“The Whole Community”: Citizenship in Ancient Athens 2017-03-20T11:33:11+00:00

THE WHOLE COMMUNITY”: CITIZENSHIP IN ANCIENT ATHENS

In previous essays we’ve made a distinction between the ideal of (a) engaging all people (usually in activities like voting) and the contrasted ideal of (b) engaging “all aspects of the whole” (in conversations and collaborations).  However, before dismissing the idea of “the whole community” it is worth noting the kind of engagement exemplified by Ancient Athens.  For 170 years the entire “citizenry” was engaged directly in government, from voting on proposals to holding legislative, judicial, and administrative posts assigned by lottery.  There has seldom been a more participatory form of governance – although the view of “citizenry” in ancient Athens was quite limited. (Only the approximately 22-25,000 free adult men who lived in Athens and whose parents were Athenian were considered “citizens”.  That was less than 10% of the total population.  Women, slaves, immigrants and youth under 18 had no explicit political power – although some of them were quite influential).  This looks really bad compared to how we think of citizenship today…. until we objectively consider our own historic refusal to enfranchise women and slaves and African Americans and indigenous people and convicts… and realize that even today we still battle over who can vote or even live within our borders!  So the idea of “citizenship” continues to evolve, and was barely beginning 2500 years ago in Athens.  We could think about organizing our affairs more like ancient Athens did, but using our own definitions of “citizen”.  Perhaps the ideal ideal is a version of ancient Athens that operated on the inclusive, interactive logic of wise democracy….

Image Credit: javarman – Shutterstock

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