Is democracy a flawed process


Hans Vorländer

Prof. Dr. Hans Vorländer, born in 1954, has held the chair for political theory and the history of ideas at the Technical University of Dresden since 1993. There he is himself director of the Center for Constitutional and Democracy Research.
His main research interests are: political thinking and comparative political research, political theory and the history of ideas, constitutionalism and the constitution, democracy, liberalism and populism.

The ancient Greek polis democracy arouses admiration, but also criticism, with its high degree of civic participation. The political theory of ancient thinkers like Plato and Aristotle is considered to be groundbreaking for the development of modern democracy.

The direct democracy of ancient Athens is still seen by many as an ideal that has never been achieved again. The Acropolis, the oldest part of the city, expresses the power and importance of ancient Athens. It was expanded into a temple district in the heyday of Athenian democracy and is now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. (& copy akg-images / Album / E. Viader / Prisma)

In the years 508/07 to 322 BC A direct democracy prevailed in Athens with citizen participation, the extent of which has not been achieved again by any later democracy. Every citizen could take part in the popular assembly as well as in the court assemblies; every citizen was authorized to hold an office. According to the literal meaning of the Greek ta politika, "that which concerns the city", "politics" was the affair of the citizen in the polis.

This is the lasting legacy of Greek democracy, although from today's perspective it should be pointed out that women, slaves and metics (i.e. residents without citizen status, very often foreign workers) were not considered citizens in the political sense of the word and were therefore excluded from participation .

Democracy in Athens developed rather slowly, step by step, in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. Chr. Out. The Solon reforms in 594 BC And by Kleisthenes 508/507 BC. BC broke the power of the nobility and created the basis for the political participation of broader strata of the people.

The successful defense of Greece against two invasion attempts by the Persians (490 and 480 BC) also strengthened democracy, whose golden age is primarily associated with the name Pericles (approx. 500-429 BC).

Pericles governed Athens' politics for more than 30 years and made a 15-year peace with the rival city of Sparta. In the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta from 431 to 404 BC. The democracy experienced a temporary crisis, but then lived until about 322 BC. BC, up to the epoch of Alexander the great, a new bloom.

Then the classic era of Athenian democracy ended: after Alexander's death (323 BC) and the destruction of the Athenian fleet in the war between Greece and Macedonia, Athens was incorporated into their empire by the victorious Macedonians.

Source text

Pericles' understanding of democracy

[...] The constitution by which we live does not compare with any of the foreign ones; we are much more likely to be an example to someone else than imitators of others. Because the state is not based on a few citizens, but on a larger number, it is called popular rule. According to the law, everyone has an equal part in the disputes of the citizens, but according to the validity of the public, the preference is given to whoever has somehow earned a reputation, not according to any affiliation, but according to his merit; and neither is anyone out of poverty, if he could do something for the city, prevented by the inconspicuousness of his name. We live freely together in the state [...].

We unite in us the care for our house and our city at the same time, and we are devoted to the various activities, because even in matters of the state nobody is without judgment. Because only here is someone who takes no part in it, not a quiet citizen, but a bad one, and only we decide in state affairs ourselves or think them through properly. Because we do not see the word as a danger to action, but we do see it in not first teaching oneself by speaking before taking the necessary action. Because we are also special in the fact that we dare the most and yet also consider what we want to tackle, while other ignorance makes daring and reason makes them questionable. But one will rightly ascribe the greatest inner strength to those who recognize the horrors and joys most clearly and therefore do not avoid the dangers. [...]

Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War / Thukydides, translated and edited by Georg Peter Landmann, Artemis and Winkler Verlag, Düsseldorf / Zurich 2002, (Book II 37 and 40), p. 111 ff.