The remainder was made up of metics and slaves, who vastly outnumbered free citizens and, indeed, almost all other slave populations in Hellas, a fact which the Athenians often conveniently chose to forget when singing the praises of their democracy. There is a very strong indication that foreign chattel slaves were an utter necessity to Athens' economy, and though they did not serve as fleet rowers as they would have done in Rome, they still carried out the myriad of unpleasant and demeaning jobs which allowed Athenian citizens the free time to actively participate in the city's politics. In many ways, without slaves, there would have been no democracy in Athens. The Greeks and Romans would not have recognized, or accepted, any of today's modern versions of democracy as being truly "democratic." A rejection of dictatorships masquerading as democracies would be understandable, but the ancients would have been equally scathing of Western-style representative democracies that they would undoubtedly have seen as anti-democratic. The key to democracy, as far as the Greeks and Romans were concerned, was active participation by the citizen body in all political aspects of life. While the French Revolution tried and ultimately failed to bring about an almost fully democratic system, the fledgling United States of America managed to bring about one of the most enduring forms of democratic government in the 1780s. The Constitution of the United States was not the first written expression of the democratic ideal, but it certainly was the most perfect in the context of the times. In the entire history of the British Empire, only two territories would attempt a unilateral declaration of independence. The first was the United States, and the second, 189 years later, was the rebel territory of Southern Rhodesia in the constellation of British African territories. The sheer audacity, in 1776, of a subject territory of the British Crown declaring itself independent sent shockwaves through the imperial establishment, setting into motion a reevaluation of British overseas policy and beginning the boldest experiment in democracy to date.The seeds of the American Revolution could be found in the fundamental distrust of distant government held by a local population of an independent character confronting a continent almost infinite in its scope.

  • | Author: Charles River Editors
  • | Publisher: Independently published
  • | Publication Date: January 02, 2020
  • | Number of Pages: 205 pages
  • | Language: English
  • | Binding: Paperback
  • | ISBN-10: 1654623806
  • | ISBN-13: 9781654623807
Charles River Editors
Independently published
Publication Date:
January 02, 2020
Number of pages:
205 pages