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Isocrates on Democracy in the Areopagiticus

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Isocrates - Areopagiticus

Having a society under the rule of law requires that people obey the laws. Isocrates, a famous Athenian orator and rhetorician who lived 436–338 B.C., looks at how democratic societies tolerate evil. The first passage asks how we can overturn one or another ruling or let the legislature step in without setting a dangerous precedent.

[18] "And yet how can we praise or tolerate a government which has in the past been the cause of so many evils and which is now year by year ever drifting on from bad to worse? And how can we escape the fear that if we continue to progress after this fashion we may finally run aground on rocks more perilous than those which at that time loomed before us?"
Source:
Isocrates 18

The next passage argues that the democracy established in Athens was designed to be impartial and create better citizens.

[20] "For those who directed the state in the time of Solon and Cleisthenes did not establish a polity which in name merely was hailed as the most impartial and the mildest of governments, while in practice showing itself the opposite to those who lived under it, nor one which trained the citizens in such fashion that they looked upon insolence as democracy, lawlessness as liberty, impudence of speech as equality, and licence to do what they pleased as happiness, but rather a polity which detested and punished such men and by so doing made all the citizens better and wiser."
Source:
Isocrates 20
[22] "...and preferring rather that which rewards and punishes every man according to his deserts, they governed the city on this principle, not filling the offices by lot from all the citizens, but selecting the best and the ablest for each function of the state; for they believed that the rest of the people would reflect the character of those who were placed in charge of their affairs."

[23] "Furthermore they considered that this way of appointing magistrates was also more democratic than the casting of lots, since under the plan of election by lot chance would decide the issue and the partizans of oligarchy would often get the offices; whereas under the plan of selecting the worthiest men, the people would have in their hands the power to choose those who were most attached to the existing constitution."

[24] "The reason why this plan was agreeable to the majority and why they did not fight over the offices was because they had been schooled to be industrious and frugal, and not to neglect their own possessions and conspire against the possessions of others, and not to repair their own fortunes out of the public funds, but rather to help out the commonwealth, should the need arise, from their private resources, and not to know more accurately the incomes derived from the public offices than those which accrued to them from their own estates."

Source:
Isocrates 22-24

Features on Democracy in Ancient Greece and the Rise of Democracy

Ancient Writers on Democracy
  1. Aristotle
  2. Thucydides via Pericles' Funeral Oration
  3. Plato's Protagoras
  4. Aeschines
  5. Isocrates
  6. Herodotus Compares Democracy With Oligarchy and Monarchy
  7. Pseudo-Xenophon

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