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The causes of contradictory views on the regime of the Athenian Democracy

By Demosthenes Kyriazis


 The opinions of experts, of "experts" and of ordinary citizens about the regime of the Athenian Democracy, of the Direct Democracy as we call it today, are classified into two categories of contradictory conclusions:

  1. In those which present it as the most popular and humanistic regime, developed throughout the known man’s history, and,
  2. In those which present it as an oligarchy with sham equality of citizens; as an oligarchic regime, whose real name is «despotism of the majority of wealthy people"

The first opinion is supported by many pundits and ordinary citizens. What is strange is the fact that big fans of the Athenian Democracy are foreigners (Jacqueline de Romilly , Maurice Croiset and others), and from the Greeks fans, most of them have studied and lived in France ( Cornelius Castoriadis , Manolis N Sakellariou , Stelios Ramfos, George Kontogiorgis ). The relationship with France, of those Greek admirers, is so strong that creates the satirical conclusion: The Greeks must go first to Paris to discover the ... Pnyka !

The second opinion is supported from a few experts, from a lot of “experts” and from ordinary citizens.  The foreign ordinary citizens often know little about this regime and maintain a cautious and neutral attitude. The Greeks, who have the privilege to live in the same place with ancient Greeks, in reality support the second view, but with reservation of the form: “yes…... but".   Yes, the regime has reasonable and moral principles, but this and this   historical fact, show that this regime was the same and worse than the current “democracies."  Obvious conclusion: The current democracy is fine. That is to blame are the wrong choices of leaders and the low average per capita culture of citizens. The possibility that the wrong choices and low culture to be the result and not the cause, the possibility the current “democracy” to be the cause, are not examined.

It is obvious that the two opposing views can’t be applied simultaneously. With deterministic certainty [i] one is right and the other is a mistake created by either from incomplete and erroneous data, or intentionally to promote selfish objectives those who express  the inaccurate conclusions. 

Identifying the causes of this curious and absurd phenomenon puzzled many who want to know what the truth is; to know what happens exactly.


The causes of the phenomenon.

 Reasonable causes of this curious and absurd phenomenon are:

  1. The political, economic and spiritual circumstances prevailing when the ancient Greek civilization was rediscovered.
  2. The ignorance or deliberate falsification of historical data.
  3. The  incorrect "reading" of historical events and
  4. The until recently  prevailing view,  that in the natural systems and by extension in the social ones, prevail simplicity and order,  while in reality prevail the opposite;  complexity and disorder.  

Let's try but a brief overview of these causes.


 1. The political, economic and spiritual conditions

About 2000 years have been elapsed after the death of the Athenian Democracy, until this unknown regime, as an idea and as a practice, was rediscovered by European thinkers and humanists such as: the Englishman John Locke ( 1632-1704 ) , the Frenchmen Charles Louis Montesquieu ( 1689 - 1755 )  and Jean- Jacques Rousseau ( 1712-1778 ) and others. In the times of “rediscovery", the power and the prestige of Monarchy, of the economic system of feudalism and of the pneumatic system of dogmatism, were prevailing, were culminated.

Considering what Galileo [ii] (1564-1642) suffered, when documented and declared that the center of the solar system is the Sun and not the Earth, a discovery which indirectly affected the interests of power, we will easily understand why the idea of true democracy should be “rounded ", if not altered, so not to be repeated what happened to Galileo.

A second important and real reason was the communication conditions of the states at these times. Those conditions were much worse than those of the city – states of ancient Greece, so they make impossible the operation of Democracy in its original form. But today, thanks to digital technology, the communication conditions of the states are more benign from those of the ancient city-states, regardless of their population and area.


2. The ignorance and falsification of the historical data

It is obvious that data and facts relevant to the Athenian Democracy arrived to our days with losses and distortions. When today there are controversies about the correct number of citizens (of registered voters) and workers in the public sector, it is easily understood what credibility can one has on the Athenian Democracy’s data and facts. Therefore, only the estimations of all the written historical records by serious scholars can have value and reliability.  In contrast, the views of "experts" and of ordinary citizens, not only are of insignificant reliability, but also confuse the people.

 Nevertheless “experts” and ordinary citizens declare with great certainty various numbers, of the total population, of the number of citizens and of the duration of the Athenian Democracy. The evil, however, is not the little or no credibility, the evil is that most “estimations," are said deliberately to strengthen selfish pursuits

 In the following we present estimations of these elements from the book “THE ATHENIAN DEMOCRACY” of the historical scholar Professor Michael Sakellariou [iii], which, in our opinion, are  the most reliable.

 Population (page 54) : 318,000 of which: 165,000 Athenians  33,000 settlers , and 120,000 slaves .

Number of Citizens (Members of Ecclesia of Demos, pages 52-54 ):  In the middle of the 5th century BC, the citizens were from 120,000 to 165,000,  in 431 BC  55,000,  in 322 BC  31,000 . Of particular importance is the fact that, from its takeoff of the Athenian Democracy (Cleisthenes 570-507 BC ) to its death ( 322 BC ), the number of citizens was reduced.

Duration: The end of the Athenian Democracy is absolutely known. It’s beginning, however, is somewhat unclear. If we consider as starting point the establishment of the Laws of Solon, then the regime, begins with Solon ( 593 BC - Laws of Solon, Seisachtheia ) , culminated on Cleisthenes ( 508 BC ) and dies on Antipater [iv] in 322 BC . Duration, 271 ( 593-322 ) years . 

