Magazine article The Spectator

Athenians on Voting Fatigue

Magazine article The Spectator

Athenians on Voting Fatigue

Article excerpt

'Politics is polarised' intoned the chatterati after the ObamaRomney race to the White House.

'Sick of party politics' said the people after the elections for Police and Crime Commissioners. Ancient Athenians knew why.

One of the many virtues of Athens' direct democracy (508-323 bc) was not just that citizens (male Athenians over 18) meeting every week or so in Assembly made all the decisions about policy; it was the absence of political parties in our sense. As a result, the Athenian people in Assembly were not bound by any of the preconditions or assumptions that for historical reasons have shaped our party system. There were no manifesto promises, special interest groups or traditional allegiances (e. g. 'Clause 4' issues) to dog their decision-making. No one was intent on 'winning the next election', since there was (by definition) no 'next election' to win. The people in Assembly had only one priority - to listen to the arguments relating to any proposal and decide where their best interests lie. A majority vote, by a show of hands, determined the outcome. Further, if the Assembly really could not make up its mind because too many persuasive speakers were making different cases, they could use the process known as ostracism to vote one of them into exile. …

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