There are people in society who want to tear the whole thing down. And while we may have some sympathies with the idea that government does not work for many people as it rightly should, the so-called “peaceful protesters” fail to offer a reasonable alternative. They will always be on the fringe because they do not propose a system of government that works better than the one we have right now.
As Winston Churchill famously noted in 1946:
“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time … ”
It seems we are being coerced by radicals, many with deep ties to the Democratic Party, to accept the same system of government but with all of its worst aspects enhanced for the privilege of the few who seek to run it. This is not people power; this is centralized power by fainthearted socialists who seek to control the population through law, regulation, and a set of unwritten cultural rules that – if they were honest and espoused such “values” – would terrify any individual who believes in personal liberty.
But the question is: Why are they not proposing something that is radical in its very being? Why not just explain that the present system does not work and that they have the answer in a new form of governance that the world has never seen? It seems that this would require imagination, a flexible and talented mind, but most of all a renunciation of Marxism. And that is something they are not willing to do.
Can any one person or group create a whole new system of government that works specifically for the people rather than the few elites at the top of the bureaucratic heap? Well, history shows us that this has been done before. And if it has happened before, those who follow history and historical trends will know that it could quite easily happen again.
The Greek city-state of Athens is a perfect example of how democratic systems were tried, tested, revamped, and renewed. As a people, the Greeks had an idea of what proper governance should look like and essentially ran a trial-and-error procedure over hundreds of years to perfect it.
The first attempt at a genuine democracy was seen around 621 B.C. with the end of oral law and adoption of written laws. This was spearheaded by a man named Draco. Prior to this, laws were unwritten and as such mostly unknown by the vast majority of Athenians. By writing them down and placing them on small three-sided pyramids, every literate person could read the laws and know precisely what their rights and recourse were.
Yet these laws, and specifically the punishments for transgressors, were extremely harsh. They were codified by Draco, so it should come as no surprise that the word “Draconian” comes from his name. The punishment for just about every crime, from stealing a cabbage to murder, was death. Plutarch wrote:
“It is said that Draco himself, when asked why he had fixed the punishment of death for most offences, answered that he considered these lesser crimes to deserve it, and he had no greater punishment for more important ones.”
Brutal? Certainly. Yet this was the first step in giving people an understanding that they lived in a land with governance. That there were things, great or small, they could not do and, by extension, that could not be done to them without consequence.
In 594 B.C., this system was updated by Solon, an ancestor of Plato and to whom the writer’s original account of Atlantis was credited. Solon brought about several reforms, the first of which was doing away with Draco’s Draconian laws (for all crimes except homicide).
At the time, Athens was run exclusively by a group of nine archons – or rulers – each of whom came from a noble house and was likely very wealthy. Solon expanded the franchise to include other subsets of society who had always been excluded (although the groups granted these rights were limited in number).
Solon also stopped the use of slavery for the collection of debts from fellow Athenians and, perhaps most importantly, created the right to a jury in court. To say this was a great leap forward is an understatement. Nowhere else in the world before this time – on a large scale – could a person’s fate at the hands of the law be decided by other citizens. Previously, the decision was most often at the decree of a ruler or an assigned judge. These changes were the first step to making all people equal before the law, something that has been valued by people ever since.
Solon introduced a series of other reforms that covered property, sales, tariffs, trade, morality, and just about every subject you can think of, and then he went on a journey.
As you may know, during his travels many of these reforms collapsed, much to Solon’s anger and disappointment. The loss proved true his wise advice to the king of the Lydians, Croesus, that he should “Count no man happy until he be dead.”
Athens once again fell to a dictator. The rise of tyrants is something we see throughout history, yet they do not always assume power through force of arms or trickery. Some dictators are handed the position by a grateful public who see a need for strength or leadership. Other men almost are forced into the position and try to get out of it as soon as is practical. But sometimes, it takes brute force to remove those who seek to hold the power indefinitely.
Such was the case in Athens. Hippias, the “tyrant” of the Athenians, ruled the state from 527 to 510 B.C., succeeding his father, who came to power with the collapse of Solon’s reforms. Hippias’ stranglehold appeared absolute, until Cleisthenes, an exiled lawgiver, asked the Spartans to help remove him, which they did. But here began a long period of mistrust between Athens and Sparta. The Spartan king Cleomines helped overthrow and exile Hippias, but then thought that his kingdom deserved to rule Athens. He tried to put his own man into power as a vassal of the warrior state. Fortunately for history, the people of Athens rose against another all-powerful ruler, and Cleisthenes was brought back to Athens to begin his influential reforms.
Most notably, he instituted a system whereby all citizens were equal. It was, however, a time when only men were classed as citizens.
Cleisthenes is known as the Father of Athenian Democracy because, under his direction, regular people became the power source. The word “democracy” actually derives from two words: demos, meaning people, and kratos, meaning power or force.
He instituted ten tribes, based not on family connections but on areas of residence known as demes. Each deme would send a number of its people to help run Athens, so all locations were represented, and these representatives were changed regularly so as not to allow one person or tribe to build up too much power or influence. Government positions were literally filled at random to stop men of influence from securing a privileged position.
Cleisthenes also introduced a safeguard against those who would buy influence through their clients or friends: ostracism. If a person grew too powerful, the citizens would be summoned; if a plurality of those agreed, the man would be sent away for a period of ten years. It was thought that such a length of time would be enough to break the web of influence he may have spun.
Over the centuries, the governing structure of Athens went through many iterations. Sometimes it failed, sometimes it succeeded. But after each fall, Athenians would build again in a better image than the one that went before. It was a process and indeed a struggle.
But at no time did any person of substance suggest that Athenians just pull the whole thing down and rebuild it in a system that has been proven again and again, in every country in which it has been tried, to be a complete failure. Such is what we see today in the push for the destruction of the United States and the calls for socialism.
Rioters who wish to tear down everything that has been developed for more than 2500 years offer no alternatives. They do not propose improvements; they demand destruction.
The United States of America is a continuation of Athenian democracy; it is the next iteration in a project – in the interest of all mankind – that has lasted millennia. Has it reached perfection? Is it the pinnacle of all human history? Clearly not. But perhaps that is the point. It is a project that should never be finished, should never dare people to say that “we have completed the human experiment and this is our result.” The demands of those who can only destroy will not move us forward as a species. It is through careful refining, consideration, and, above all, honesty that the dream of democracy will grow.
Read more from Mark Angelides.