Assess The Role Of Democracy In Athens

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Indeed, Athens is the first democracy in action, but the city-state exemplifies democracy’s faults rather than its merits. For example, the demagogues Thucydides presents in his History of the Peloponnesian War will hijacked and bend the system to their own selfish needs. Furthermore, humans naturally act towards selfish and barbaric interests and are unfit to rule themselves as demonstrated in natural lawless states such as the Plagued Athens or the Corcyrean Civil War. Lastly, as a state grows in power and becomes more imperialistic, the themes of empire and democracy become incompatible and the state must choose between maintaining an empire or an ideal democracy. Theses weaknesses dispel the flawless ideal that surround democracy and show…show more content…
Naturally, power tends to gravitate to those most talented at oration, the demagogues, which is not a necessarily a problem. The issue arrives when the demagogues reduce the power of the people and bend the system to their selfish interests. Pericles “would put into [the Athenians] fear with his speeches” when they were restless and “would raise their spirits and courage” when they were afraid (57). Here, Pericles meticulously controls them, almost herds the Athenians to his will. Even if his actions are for “taking care of the commonwealth,” Pericles reduces the political power of the people to practically zero. As Thucydides puts it “Athens [is] in name a democracy, but in fact a government by its first man.” Athens becomes a tyranny even if benevolent (57). In this case, Pericles’ interests fall in line with Athenian interests, but later demagogues will not and cause disastrous consequences for Athens. For example, Alcibiades will successfully argue for the Sicilian Expedition to “this command” to win glory for himself (117). Furthermore, power is taken and concentrated in the few, which further reduces the power of the people. Pericles belongs to aristocracy and “[is] powerful because of his prestige and his intelligence. (57)” Pericles speaks well and persuasively from his “intelligence” or his education, which results from his “prestige” and wealth that can…show more content…
As seen with the Mytilene debate where Athens decides whether to slaughter the Mytilene’s for their rebellion, Cleon, a demagogue, explicitly states “I have often seen a democracy is incapable of ruling an empire (67).” He goes on to argue “you relent out of compassion, your softness puts you in danger and does not win the affection of your allies (67).” To him, qualities such as sentiment and indulgence hurt an empire. The Athenian empire must be unyielding and forceful to control its subjugated people for the subjects only follow the Athenians because they “exceed them in strength (67).” This goes against the tenants of democracy where the people supposedly discus their issues and not rule each other with force. Indeed, as the Athenian empire continues, people choose love of empire over love of democracy, and the Athenian are swept up by militarism and excessive patriotism, which ultimately leads to their downfall with the Sicilian expedition. Athens in effect becomes a tyranny of the empire as the people seek to strengthen the empire rather than their city. Thus as a democratic state grows in power, the government will be swamped by excessive pride in
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