Author: Donald Kagan
Publisher: Free Press - 1991

Real democracy cannot be fully understood without knowing its history, indeed, without knowing where it came from. No one has described the birth and greatness of democracy better than history professor Donald Kagan. It should be noted that Thomas Jefferson's dream for America's form of government was Athenian direct democracy. Too bad his influence wasn't present when our Constitution was created.

Democracy was born in 5th Century BC Athens. In Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy, Kagan writes that "Pericles was not the founder or inventor of democracy, but he came to its leadership only a half-century after its invention, when it was still fragile. He certainly played the chief role in transforming it from a limited democracy where the common people still deferred to their aristocratic betters to a fully confident popular government in which the mass of the people were fully sovereign in fact as well as theory. Thus, aside from its value as a study in political greatness, Pericles' career offers instruction in how a new and fragile democracy can be brought to maturity."

Kagan wrote the book for a general audience so that we might better understand democracy. His critics, of course, are today's academic elite who believe in Plato's criticism of Athenian democracy, which was adopted by Madison and Hamilton in the Federalist Papers... Plato's judgment has influenced all subsequent about Pericles and the democracy he led."

But Kagan looks past the critics with prophetic style and ease. He is well known as the foremost scholar on Pericles and Athenian democracy. Kagan correctly said that "The experience of the world's first democracy is likely to provoke more interest in the next few years that at any time since the eighteenth century, when it became the center of political controversy in connection with the American and French revolutions."

Kagan goes on to say that "For more than two thousand years, democracy has had many powerful enemies and few friends... Most ancient writers portrayed its leaders as self-seeking demagogues, destroyers of the common good. They called democracy unstable, a scene of devastating struggles between factions and classes, where the poor majority trampled on the better-off majority, careless of the rights of the individual; its inherent instability inevitably led to civil war, and thence to anarchy and tyranny. Plato attacked Pericles directly and blamed the Athenians for praising democratic politicians." Plato was convinced that the people were to ignorant and unsophisticated to govern themselves.

"This hostile portrayal persisted unchallenged into the eighteenth century and dominated Western thought. Rulers and writers from the Renaissance throughout the Enlightenment embraced Plato's critique, for it was in their best interests to do so. Kings, nobles, and conservative supporters of hierarchy feared the consequences of giving power to "the mob."

>From the book Kagan adds that "Alexander Hamilton used Pericles' career to illustrate the opportunity for the abuse of power by a popular leader in a pure democracy... Even James Madison echoed Plato's judgment of ancient Athens: "such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths...

...The facts about Periclean Athens, as we have seen, were very different. Plato's assault on its character is a travesty. The Athenian people did not permit their leaders to usurp power. They were not slow to remove and punish even the most powerful men in their democracy, as Pericles learned to his sorrow, and they withstood external as well as internal threats to their democracy. Through the horrors of almost three decades of the Peloponnesian War, military defeat, foreign occupation, and an oligarchic coup, the people of Athens showed that combination of commitment and restraint is necessary for the survival of popular government and life in a decent society."

Kagan says that "In the nineteenth century, when modern democracy had begun to take root in the United States and Great Britain, the attitude toward Athenian democracy became more favorable. British friends of democracy rediscovered and celebrated the constitution of Periclean Athens and its democratic way of life. The publication of George Grote's great twelve-volume "History of Greece" between 1846 and 1856 transformed the understanding of Periclean Athens. As Britain moved toward fuller democracy, the Athens of Pericles, as interpreted by Grote, seemed more and more to provide a source of inspiration."

Kagan concludes that "Most defenders of democracy deny that there is an art or science of government, known or knowable only by some elite group. They believe that good government and the achievement of a good society require the participation of all citizens. The elements of democracy -- individual liberty, equality before the law, equal opportunity, the right to vote, and the right to hold office -- are not means to a higher end. Rather, the system of democratic self-government is an end in itself."

Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy is a MUST READ for anyone interested in the concept of direct democracy.

It should be noted that the DDC concept of direct democracy rests between the pure democracy of Athens and the representative democracy of the United States. Indeed, that is why it is called Direct Representative Democracy.