Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

THE POLITICAL parties have been wondering out loud whether to hold a referendum about Europe in order to keep Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party at bay. It would represent a small triumph for democracy in our relentlessly oligarchic system if it happened but, even so, it would not be democratic enough for an ancient Greek.

Meeting in the Assembly roughly every nine days, Athenian males over the age of 18 decided all Athenian public policy. But there were thousands of them: they could not do so from a blank sheet. So the agenda for the day was prepared for them by the Council (boule), which consisted of 500 Athenian males over 30, drawn by lot from the ten 'tribes' (50 from each tribe). Each Councillor served for one year only, and could never serve for more than two. One of the Council's main functions was to receive business, discuss it, determine if it needed action, and if it did, put it in the shape of a motion for the Assembly to debate. …

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