), that form of constitution in which the sovereign
political power is in the hands of the demus, or commonalty. In the article
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
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
(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.
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
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
ᾗ κλήπῳ διανέμονται τὰς ἀρχὰς, ὀλιγαρχία δὲ ἐν ᾗ οἱ
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.
viii. pp. 558, 562, 563; Legg.
p. 690, C; vi. p. 757, E.) Aristotle ( Aristot. Pol. 4.3,4,5
) 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
; Plut. de
100.3) termed an Ochlocracy
--the dominion of the mob); but the
term is not found in Aristotle. (Wachsmuth, Hellenische
100.7, 8; K. F. Hermann, Staatsalterth.
§ § 52, 66-72; Thirlwall, History of
vol. 1.100.10; Schömann, Antiq.
1.335-347, E. T.; Thalheim, Rechtsalterth.