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Athenian Radical Democracy

The structure of the new court system reflected the underlying principles of what scholars today call the “radical” democracy of Athens in the Golden Age of the mid-fifth century B.C. In that system, candidates for the office of general1 (strategos) and a few other offices competed in elections for their annual offices because their posts required special competencies. Most posts in Athenian government, however, were filled by lot2 from among the adult male citizen body. All adult male citizens could attend the assembly3, which met in regular session about forty times a year, to propose, discuss, and vote on legislation. The egalitarian nature of Athenian radical democracy depended on a set of principles, which was not without its own internal tensions: 1) wide-spread participation by a cross-section of male citizens in government and the administration of justice, 2) selection of participants at random for most public offices, 3) elaborate precautions to prevent corruption and strict procedures for reviewing the performance in office of officials, 4) equal protection under the law for citizens regardless of wealth, 5) some legal restrictions on citizen women, 6) privilege being given to the interest of the majority when that interest was in conflict with the interest of any minority or individual, while maintaining at the same time 7) a firm respect for the freedom of the individual.

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