Changes in Democracy: from Early Athenian to Present Day Politics

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Democracy: From Early Athenian To Present Day Politics.
When following current events we can't help but witness politicians use terms such as "defending freedom", "liberty", or "democracy", but one is simply left wondering if the general public, or even the politicians themselves, know what those terms really mean or where they come from. The reality is that most don't. The ideals of living in a democracy have been drastically changed from their original meanings and diluted into persuasive political language to become mere rhetoric as opposed to meaningful concepts of ethical and moral value.

The word democracy is thrown around to make convincing, patriotic speeches that many times are utilized to usurp the rights and property of peoples in the name of this most sacred of political concepts in the history of western civilization. In order to better understand the true meaning of this idea we must go back to its roots and search for the original intentions behind it. We must find the similarities and differences between Greek democracy and modern day democracy. By separating the two we can see how distant they are from each other. Without a clear understanding of the history involved we are easily blinded by the eloquence and charisma that politicians utilize to control the populace.

Democracy dates back to the Golden Age of Greece or the Classic Period. Not yet an organized, centralized nation Greece was made up of warring city-states none of which possessed full control over its neighbors. During this period and under these circumstances there was a tremendous advancement in Greek thought encompassing philosophy, politics, medicine, mathematics, and the sciences to name just a few areas of influence that still maintain a strong Greek legacy today.

Of all the Greek city-states it was Athens that gave birth to many of the political philosophies that still survive today. At around 600 B.C.E Athens was in severe economic, social, and political crisis. It was then that a rich aristocrat named Solon emerged to produce for Athens its first comprehensive set of political rules and regulations, overhauling the constitution, reining in the plutocrats, and giving decent measure of power and responsibility to the moderately well-off non-aristocrats. He also provided some legal protection from exploitation to the humblest of Athenian citizens. It was these changes that prompted the future democratic reform that would take place only a century later (Cartledge, p.67).

Around 508 B.C.E. an exile of Athens, by the name of Cleisthenes, that possessed great influence, was able to secure the removal of Hippias, the ruling tyrant in Athens. Once Hippias was removed Cleisthenes appealed to the demos of Athens; that is, to the non-aristocratic mass of ordinary Athenian citizens, and offered a new package of reforms, the effect of which was to give them the kratos or decisive say in the government of Athens. Demos plus kratos = demokratia, although that word was not actually used for several decades after Cleisthenes' reforms. Cleisthenes created the earliest form of democracy we know by giving the ordinary citizens the power to make important political decisions (Cartledge, p.72).

Though the introduction of a specific set of rules and the idea of government by the people were crucial to the development of democracy, it would have never existed if it wasn't for the concept of citizenship. The idea of citizenship came from an earlier period in Greek history. Within the Archaic Period Greeks defined an early idea of what is was to be a citizen of their city-state or Polis.

There were three very separate economic groups during the Archaic Period. The rich aristocrats attained power through their hereditary control of land. This control was disproportionate in comparison to that given to the other groups, and helped them make significant profits through their ability to exploit the poorest farmers. These poor represented the...
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