Tuesday, 15 December 2009


The historian Herodotus (c.485-425BC) wrote about the Athenian state, "nothing could be found better than the one man, the best." Thucydides (c.460-c.400BC) commented "It was in theory, a democracy, but in fact it became the rule of the first Athenian." The word used for this singular and exceptional man was aristoi, the word from which we derive aristocracy. Interestingly the concept of the aristoi grew from Pericles' ideal of merit or meritocracy.
There are problems with this concept of rule by the best:
  • How do you define best; best at what? Are they good at everything?
  • A few people cannot know everything; they cannot experience it all.
  • The majority are seldom motivated to carry out the wishes of the few; the ethic of citizenship is involvement.
These are the same problems that Representative Democracy faces and the issues that Interactive Democracy addresses.
The Athenian Assembly around 450BC numbered about 21000 citizens and was by today's standards quite tiny. Plato's ideal was a state of no more than 5040 voters who should know each others qualities. However, with modern technology, it will be possible to integrate many millions of voters into the democratic ideal.
More on the Athenian Origins of Direct Democracy here.

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