Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

THE People's Peers have been appointed and there is not a People to be seen anywhere: knights and professors almost to a person, without even the slightest suggestion of a hairdresser. The chairman of the selection panel's justification for the signal absence of People was that the appointees must know how a place like the House of Lords works and be comfortable with it. This raises all sorts of interesting questions.

As a result of real democracy being invented by the Athenian Cleisthenes in 508 Bc, all Athenian males over 18 were empowered to meet in Assembly every nine days, discuss and then take every decision that Parliament now takes for us. It is no coincidence that rhetoric was invented at the same time, i.e. the technique of making persuasive speeches in public. There was a democratic deficit if only certain talented individuals had the gift of the gab, when articulacy in front of the Assembly was the key to power. Rhetorical handbooks, in theory at least, gave everyone the chance to learn the art of peaceful persuasion and have a say. There is no parallel in our system, where we elect oligarchs to take every decision for us without reference to our wishes. It is no surprise, then, that those who mix with the oligarchs should be asked to join them. …

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