Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

David Cameron wants us all to be part of a 'Big Society'. What this means is using the state to galvanise families, individuals, charities and communities to come together to solve social problems themselves. But what will motivate people to do so?

Ancient Athenian citizens (male, of Athenian parentage and over 18) felt highly motivated to solve the problems they faced because in their radical, direct democracy they met in Assembly every eight days to make all the decisions, executive and legislative, that parliament makes on our behalf today. Their commitment to this style of rule is demonstrated by the speed with which they rallied to restore the democracy on the two occasions on which it was (briefly) replaced by an oligarchy. Further, it was felt to be an enormous success. The maritime empire they ran poured wealth into the city and made it, as Pericles boasted, 'the education of Greece'. Athens was the place to be, and the people rightly took immense pride in what they, personally, had achieved. The gods were clearly smiling on their efforts.

Romans developed a similar sense of achievement. They, too, had a direct hand in government, voting to pass every proposal that the Senate came up with. …

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