Saturday, 22 April 2017

Notes on Democracy

Those of you who know your Herodotus won't need reminding of the history of Cleisthenes of Athens - the politician who accidentally invented democracy. He extended voting rights to landless citizens (the plethos) not out of philosophical principle, but to increase his power in government. Like Alec Salmond giving 16 year-old voters a say in the 2014 Scottish Referendum, Cleisthenes was relying on the principle that the newly enfranchised would back their enfranchiser.  

Cleisthenes - not to be confused with his uncle the tyrant Cleisthenes of Sicyon

The Athenians loved their new found power and went on to win the battle of Salamis using the novel tactic of ramming the Persians' boats. Both boats would sink, but only the Persian sailors would drown because (unlike the Greeks) they couldn't swim. 

For the next two-and-a-half thousand years or so democracy kept bubbling up in Europe and being squashed again. The most important step was when it occurred to a few enlightened individuals that possession of ovaries shouldn't necessarily debar people from the right to choose who represents them in government. This idea was hugely unpopular - especially with people whose reproductive equipment pointed downwards most of the time. However, after a long struggle, women over the age of 21 won the right to vote in 1928 - that's not that long ago. I own books that are older than universal suffrage!

I'm a big fan of democracy. Even though I seem consistently to back the losing side. Regular readers will remember:

My firstborn is due the same week as the UK election. Two thoughts occur:
  1.  Let's use this opportunity to make our small island a fairer place.
  2.  I wonder if Charlie likes the name Cleisthenes...  

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