Greece and Rome (Second Series)

Research Article

The Tradition of The Athenian Democracy A.D. 1750–1990

Mogens Herman Hansen

By 1994 no less than 2,500 years will have passed since Kleisthenes (in 507 B.C.) introduced democracy to Athens, and the anniversary will undoubtedly be celebrated by all nations that call themselves democracies, i.e., practically everywhere in the western world. But during the celebrations sceptics will probably ask at least two fundamental questions: first, how much do Athenian demokratia and modern democracy have in common and second, to what extent were modern democratic ideas and institutions shaped by looking back upon the ancient model? Was Athens the school not only of Hellas – as Perikles claimed in his funeral speach – but also of the political system and ideology that are universally accepted in the western world of today? Or, alternatively, is the Athenian example just one small piece in the great jigsaw puzzle that constitutes modern democracy and even a fairly unimportant piece, one of those elusive pieces that has nothing but sky or water on it and, accordingly, is almost impossible to place correctly?