Origin of Democracy
About the Film
The origin of democracy is shaded in mystery. Its ideals – justice and liberty for all and the freedom of speech – are trumpeted as the bedrock of western civilization. But where did the idea of democracy come from? In the above documentary “Athens: the Truth about Democracy, director Bettany Hughes searches for the origin of democracy in the Golden Age of Ancient Athens.
To learn about the origin of democracy and understand its development in history, it is very helpful to watch both The Truth about Democracy and listen to the podcast interview with David Stasavage, professor and Dean for the social sciences at NYU, about his book The Decline and Rise of Democracy.
Popular Belief: Ever since the Ancient Greeks Invented Democracy, it is handed over like a torch
Dark Ages versus Ages of Enlightenment - Tyranny versus Democracy
David Stasavage regards this torch-version of the democracy-story as a romantic simplification. The west tends to see democracy as the one-and-only solution for all problems. It defines history in terms of dark ages – driven by tyrants and mysticism – and lights ages – driven by democracy and reason. Yet David Stasavage argues that democracy has always been around. Even in Mesopotamia, which we think of as strictly autocratic, there was alternation over time between forms of governance that were more autocratic and forms of governance that were more democratic. Throughout history, since hunter-gatherer tribes, people have been practical about democracy. Sometimes society is served better when governed top-down and sometimes it is better to add some consensus to decision-making processes. Humanities greatest accomplishments have been brought about interchangeably by democracies as well as dictatorships.
The Chinese Case Undermines the Romantic idea of Democracy
Take modern-day China for example. The Chinese case is the one that shows the most continuous historical record of autocracy. China has always been ruled by an often repressive elite deciding for the populace what’s best for them. It is in the gene, so to speak, of Chinese culture to deal with the world autocratically, top-down.
It was a common view amoung politicians and business people In the late 1980s that China was maybe on a deviant path from the more normal political evolution path that the U S and Western Europe were on. Yet, everyone was convinced that China would become more democratic as it got richer. However, what we’ve seen in the past 40 years, is that China has presented this continuous alternative – autocratic – model to our own. And, depending on how one defines success, their model is very successful.
The Origin of Democracy and the Spirit in Classical Greece
Athens: The Truth about Democracy
That Democracy has always been an ambiguity due to the conflicting nature of elements within, is shown by Bettany Hughes in her informative documentary Athens, the Truth about Democracy. Bettany Hughes searches for the truth about the Golden Age of Ancient Athens, investigating how a barren rock wedged between the East and West became the first democracy 2,500 years ago.
Democracy, liberty and the freedom of speech are trumpeted as the bedrock of western civilization, but what was Athens really like? Bettany goes deep underground to explore a treasure trove of pre-historic bones and ancient artefacts. In silver mines and tombs she uncovers evidence for what this society was really like.