Paul's paper (and Athenian democracy)

Allin Cottrell cottrell at wfu.edu
Tue Aug 29 21:18:49 MDT 1995


On Tue, 29 Aug 1995, Jon Beasley-Murray wrote:

> I've just read Paul's paper, from the marxism archive.
>
> As in another paper on the archive, he seems actually to be arguing for
> Athenian democracy as a socialist model.  When I saw this argument the
> first time I thought this was chance or maladroit happenstance.  A second
> time seems like carelessness.

Jon then goes on to catalog many featues of Athenian society that he
does not think we should emulate: slavery, imperialism, militarism,
denial of the franchise to women, demagoguery playing on "differential
cultural capital in a society stratified in terms of learning", etc.

Seems to me this is mostly beside the point.  Paul and John Lowrie
are not suggesting that we emulate classical Athens in all or even
most respects.  They are advocating the specific systems of direct
democracy (i.e. democracy in the literal sense) that the Athenians
developed: selection of public officials by lot, so as to ensure a
representative sample, and the eklesia or jury system in particular.
Similar arguments have been made by John Burnheim (Is Democracy
Possible) and, a while back, by John Stuart Mill.  Moses Finley
also points in this direction in his writings on Athens.

One can object to these systems on various grounds, but just saying
that _other_ features x, y and z of Greek society were bad news
(and by 20th C standards) is not much of a counter-argument.

Allin Cottrell
Department of Economics
Wake Forest University




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