= concept and movement
= how Athenian Democracy, i.e. Ekklesia can be updated into e-kklesia
Essay: The e-kklesia by Paul B. Hartzog, http://www.panarchy.com/Members/PaulBHartzog/Papers/The%20e-kklesia.pdf
Paul B. Hartzog:
"First, I will examine the Athenian ideal as exemplified in its most powerful body, the Ekklesia. This Ekklesia, or assembly, was for Athens the ultimate expression of its faith in direct democracy, of the polis’ ability to justly and wisely direct the affairs of the community. Through an exploration of numerous facets of direct democracy and modern computer-mediated communications (CMC) – enacted via cell-phones, the Internet, etc. – I argue that there exists now an opportunity for the establishment of an ekklesia, an online electronic assembly, of always connected citizens, perpetually participating in the governance of the community, and that such an e-kklesia can be a much more exact and effective realization of the Athenian ideal than even occurred in Athens itself.
The Athenian Ideal
We begin with Pericles’ “Funeral Oration” in which he lauds the following characteristics of the Athenian polis:
1. “Our belief in the courage and manliness of so many should not be hazarded on the goodness or badness of one man’s speech.”
2. “We regard wealth as something to be properly used, rather than as something to boast about.”
3. “…what counts is not membership of a particular class, but the actual ability which the man possesses.”
4. “Our constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the whole people.”
5. “No one… is kept in political obscurity because of poverty.”
6. “Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well….”
7. “[Athenians believe that] the worst thing is to rush into action before the consequences have been properly debated.”
8. “[The fallen] have blotted out evil with good, and done more service to the commonwealth than they ever did harm in their private lives.”
9. “…in public affairs we keep to the law… because it commands our deep respect.”
10. “We give our obedience to those whom we put in positions of authority, and we obey the laws themselves, especially those which are for the protection of the oppressed, and those unwritten laws which it is an acknowledged shame to break.”
These elements of Athenian culture indicate important reasons why Athenian democracy functioned as it did. The reasons can be clarified by arranging Pericles’ comments into groups which reflect certain characteristics of Athenian life. Items 1, 2, and 3 indicate that individuals were not judged on their rhetoric or wealth, but on their ability. Items 4 - 8 demonstrate a firm commitment to citizen participation, even going so far as to suggest that through public acts and the defense of the Athenian system the individual can redeem his personal misdeeds. Items 9 - 10 reveal a deeply felt legitimacy for the laws, authorities, and even customs of the community, a legitimacy that is granted by citizen participation. The notion that citizen participation creates legitimacy further presupposes a faith in the individual’s ability to add value to the polis merely by participating, i.e. an intrinsic value, which is manifest in Athenian society in the Ekklesia.
Aristotle, too, examines many characteristics of the Athenian democracy, in particular the following:
1. “We praise the ability to rule and to be ruled, and it is doubtless held that the goodness of a citizen consists in ability both to rule and to be ruled well.”5
2. “For all when assembled together have sufficient discernment, and by mingling with the better class are of benefit to the state, just as impure food mixed with what is pure makes the whole more nourishing than the small amount of pure food alone; but separately the individual is immature in judgment.”
3. “Now no doubt any one of them individually is inferior compared with the best man, but a state consists of a number of individuals, and just as a banquet to which many contribute dishes is finer than a single plain dinner, for this reason in many cases a crowd judges better than any single person. Also the multitude is more incorruptible--just as the larger stream of water is purer, so the mass of citizens is less corruptible than the few; and the individual's judgment is bound to be corrupted when he is overcome by anger or some other such emotion, whereas in the other case it is a difficult thing for all the people to be roused to anger and go wrong together.”7
4. “They assert this as the aim of every democracy. But one factor of liberty is to govern and be governed in turn; for the popular principle of justice is to have equality according to number, not worth, and if this is the principle of justice prevailing, the multitude must of necessity be sovereign and the decision of the majority must be final and must constitute justice, for they say that each of the citizens ought to have an equal share…. [Liberty] is the second principle of democracy, and from it has come the claim not to be governed, preferably not by anybody, or failing that, to govern and be governed in turns; and this is the way in which the second principle contributes to equalitarian liberty. And these principles having been laid down and this being the nature of democratic government, the following institutions are democratic in character: election of officials by all from all; government of each by all, and of all by each in turn… the Ekklesia to be sovereign over all matters…”
For Aristotle, ruling and being ruled in turn become manifest by citizen participation, and it is through the collective power of the Ekklesia that good judgments are to be arrived at and, if the Ekklesia is supreme, implemented.
