Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Ancient Athens Versus Sparta

Since the end of the Peloponnesian War, about 2500 years ago, it has been a trend among the intellectuals to condemn Ancient Athens, which was a clamorous democracy, and praise Sparta, a totalitarian state. Most of them are of the view that an Athenian type democracy has no mechanism to prevent passions from taking over its politics—and as it cannot be stable, it will always be lacking in military strength to avoid being conquered by a Sparta type of state.

Plato and Aristotle despised Athenian democracy (probably because Socrates had been condemned to death by an Athenian mob). In Ancient Rome, Cicero and Seneca have criticized Athenian democracy. Machiavelli, in his Discourses on Livy, rejects the Athenian system on the ground that it is prone to violent revolutions. Even the founders of modern America rejected the Athenian system. In The Federalist Papers, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay argue that an Athenian type democracy is not a good model for nations to follow.

In The Federalist, No. LIV, Alexander Hamilton or James Madison note: “Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” In The Federalist, No. LXIII, Alexander Hamilton or James Madison note: “Popular liberty might then have escaped the indelible reproach of decreeing to the same citizens the hemlock on one day and statues on the next.”

The idea that the Athenian system was better is a fairly recent innovation—it became acceptable among the intellectuals in the last 200 years.

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