Thinking About Democracy: Athenian democracy and its relevance to contemporary debates on democracy

The democratic principles of political equality, the right to speak and contribute, and a belief in the ability of a cross-section of people to deliberate were hallmarks of Athenian democracy. Athenians regarded elections as inherently aristocratic, and instead, a system of selection by lot was an essential feature of democracy. Modern liberal-democracies, on the other hand, use elections to select political representatives. This difference raises some important questions:

  • How different was ancient democratic Athens from modern democracy?
  • Can the practice of ancient democracy provide normative foundations for a modern deliberative democracy regarding civic and individual liberties that are more democracy-enabling in terms of collective political power than current liberal-democracies?
  • Indeed, can we have democracy without elections?
  • Is collective self-government possible without majority rule?

Join the Antiquities Museum and Dr Gilbert Burgh (School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry) for the last in a series of discussions on the meaning of citizenship in the ancient and modern worlds. Presented in conjunction with Why Citizenship? Stories from Athens and Rome.

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About Why Citizenship? Stories from Athens and Rome

< Special Exhibitions
June 2017 to May 2018

While it might appear that citizenship in the ancient world was a simple and straightforward concept, not everyone thought about citizenship in the same way. In Classical Athens entry into the citizen body was closely controlled, determined by gender, birth and ancestry, while in Rome, people of both free and freed status came to enjoy at least basic citizen rights over time.

Why Citizenship? explores the stories of ancient people from a wide variety of backgrounds and asks why citizenship mattered to them. It also invites visitors to consider concepts of citizenship, and to reflect upon issues of gender, sexuality, politics, race and social status in the modern day.

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Curated by Dr Janette McWilliam and Mr James Donaldson