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Democracy

political, community, called, rich, oligarchy, notion and greek

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DEMOCRACY (SnaonpaTla), a word taken from the Greek language, like aris tocracy, oligarchy, monarchy, and other political terms.

The third book of Herodotus (chap. 80-82) contains what we may consider to be the views of the oldest extant Greek historian on the merits and defects of the three respective forms of government as they are called, democracy, oligarchy, and monarchy. It would be difficult to extract from the chapters referred to an exact definition of democracy, but still we learn from them what were considered to be essentials : first, complete political equality (icromoidn); secondly, the elec tion of magistrates by lot (zdkrp)—which, coupled with the first condition, implies that public offices must be accessible to all ; thirdly, responsibility or accoun tability. in public functionaries (ap)h Inre68vvos), which implies a short term of office and liability to be ejected from it ; fourthly, the decision by the com munity at large of all public matters (TL fiaum6kurra ,rdvra is Tb motebv &rap& pew).

It is unnecessary to discuss the merits and defects of a democracy as pointed out in the above chapters, the defects being only certain consequences supposed to flow from, and the merits certain advan tages incident to, a democratical institu tion, and neither being essentially parts of the fundamental notion of a demo cracy.

In forming a notion of a democracy as conceived by the Greeks, and indeed in forming any exact notion of a pure de mocracy, it is convenient to consider a small community, such as a single town with a little territory, and to view such a community as an independent sove reignty. The institutions which in mo dern times have approached most nearly to the form of a pure democracy are some of the Swiss cantons. The boroughs of England, as existing in their supposed original purity, and as partly restored to that supposed original purity by the late Municipal Corporations Act, may help to explain the notion of a democracy, though they are wanting in the necessary ele ment of possessing sovereignty. Further, to conceive correctly of a Greek demo .zacy and of some of the democracies of the North American Union, it must be remembered that the whole community in such States consisted and consists of two great divisions, freemen and slaves, of whom the slaves form no part of the political system.

In most Greek communities we find two marked divisions of the freemen, the few' (OA( yo i) or rich' (award, TAoLcr tot), and the many ') of a-oxAol, 6 6iiaor) or not rich' (dropoi), between whom a fierce contest for political superiority was maintained. This contest would often end in the expulsion of the' few,' and the division of their lands and property among the many ; sometimes in the ex pulsion of the leaders of the many,' and the political subjugation of the rest. Thus the same state would at one time be called a democracy ; at another, an oli garchy, according as one or the other party possessed the political superiority ; a circumstance which evidently tended to confuse all exact notions of the meaning of the respective terms used to denote the respective kinds of polities. Under the circumstances described, what was called an oligarchy might perhaps be appro priately so called ; what was called a de mocracy was not appropriately so called, even according to the notions entertained by the Greeks themselves of a democracy ; for such so-called democracy was only a Qraction of the community that had ob ained a victory over another fraction of .ne community, less numerous and indi vidually more wealthy : for the ' few' and the 'rich' were always united in idea; it being, as Aristotle remarks, inci dent to the ' rich' to be the few,' and the rest to be the ' many' Aristotle felt the difficulty of defining what a democracy is. He observes (Po litik. iv. 4) that neither an oligarchy nor a democracy must be defined simply with reference to the number of those who possess the sovereign power : if a consider able majority, he says, are rich, and ex clude the remaining body of freemen, who are poor, ftom political power, this is not a democracy. Nor, on the con trary, if the poor, being few, should ex clude the rich, being more numerous, from all political power, would this be an oligarchy. Indeed such a supposition as the latter is impossible in a sovereign community, except during a short period of revolutionary change.

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