Thursday, 7 October 2010

How the Athenians dealt with Faragistas in 500 BC

I always regret I never did classics at school. I have attempted to remedy my educational deficit over the intervening years and my interest in Direct Democracy, and the knowledge that it is loathed by careerist politicians, lead me to start reading Robin Lane Fox's recent book on the classical world from Homer to Hadrian. As it says in the bible, 'The sun rises and the sun sets and there is nothing new under the sun'. People like Farage and his nauseating Cabal will always be with us polluting the body politic. So how do we deal with them?

In 508BC the Alcmeonid clan who had been active in expelling the Athenian tyrant failed to win the supreme magistracy for ine of their own. Their elder statesman, Cleisthenes, proposed from the floor of a public meeting that the constitution should be changed and that in all things sovereign power should rest with the entire adult male citizenry, some 6000+ men. The Athenians in 508BC were more liberal than UKIP's Caball is today! Motions from the floor to change the constitution. We are not allowed by the Cabal at a small meeting to even put a question from the floor at a UKIP husting!

Cleisthenes knew the system from the inside which he was now so cleverly subverting. He had been Athen's chief magistrate 17 years previously selected as were all Athenian magistrates by the tyrants. Now replace tyrant by Farage, magistrates by his UKIP placemen and what you had in 525BC Athens looks very similar to UKIP even down to the numbers involved. As an insider Cleisthenes knew what he was dealing with. In UKIP its the same. Only people like me, David and Del Young who have seen the Farage Cabal from inside know what they really are. But were David, Del or I ever given the chance to state our position to the general membership? Of course not!

Cleisthenes proposals ensured every major public decision went to a popular assembly by rights. Oh but if we had that in UKIP how different things and policies would be. The surviving decrees from the period start with the phrase, 'It seemed good to the people'. Thus was democracy born and flourished in Athens for 200 years in this most direct form without the need for MPs, MEPs etc.

Cleisthenes opponents who wished to return to the old system summoned the Spartans, the EU in my analogy, but democracy had taken deep root in the citizenry and the EU Spartans withdrew. The Athenians had no difficulty manning their system. The had a day to day council of 500, chosen by lot, not elected on which every citizen expect to serve at least once. The Athenians were strongly motivated to attend as they had no wish to return to the internecine strife between the aristocratic tyrant families or in modern day parlance, party politics and careerist politicians!

But Cleisthenes foresaw the danger that a leader of a frustrated option whose proposals had been rejected might try to rush a proposal through the assembly a second time. Shades of Farage and his demands for yet more 'power to his placemen' disguied as constitutional reform. Cleisthenes proposed that once a year, with the 6000 present, the Athenians would hold an ostracism. The would write the name of any person they wanted ostracised on a bit of broken pottery (an ostrakon) and he who attracted the most votes was sent of into exile for 10 years. He would leave knowing there was a majority against him and on his return he would be 'yesterday's man'.

Nigel Farage is certainly yesterday's man and if he were ostracised to Brussels for ten years UKIP would be much the better for it and we might start to make real progress in leaving the EU.

The country which comes closest to the Athenian system of direct democracy is the richest and best run country in Europe, Switzerland. They have proved that a country and its people prospers without career politicians who always claim they enter politics to serve the people but of course the only people they are interested in serving is themselves.


Junius said...

The original Junius had a better way. The sword!

Eric Edmond said...

Just what the Athenians wanted to avoid!