Monday, 6 July 2015


After the Greek vote, it is perhaps time to remember why direct democracy isn't always such a brilliant thing (and why most countries' constitutions have clear limits on what people can and cannot vote on). Robin Osborne's brilliant Athens and Athenian Democracy reminds us of the famous episode towards the end of the Peleponnesian war, when Athenian democracy didn't exactly cover itself in glory. In 406 BC, an Athenian fleet defeated its Spartan opponents at the Arginusae Islands; a storm afterwards made it hard for the victors to pick up survivors. What did the Athenian assembly do? It decided to put the generals in charge to death:
"... the insistence on the people's right to do what they wanted regardless of normal procedures (and common justice) was not so much a return to old ways but a travesty of them." (Osborne p. 278)
It was the last sea battle that Athens won.

The tragedy in Greece is that the people who voted "no" have no idea what is about to hit them; you just cannot put decisions such as these to a referendum, given the complete lack of clarity and information about the consequences. 

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