Political Freedom In Athens

1694 Words7 Pages
The Present and the Future Over the Past
The Athenian concept of freedom was completely unparalleled. Political freedom was conceived in the idea of democratic Athens. Hannah Arendt writes of the uniqueness of Athenian freedom in that freedom in Athens was the ability ‘to start again’ (Arendt 1958: 69) Parrhêsia is essential to this new beginning – the exploring and questioning of history and nature that suggest that the world is open to choices that can be investigated by speech. This means that democracy in Athens was a regime always capable of change and recreation. Athenian democracy was a system of governance that aimed not to look back in time, but forward and allowed nothing from the past to mould it. The democratic breakdown of the
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While Athenians held such novel freedoms, the fatal flaw of Athenian freedom was its overly collective nature and protection of these freedoms. Athenian demokratia certainly has its merits and proves to have been a system of government and way of life way ahead of its time. The guarantee of political freedom, as the heart of demokratia, is what made the Athenians free. Among the very restricted membership to the citizenry, a system was established that made all citizens free from tyranny. Athenians were also free from invasion and external oppression due to the grandness of the Athenian navy and their monopoly power of the Aegean Sea. Paradoxically, the dominating nature of the Athenian empire is what gave Athenians freedom to self-govern, i.e. autonomia and allowed their democracy to flourish. This political freedom was the pre-eminent freedom, surpassing any idea of individual freedom. Individual freedoms amounted to slightly more than incidental side effects of the collective political. What is strikingly different in comparison to the modern perception of individual freedoms is the difference between the Athenian understanding of ‘a way of life’ and the modern understanding of a body of inalienable, well-defined rights that have a legal basis. The shaping of an Athenian identity gave way to individual freedom being understood as the Athenian way of doing things and was indeed quite unrestrictive, especially given its context – that is why the Athenians believed themselves to be so ‘free’. The relationship between the primary collective freedom and the secondary individual freedom was parrhêsia – a mechanism devised to create a qualitatively better democracy but also conferred a sense of freedom of expression to the Athenian citizens, completely unheard of at the time. Parrhêsia was a blemished concept to say the least – the execution of Socrates providing an example
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