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Limits of Greek Democracy

More than half the citizens were literate and the people controlled the law courts, yet although the middle and laboring classes had won only "political, [and] not social, equality with the landowning gentry," there was never any attempt to force any other type of equality on the rich (Stone 119). Even though the citizenry at large "claimed equality [they also] continued to leave the exercise of power to the few--whose competence and knowledge could gain them a hearing" (Grant 65). This practical resolution of some of the problems of direct democracy was later to appeal to Aristotle in his analysis of types of constitutional government in the Politics. Many conservative Athenians, however, did not favor democracy at all. The "Old Oligarch" (Pseudo-Xenophon), for example, condemned the Athenian democracy "because it favored the interests of the poorer (inferior) sections of the community too much" (Grant 65). But he, like other conservatives, allowed that "it is pardonable for any man to help himself" and also admitted that since the common people manned the city's warships, there was nothing to be done about it (quoted in Grant 65). The Old Oligarch was not unlike Socrates in the sense that, while he despised democracy, he accepted the legitimacy of the democratic state. And, again like Socrates, he did not feel that this meant he should not speak out against the idea.


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Limits of Greek Democracy. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 13:50, October 23, 2014, from
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