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Athenian Democracy

Ever since its origins in fifth Century BC Athens, “democracy” has had such mixed reviews it has even been described by some modern scholars, as “a whore word” that gets used for any purpose, whether for revolution, counterrevolution, terror, compromise, anarchy, for settled government, to defend free enterprise, state-enterprise, communist party rule, dictatorship by plebiscite, Swiss democracy, guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency, and more. And all this against the background of modern misunderstandings and assumptions concerning what we think the ideal Athenian democracy actually was. What was it? In reply, this lecture plunges deep into the history of early Greek democracy to explain what it meant then, with its many limitations and privileges, and the modern misunderstandings by which it continues to be surrounded today. One main certainty emerges from this lecture: the first Greek democratic political systems were certainly not what the majority of people today imagine they were, nor, in contrast to modern democratic notions, was their main concern individual freedom or equality in the senses commonly understood by those terms today.

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