Democracy In Crisis –
Lessons From Ancient Athens
By Jeff Miller
Athens has much to teach us about democracy.
Good cities and good laws, in other words, make good citizens, and the failure to attend to them properly potentially degrades both.
Just read that Billie Joe Armstrong – writer and head honcho of the band Green Day – has decided to quit his native America and reside in London due to the outcome of the 1973 landmark decision known Roe v Wade. An unbelievably deplorable reversal, as decided by America’s increasingly misogynistic Supreme Court.
He will also renounce his citizenship.
Strong stuff and commendably principled.
That said nation is now fundamentally dancing on the Titanic is one thing.
That Armstrong has chosen to reside in the UK is wholly another; especially when one takes into account the degree to which the latter will always follow the former.
In other words, the US sneezes and shortly thereafter, the UK catches a cold.
Done deal. No questions asked.
So good luck Billie (along with the many of those who professed to make clear their outright disdain regarding America’s future, non-existent abortion laws from the Glastonbury stage this weekend); for it does indeed seem as if the US has already hit the calamitous iceberg of pending, political disaster. A place where so-called democracy has not only been superseded by autocracy, but where democracy per se, has been plunged unto the depths of no return.
There again, supreme wealth in the hands of dangerously stupid and horrifically selfish people, has always been a blatant recipe for equally blatant disaster; a subject rightfully and succinctly addressed by Jeff Miller in Democracy In Crisis – Lessons From Ancient Athens:
‘’The possession of great wealth does not only affect the poor and generate sycophancy, of course. It also affects the wealthy themselves. Aristotle in his Rhetoric, gives us a psychological
portrait of the rich worth quoting at length:
The characters which accompany wealth are plain for all to see. The wealthy are insolent and arrogant, being mentally affected by the acquisition of wealth, for they seem to think that they possess all good things; for wealth is a kind of standard of value of everything else, so that everything seems purchasable by it. They are luxurious and swaggerers, luxurious because of their prosperity, swaggerers and ill-mannered because all men are accustomed to devote their attention to what they like and admire, and the rich suppose that what they themselves are emulous of is the object of all other men’s emulations’’ (‘Ostracism’).
As the very opening quote of this review (Athens has much to teach us about democracy) rightly substantiates, today’s US really could and really should glean so much from ancient Athens: ‘’Athenians knew that amassed power could warp the space of democratic actions, creating inequalities that no laws or procedures could mitigate. Ostracism in this sense was a way for the people to remove potential threats to the city without formal cause […]. One key connecting thread was the fact that the Athenians did not think in terms of natural or human rights, but instead in terms of their position in and duties toward their political community. Instead of individuals, they understood themselves as involved together in a collective project’’ (‘Conclusion’)
Hmm, the mere idea of the US thinking in terms of ‘’duties toward their political community,’’ is about as alien an idea as Americans foregoing their (very questionable) right to bear arms.
As Professor Lynette Mitchell of the University of Exeter states: ‘’At the heart of this book lies the idea that society is a collective enterprise: Aristotle says that a man only comes to exist when he is in a community, since he is by nature a political animal. This book argues that this is the key insight that modern liberal democracy needs to take on board in order to reinvigorate the democratic project. By being steeped in the past, this book not only evaluates contemporary politics and the modern democratic state, but also suggests solutions for its future political health.’’
Clear cut, thorough and stringently straight ahead, Democracy In Crisis transports Athenian politicization slap-bang, centre-stage.
Right unto the grandiose mess of today’s ultimately divided United States.