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Opposition to Democracy

For its place and time, Athens' emerging democracy was remarkable, even at this early stage in its development, because it granted all male citizens the possibility of participating meaningfully in the making of laws and the administration of justice. But not everyone found the system admirable. A visiting foreign king is reputed to have expressed the scornful opinion that he found Athenian democracy ludicrous.1 Observing the procedure in the Athenian assembly, he expressed his amazement that leading aristocratic politicians could only recommend policy in their speeches, while the male citizens as a whole voted on what to do: “I find it astonishing,” he remarked, “that here wise men speak on public affairs, while fools decide them.” Some Athenians who agreed with the king that aristocrats were wise and the poor foolish did their best to undermine Solon's reforms2 after their creation in 594 B.C., and such oligarchic sympathizers continued to challenge Athenian democracy at intervals throughout its history.

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