The system of government in classical Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries BC has provided the world with the most famous and perhaps the most perfect example of direct democracy. When democratic rule was ended by the conquering Macedonians in 322, the Athenians had evolved principles and practice of democratic ideology that became the direct inspiration of those liberal ideas cherished by the Western world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Mogens Hansen examines Athenian democracy both as a political system and as an ideology. In describing the former he distinguishes between the three major decision-making organs - the Assembly, the Legislators and the Peoples Courts, and the magistrates who were responsible both for preparing the agenda for the legislature and for carrying its decisions into effect. In discussing Athenian democratic ideology Dr Hansen also makes the important distinction between the ideals held by the democrats themselves and those imputed to them by the critics of democracy, principally (and ironically, given that they would barely have survived under any other system) the philosophers. The Athenians conceived liberty both as the ability to participate in the decision-making process, and as the right to live without oppression from the state or other citizens. Equality was conceived not as an equality of nature, but as an equality of opportunity.
The Athenian Democracy in the Age of Demosthenes is based on unrivaled knowledge of the subject, the result of more than thirty years' sustained research.
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