What's Wrong with Democracy?

What's Wrong with Democracy? : From Athenian Practice to American Worship

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Fifth-century Athens is praised as the cradle of democracy and sometimes treated as a potential model for modern political theory or practice. In this daring reassessment of classical Athenian democracy and its significance for the United States today, Loren J. Samons provides ample justification for our founding fathers' distrust of democracy, a form of government they scorned precisely because of their familiarity with classical Athens. How Americans have come to embrace 'democracy' in its modern form - and what the positive and negative effects have been - is an important story for all contemporary citizens. Confronting head-on many of the beliefs we hold dear but seldom question, Samons examines Athens' history in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. in order to test the popular idea that majority rule leads to good government. Challenging many basic assumptions about the character and success of Athenian democracy, "What's Wrong with Democracy?" offers fascinating and accessible discussions of topics including the dangers of the popular vote, Athens' acquisitive foreign policy, the tendency of the state to overspend, the place of religion in Athenian society, and more. Sure to generate controversy, Samons' bold and iconoclastic book finds that democracy has begun to function like an unacknowledged religion in our culture, immune from criticism and dissent, and he asks that we remember the Athenian example and begin to question our uncritical worship of democratic values such as freedom, choice, and diversity.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 328 pages
  • 148.6 x 214.1 x 18.5mm | 358.34g
  • University of California Press
  • Berkerley, United States
  • English
  • 3 b/w photographs, 3 maps, 1 table
  • 0520251687
  • 9780520251687
  • 1,043,160

About Loren J. Samons

Loren J. Samons II is Associate Professor of Classical Studies and Associate Dean for Students, College of Arts and Sciences, Boston University. He is author of Empire of the Owl (2000), editor of Athenian Democracy and Imperialism (1998), and coauthor, with Charles W. Fornara, of Athens from Cleisthenes to Pericles (California, 1991).show more

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"This is unlike any recent work I know of. It offers a challenging, often refreshing, and what will certainly be a controversial assessment of classical Athenian democracy and its significance to modern America. Samons is willing to tread where few other classicists are willing to go in print. He reminds readers that the Athenian democracy offers just as many negative lessons as positive ones, and topics like the popular vote, the dangers of state payments to individual citizens, the naturally acquisitive foreign policy of democratic governments, and the place of religion in democracy all come up for discussion and criticism. Samons has written an original and very provocative book."James Sickinger, author of Public Records and Archives in Classical Athens "Professor Samons' lively and challenging account of ancient Athens raises important questions about democracy, ancient and modern. It will surely arouse keen interest and debate."Donald Kagan, author of The Peloponnesian War "In this elegantly written, carefully researched, and perceptive book, Samons presents a penetrating analysis of ancient Athenian democracy's dark sides. His book is as much about the errors and weaknesses of our own political system as it is about those of ancient Athens. Whether or not we agree with his critique and conclusions, this book is not merely thought-provoking: it is annoyingly discomforting, forcing us to re-examine firm beliefs and to discard easy solutions."Kurt A. Raaflaub, author of Discovery of Freedom in Ancient Greece "In this marvelously unfashionable book, Samons debunks much of what passes in the current-day academy as scholarship on classical Athens, demonstrating that it is an ideologically-driven apology for a radically defective form of government. In the process, he casts light on the perspicacity of America's founding fathers and on the unthinking populism that threatens in our own day to ruin their legacy."Paul A. Rahe, author of Republics Ancient and Modern: Classical Republicanism and the American Revolution "We are in the greatest age of democracy since antiquity and in the most need of guidance about the wisdom of government by majority vote. Precisely for that reason Professor Samons offers a bold and unbridled look at the nature and history of democracies, ancient and modern. He reminds us that we are capable of doing as much evil as good when constitutional protections and republican oversight are not there to moderate the instant desires of the majority. This is an engaging, provocative, and timely study of ancient Athens and modern America that should serve as a cautionary reminder to both romantic scholars and zealous diplomats."Victor Davis Hanson, author of The Other Greeks"show more

Table of contents

Preface Introduction Chapter 1. Athenian Society and Government Chapter 2. Democracy and Demagogues: Election, Voting, and Qualifications for Citizenship Chapter 3. Public Finance: Democracy and the People's Purse Chapter 4. Foreign Policy I: Democracy Imperial Chapter 5. Foreign Policy II: The Peloponnesian War Chapter 6. National Defense: Democracy Defeated Chapter 7. Democracy and Religion Conclusion Bibliographyshow more