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DEMOCRA´TIA

DEMOCRA´TIA (δημοκρατία), that form of constitution in which the sovereign political power is in the hands of the demus, or commonalty. In the article ARISTOCRATIA the reader will find noticed the rise and nature of the distinction between the politically privileged class of nobles and the commonalty, a class personally free, though without any constitutionally recognised political power. It was this commonalty which was properly termed the demus ( δῆμος). The natural and inevitable effect of the progress of society being to diminish, and finally do away with, those distinctions between the two classes on which the original difference in point of political power was founded, when the demus, by their increasing numbers, wealth, and intelligence, had raised themselves to a level, or nearly so, in real power and importance with the originally privileged class, now degenerated into an oligarchy, a struggle was sure to ensue, in which the demus, unless overborne by extraneous influences, was certain to gain the mastery. The sovereign power of the demus being thus established, the government was termed a democracy. There might, however, be two modifications of the victory of the commonalty. If the struggle between the classes had been protracted and fierce, the oligarchs were commonly expelled. This was frequently the case in the smaller states. If the victory of the commonalty was achieved more by the force of moral power than by intestine warfare and force of arms, through the gradual concessions of “the few,” the result (as at Athens) was simply the entire obliteration of the original distinctions. This form of the constitution was still, in the most literal sense of the term, a democracy, for as wealth and birth no longer formed the title to political power, though the wealthy and noble still remained citizens of the commonwealth, the supreme power was to all intents and purposes in the hands of the class formerly constituting the demus, by virtue of their being the more numerous. (Aristot. Pol. 4.4, p. 1290b, 17.) When the two classes were thus equalised, the term demus itself was frequently used to denote the entire body of free citizens-- “the many,” in contrast with “the few.”

It is obvious that, consistently with the maintenance of the fundamental principle of the supreme power being in the hands of the demus, various modifications of the constitution in detail might exist, and different views might be held as to what was the perfect type of a democracy, and what was an imperfect or a diseased form of it. Aristotle ( Aristot. Pol. 4.4) points out that a democracy cannot be defined by the mere consideration of numbers: it is rather, when every free citizen is a member of the sovereign body ( δῆμος μὲν ἐστιν ὅταν οἱ ἐλεύθεροι κύπιοι ὦσιν, p. 1290b, 1). This definition he expresses in a more accurate form thus: ἔστι δημοκρατία μὲν ὅταν οἱ ἐλεύθεροι καὶ ἄποροι πλείους ὄντες κύπιοι τῆς ἀρχῆς ὦσιν (ib. 17). It would still be a democracy if a certain amount of property were requisite for filling the public offices, provided the amount were not large. A Politeia itself is one species of democracy ( Pol. 4.3, p. 1290, 18), democracy, in the full sense of the word, being a sort of παρέκβασις of it. But for a perfect and pure democracy it was necessary that no free citizen should be debarred on account of his inferiority in rank or wealth from aspiring to any office, or exercising any political function, and that each citizen should be allowed to follow that mode of life which he chose. (Arist. Pol. 4.4, p. 1292, 1; 6.1, p. 1317b, 12.) In a passage of Herodotus (3.80), where we probably have the ideas of the writer himself, the characteristics of a democracy are specified to be--1. equality of legal rights (ἰσονομίη); 2. the appointment of magistrates by lot; 3. the accountability of all magistrates and officers; 4. the reference of all public matters to the decision of the community at large. Aristotle also ( Rhet. 1.8.4) says: ἔστι δὲ δημοκρατία μὲν πολιτεία ἐν κλήπῳ διανέμονται τὰς ἀρχὰς, ὀλιγαρχία δὲ ἐν οἱ ἀπὸ τιμημάτων. In another passage (Pol. 6.1, 1317b, 18), after mentioning the essential principles on which a democracy is based, he goes on to say: “The following points are characteristic of a democracy: that all magistrates should be chosen out of the whole body of citizens; that all should rule each, and each in turn rule all; that either all magistracies, or those not requiring experience and professional knowledge, should be assigned by lot; that there should be no property qualification, or but a very small one, for filling any magistracy; that the same man should not fill the same office twice, or should fill offices but few times, and but few offices, except in the case of military commands; that all, or as many as possible of the magistracies, should be of brief duration; that all citizens should be qualified to serve as dicasts; that the supreme power in everything should reside in the public [p. 1.614]assembly, and that no magistrate should be entrusted with irresponsible power except in very small matters.” (Comp. Plat. Rep. viii. pp. 558, 562, 563; Legg. iii. p. 690, C; vi. p. 757, E.) Aristotle ( Aristot. Pol. 4.3,4,5; 6.1, 2) describes the various modifications which a democracy may assume. It is somewhat curious that neither in practice nor in theory did the representative system attract any attention among the Greeks.

That diseased form of a democracy, in which from the practice of giving pay to the poorer citizens for their attendance in the public assembly, and from other causes, the predominant party in the state came to be in fact the lowest class of the citizens (a state of things in which the democracy in many respects resembled a tyranny: see Arist. Pol. 4.4, p. 1292, 18), was by later writers (Plb. 6.4, 57; Plut. de Monarch. 100.3) termed an Ochlocracy (ὀχλοκρατία--the dominion of the mob); but the term is not found in Aristotle. (Wachsmuth, Hellenische Alterthumsk. 100.7, 8; K. F. Hermann, Staatsalterth. § § 52, 66-72; Thirlwall, History of Greece, vol. 1.100.10; Schömann, Antiq. 1.335-347, E. T.; Thalheim, Rechtsalterth. pp. 32-38.)

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