Published on 19 Oct 2014
Aristocracy or the rule of the elite is in term the antonym of democracy. But while theoretically these definitions are in opposition, in practice the distinction has been blurred historically. Ancient Greece is perhaps viewed as the epithet of the origin of democracy; a form of governance where the mastership of the people is an absolute authority. And this authority consists in the people’s right to choose their leaders and legislate whatever laws they want. But is it really that simple? The political system of Classical Athens, for example, granted democratic citizenship to an elite class of free men and excluded slaves and women from political participation.
This documentary takes a look at the not so benign origins of democracy and compares it to the government of Greece’s Easter neighbor: the Great Persia Empire.
Democracy on Wikipedia
A woman casts her vote in the second round of the 2007 French presidential election.
Democracy, or democratic government, is “a system of government in which all the people of a state or polity … are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly,” as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary. Democracy is further defined as (a:) “government by the people; especially : rule of the majority (b:) ” a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”
According to political scientist Larry Diamond, it consists of four key elements: (a) A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; (b) The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; (c) Protection of the human rights of all citizens, and (d) A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.
The term originates from the Greek δημοκρατία (dēmokratía) “rule of the people”, which was found from δῆμος (dêmos) “people” and κράτος (krátos) “power” or “rule”, in the 5th century BC to denote the political systems then existing in Greek city-states, notably Athens; the term is an antonym to ἀριστοκρατία (aristokratía) “rule of an elite”. While theoretically these definitions are in opposition, in practice the distinction has been blurred historically. The political system of Classical Athens, for example, granted democratic citizenship to an elite class of free men and excluded slaves and women from political participation. In virtually all democratic governments throughout ancient and modern history, democratic citizenship consisted of an elite class until full enfranchisement was won for all adult citizens in most modern democracies through the suffrage movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. The English word dates to the 16th century, from the older Middle French and Middle Latin equivalents.
Democracy contrasts with forms of government where power is either held by an individual, as in an absolute monarchy, or where power is held by a small number of individuals, as in an oligarchy. Nevertheless, these oppositions, inherited from Greek philosophy, are now ambiguous because contemporary governments have mixed democratic, oligarchic, and monarchic elements. Karl Popper defined democracy in contrast to dictatorship or tyranny, thus focusing on opportunities for the people to control their leaders and to oust them without the need for a revolution.
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