[Marxism] Hutton before the Athenian democracy

Richard Harris rhh1 at nildram.co.uk
Thu Feb 5 09:50:39 MST 2004


ANCIENT & MODERN

Peter Jones

How would the ancient Athenians have handled the Hutton inquiry? They would
not have needed one. Real democracies get to the nub with indecent haste.

In the first place, the decision to go to war had to be agreed by the people
's Assembly (all male citizens over 18). It would have been ferociously
debated. That decision made, the Assembly voted on the leaders they wished
to put in charge. The Council, the Assembly's steering committee (500
citizens over 30, selected by lot to serve for a year), then took on the job
of ensuring that all the necessary resources, human and inanimate, were in
place and functioning properly - especially the cavalry and navy. But the
Council's job was for the most part a matter of checking that everything was
in order; the Assembly took all the major decisions about, e.g., how many
ships should be built a year and who should build them. The same applied to
finance. The Assembly made the decisions about how much money was to be
disbursed to whom and for what purposes - from public works to festivals to
war - and the Council saw that it was done.

But not only did the Assembly make all the crucial decisions; they also kept
an iron grip on those who put them into effect. Once every five weeks,
officials reported to the Assembly, which then voted on their continuation
in office. At the end of their one-year term, officials were submitted to a
review of conduct (euthunai, 'audit'): financial records were checked
against documents in the archives and charges of misconduct considered, with
punishments ranging from fines through exile to execution. Further, any
citizen could at any stage approach the Assembly with a complaint or bring
an eisangelia ('impeachment') against anyone for offences like treason and
deception.

In other words, there would have been no need for a Hutton inquiry. When the
war was over, had Athenians felt they had been deceived, they would have
identified the culprits - in the case of WMD, the intelligence services -
and executed both them and possibly those who persuaded the Assembly to
believe them. Dr Kelly would have been a hero. Further, the idea of
appointing one man to investigate matters arising would have struck them as
an outrageous breach of democratic responsibility, even more to argue that
his report be simply 'accepted'. So let the impeachments rain down -
starting with Lord Hutton.

Richard

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Richard Harris
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