Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

FIRST Blair, now Kinnock (last week's Spectator), both whingeing away about the electorate and the newspapers. Why cannot people `move on' and listen to reason, they whine, in our brave new world? There was a time when people did and there was a good reason for it; but it was in classical Athens of the 5th century BC, when the world's first and last real democracy - where the people took all the decisions and instructed their 'politicians' to carry them out -- showed quite extraordinary powers of rational decision-making.

Two examples. In 483 BC the Athenians were proposing to distribute among themselves the surpluses from their silver mines at Laurium on the southern tip of Attica (the people of the fabulously gold-rich island of Siphnos did this every year). But Themistocles persuaded the Assembly, the decisionmaking body of the people, to forgo short-term gain for long-term advantage and use the money to construct a fleet of 200 ships. The Assembly was persuaded - and that was the beginning of Athens' dominance of the Greek world and greater prosperity than they could ever have imagined.

In 431 BC war broke out between Athens and Sparta - Athens' invincible navy versus Sparta's terrifying land army. …

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