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The Greek Demos as principle and place of equality

David de Ugarte:

Demos: the Equality Space

"Originally, a demos was something rather similar to a parish in traditional territorial orderings, but with Kleisthenes's democratic reform, the demos (δημος) became the basic unit of social organisation, a micropolis constituted by the real community surrounding each person.

The demos gave those of its members who wanted to be its representatives in the boulé – a sort of Senate which had executive power – a pinakion, a piece of bronze with his name and that of the demos. The pinakion was a sign of belonging and guaranteed that its bearer would be recognised as a citizen by the rest of the demos, that is, by the polis as a whole.

One could not be elected without a pinakion. That's why the demos, the institution which distributed them, is used nowadays as a synonym for the group of people who have full citizenship within a organisation. But what's really interesting is how.

The demos was really something that went much deeper than a list of candidates.

The Athenian democratic system was not based on representation and voting, but on random election: in order to represent his demos in the boulé, a citizen had to drop his pinakion into a slot of his choice in a matrix called kleroterion. The kleroterion would then release either a white or a black ball according to the slot chosen. If on entering the pinakion a black ball was released, the citizen was entrusted with representing the demos.

Belonging to a demos was thus synonymous with attaining the rights – and duties – of full citizenship, but, more importantly, in accepting someone into the demos, what was accepted was that he could become part of the executive power independently of whether most of the community members would prefer someone else.

That is, accepting the incorporation of a citizen to the demos entailed accepting his effective equality, as it amounted to a declaration that, independently of his specific political views, it was a matter of indifference to any citizen whether he was part of the executive power.

The demos entails a high degree of identity because it is really based on the indifference principle: to consider myself part of a demos means that I don't care which one of the other members carries out any given representation or administration task on behalf the community, even if it affects my safety or welfare. That's why originally "democracy" meant a draw, not a vote." (

Source: the book, Phyles: Economic Democracy in the Network Century. by David de Ugarte