What's Wrong with Democracy? From Athenian Practice to American Worship

What's Wrong with Democracy? From Athenian Practice to American Worship

What's Wrong with Democracy? From Athenian Practice to American Worship

What's Wrong with Democracy? From Athenian Practice to American Worship


Fifth-century Athens is praised as the cradle of democracy and sometimes treated as a potential model for modern political theory or practice. In this daring reassessment of classical Athenian democracy and its significance for the United States today, Loren J. Samons provides ample justification for our founding fathers' distrust of democracy, a form of government they scorned precisely because of their familiarity with classical Athens. How Americans have come to embrace "democracy" in its modern form--and what the positive and negative effects have been--is an important story for all contemporary citizens.

Confronting head-on many of the beliefs we hold dear but seldom question, Samons examines Athens's history in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. in order to test the popular idea that majority rule leads to good government. Challenging many basic assumptions about the character and success of Athenian democracy, What's Wrong with Democracy? offers fascinating and accessible discussions of topics including the dangers of the popular vote, Athens's acquisitive foreign policy, the tendency of the state to overspend, the place of religion in Athenian society, and more.

Sure to generate controversy, Samons's bold and iconoclastic book finds that democracy has begun to function like an unacknowledged religion in our culture, immune from criticism and dissent, and he asks that we remember the Athenian example and begin to question our uncritical worship of democratic values such as freedom, choice, and diversity.


A couple of years ago my wife Jamie and I attended a dinner party in Boston hosted by a close friend. At the party was an eminent sociologist, and as the evening wore on, the conversation turned to sociological methods and statistical sampling as a way of gauging public attitudes. In response to the sociologist’s description of the techniques used to ensure representative samples, I laid out several strange facts from my own background: born a Southerner but having lived in the Southwest, the Northwest, and the Northeast; reared among Baptists as a Presbyterian and trained first at a very conservative Baptist college and then at a very liberal Ivy League university, surrounded by a group of friends that were primarily Catholic, but with a significant admixture of agnostics and atheists; married to a Canadian-born, Northeastern/Catholic-reared and Texas-schooled Episcopalian; and ultimately having developed an extremely odd set of beliefs that seem (even to me) insusceptible of easy categorization. How, I wondered, could statistical sampling compensate for the complexities and contradictions within individual members of a sampled population?

I fully expected the sociologist to tell me that individuals’ views and particular influences were not the issue; that, in fact, while such matters were interesting, and perhaps even important, they presented a subject outside the field of the social sciences proper. But I was mistaken. “Given a large enough sample,” the sociologist said, “all the influences you mention could be reflected in the survey results.” At that I balked: I did not see how even a hundred thousand interviews could result in anything but the reduction of idiosyncratic complexities to simplified collective categories that mask overlaps and overemphasize distinctions between putatively identified “groups” holding particular views. At this point, my wife deftly interrupted what was in danger of becoming a speech: “Well,” she said, “you are just a statistical out-

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