But on the above information each one says what fits to his views. For example one says that the citizens were 10, 000 and wealthy, the duration was 50 to 100 years and so on.


3. The wrong "reading" of historical events

Historical events have a strong correlation with the principles and values, valid at the time they happen, because these determine the events. Therefore, the evaluation of events must take place within the principles and values that existed then. To glorify the principles and condemn the events induced from those principles,  is an absurdity and hypocrisy.


Here's an example cited most often as the black spot of the regime: The principle of equality of citizens before the law is considered as the wondrous premier feature of the regime, but the condemning of rulers, by applying the same laws in all citizens,  it is considered as unreasonable and unjust. Principles and events however are an indivisible unity and therefore it is an absurdity, the principles to be considered greatness and the events the shame of the regime. Finally this deterministic unity of principles - events what is it? The shame or the greatness of the regime?  We believe that is the greatness; that is the real proof of the citizens' equality and of  the  observance of laws; the Nomocracy . In Greek Law is said Νόμος (nomos).

Obviously, for those who believe in the institution of immunity of rulers, these events are a slap in the face of the regime. But the institution of immunity has its roots to the institution of the King - God of the Pharaohs of Egypt. This institution initially evolved into the institution of the “divine right of kings” and second in the immunity of MPs; of the immunity of all power men; of political, economical and social power men.

Fortunately today, there are indications that those exercising the power, attempt to abolish this institution. May the indications to be turned into facts. May the equality prevailed   2500 years ago in Greece, to be reborn.  

Equally hypocritical is the argument said by many, that in this regime, women did not have the status of citizen (voting right), ignoring that in the current democracies the voting rights won by women: in France in 1946 and in Greece in 1953!!


 4. The prevailing notion of simplicity and order in the various systems.

 For thousands of years, the pundits’ and philosophers’ prevailing perception was that in natural systems - and by extension in the social ones - there exist simplicity and order. In the Statistical Mechanics and the Quantum Mechanics however is proved that in natural systems prevails just the opposite; complexity, disorder, and uncertainty. An important exponent of these views is the winner of Nobel Prize, the Russian Physicist and Chemist Elias Prigogine [v].

Politicians and Sociologists, motivated from the new insights, reconsider their views on the possibility to exist absolute order in social systems.  This means that in the new ideas, the disorder, the ataxia is the fundamental characteristic of social systems and that the ataxia, ie the entropy [vi], is not eliminated, but instead increases deterministically.  According to the news ideas, the only possibility man has is to create institutions that reduce the ataxia, the social entropy, because he can’t eliminate it.


The new concepts lead to the following solid and useful for the present times conclusion:

  • Social systems must be judged having regard that the entropy does not disappear but deterministically increases
  • The attempted today reforms, must be judged by comparing the existing ataxia (social entropy) with that which will be created from the reforms. Comparisons with systems of zero entropy have no meaning, and they lead to irrational and dangerous roads. 

Ordinary people, without the help of Quantum Mechanics, have understood this determinism and have summarized it in the saying: "The greatest enemy of good is the better one”.

 May the political parties and the citizens understand this determinism; mainly may the citizens, who pay the bill of marches to irrational and dangerous roads, understand it..



Every citizen has to try to draw his conclusion for the regime of Direct Democracy, with the power of his logic and not with the power of the incentives created from promises, commitments and … "contracts with people”, of professional representatives’ politicians.   

Citizens should fight to maintain the status of “logical processor of information”, which Nature and God have donated them, and reject the status of “consumer of information”, which the professionals of citizens’ representation, try to … donate them.




[i] According to the fundamental law of logic, also known as the Law of Contradiction, it is obvious that conflicting proposals can’t be equally true. That one thing A can’t be also a B, or one B cannot be simultaneously non B. 

[ii] Galileo Galilee , was the famous Italian mathematician , physicist and astronomer, who  has  substantiated by mathematical calculations and observations  the theories of Copernicus , that the center of the solar system is the Sun and not the Earth, as stated in the Bible . He was the first to use the telescope in astronomy.  When he released his book with these data, the Theological Rulers sent him to the Inquisition. Finally they didn’t “purify him in the fire," but they obliged him: ( 1) to sign a text renouncing his views , and (2 ) to live the rest of his life " in house arrest ."

 [iii] Michael B. Sakellariou studied philosophy at Athens University, at Sorbonne and the College de France, got a PhD from the University of Thessaloniki and Doctorat d'Etat from the University of France . He was a professor at the University of Thessaloniki and the University of Lyon II. Published several books one of which is the ATHENIAN DEMOCRACY, published from Crete University Press, 1999. 

[iv] In 322 BC the Macedonian general Antipater defeated the Athenians in Lamian War and forced them to abolish the democratic regime and establish an oligarchy. That date was the death certificate of the Athenian Democracy. 

[v] Elias Prigogine a modern (1917 - 2003) Russian physicist and chemist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work bridging and integrating the concepts of classical physics , philosophy , biology , sociology and technological applications .


 [vi] The Entropy in Statistical Mechanics is defined as “the measure of ataxia, of disorder”. 



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