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Xenophon on Democracy

Treatise on Democracy by Pseudo-Xenophon (the Old Oligarch)

By

The Old Oligarch (Pseudo-Xenophon)

If bad legislation is the hallmark of a good democracy, as the following, puzzling treatise on the Athenian Constitution says, and good legislation shows the forced imposition of the will of the more intelligent, what hope can there be for democracy to endure? If, as in the case of the United States, the democratic republic survives for two hundred years, does that mean it has bad legislation, but a bevy of clever lawyers to work it all out? Or does it mean we have clever legislators forming an elitist democracy?

"Now, as concerning the Polity of the Athenians, and the type or manner of constitution which they have chosen, I praise it not, in so far as the very choice involves the welfare of the baser folk as opposed to that of the better class. I repeat, I withhold my praise so far; but, given the fact that this is the type agreed upon, I propose to show that they set about its preservation in the right way; and that those other transactions in connection with it, which are looked upon as blunders by the rest of the Hellenic world, are the reverse.

What it comes to, therefore, is that a state founded upon such institutions will not be the best state; but, given a democracy, these are the right means to procure its preservation. The People, it must be borne in mind, does not demand that the city should be well governed and itself a slave. It desires to be free and to be master. As to bad legislation it does not concern itself about that. In fact, what you believe to be bad legislation is the very source of the People's strength and freedom. But if you seek for good legislation, in the first place you will see the cleverest members of the community laying down the laws for the rest. And in the next place, the better class will curb and chastise the lower orders; the better class will deliberate in behalf of the state, and not suffer crack-brained fellows to sit in council, or to speak or vote in Parliament. No doubt; but under the weight of such blessings the People will in a very short time be reduced to slavery."

Source:
Constitution of the Athenians

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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