For the modern interpretation of the Athenian ideal we turn to Robert Dahl. “Within the enormous and often impenetrable thicket of ideas about democracy, is it possible to identify some criteria that a process for governing an association would have to meet in order to satisfy the requirement that all the members are equally entitled to participate in the association’s decisions about its policies?
There are, I believe, at least five such standards”:
1. Effective participation
2. Voting equality
3. Enlightened understanding
4. Control of the agenda
5. Inclusion of adults
Ancient, direct, democracy relied on the above criteria for the proper self-governance of the polis. Dahl stresses that number five seems to be a uniquely modern condition, that is, inclusion as a general principle, but, as we shall see, even if Dahl is correct, then Athenian democracy was still remarkably ahead of its time. As we explore the various properties of the e-kklesia, we will be able to compare and contrast them with Athenian democracy insofar as they exemplify or diverge from that ideal. If it is the case that in Athens “participation was instrumental, the means by which social groups and classes constituting the majority of inhabitants gained access to forms of power that enabled them to improve their condition by contesting the forms of power associated with wealth, birth, and education,” then the e-kklesia offers us a similar empowerment today.
One of the most raised issues of modern vs. ancient democracy is that of scale. Dahl charges that “the sheer size, scale, and complexity of a modern society such as the United States render Athenian democracy a curiosity rather than an inspiration.”11 Even Aristotle suggests that the ideal polis must not be so large that the citizens cannot hear its herald’s voice.
Interestingly, Dahl formulates a separate set of “requirements” for modern democracy, distinguishing ancient from modern by saying “modern, large-scale democratic governments are [and must be] representative.”13 He goes on to say, “All the institutions necessary for a democratic country would not always be required for a unit much smaller than a country. Governments of small organizations would not have to be full-fledged representative governments…”14 Unfortunately, Dahl does not say why he draws the line at a country, as opposed to a metropolis like New York City. He does ask, “But how big is too big for assembly democracy?”15 He does the arithmetic and concludes that since everyone must be allowed to speak, the timeframe for a meeting gets too long. Continuing, Dahl admits that when actual participation in the debate decreases as the number of those present increases, the few who speak up act as de facto representatives. His conclusion that we may choose instead to elect representatives misses a crucial fact: The same individuals would not likely speak up on every issue, that is, individuals with expertise or interest would speak out on a given issue and would sit silent at other times. Herein, all of the members of the polis become each others’ representatives all of the time. This is no different than what occurred in the Athenian Ekklesia, a point I will, to be sure, belabor.
To be fair, Dahl admits that “perhaps today and increasingly in the future you might be able to solve the territorial problem by employing electronic means of communication that would enable citizens spread out over a large area to ‘meet,’ discuss issues, and vote.” Barber reduces scale to the “problem of communication,” arguing that the “size” of the polity is relative, not absolute. “Because a political community is ‘a human network rooted in communication,’ the problem of scale can be ameliorated.”
Dahl asks, “how can citizens participate effectively when the number of citizens becomes too numerous or too widely dispersed geographically (or both, as in the case of a country) for them to participate conveniently in making laws by assembling in one place?”
Within this question, there are three dilemmas raised:
1. the number of citizens
2. the impact of geographical distance
3. the need for assemblage in one place (obv. simultaneously)
Regarding these, we can now conclude:
1. The e-kklesia is number-independent, with no upper limit to its capacity.
2. The e-kklesia is geography-independent, insofar as participation would be unhindered by physical location (U.S. citizens anywhere on the planet could participate).
3. The e-kklesia is an ongoing always-open assemblage."
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