May 4, 2016 | Rome, Italy | Clear 12°C

What dreams may come

By Lucy Brignall
Published: 2016-04-25

Athenian democracy was a system of direct democracy in which participating citizens voted directly on legislation and executive bills.
T

his is a world in which Britain is seriously considering leaving the European Union and Donald Trump has a real chance of becoming the next president of the United States.

It's also a world in which politicians lead us into unpopular conflicts with devastating human consequences and where media moguls and corporations have a terrifying amount of influence on every aspect of our lives — from the drugs we are prescribed to the fuel we put in our cars.

Isn't time, I wonder aloud, to consider a radical rethink?

The ancient Greeks took a long and often bloody road to develop the notion of government they called Democracy, which flourished in the Golden Age of Athens more than 2,000 years ago. In doing so, they created a system that was far fairer and less potentially corrupt that the sad "updated" version we have now.

Instead of swearing by party allegiances, Greek citizens voted according to their personal views in a simple show of hands during assemblies. Randomly chosen citizens devised legislation. Government was very much in the spirit of how a jury is formed today. A chairman was chosen for that day's business and changed the following day. This went on for the course of the proceedings. These assemblies were removed from hectoring, making them unavailable to marketplace populism. As a result, and despite the influence of rich families, they were less impressionable and largely incorruptible.

Instead, we live in a world in which Rupert Murdoch can say, when asked about his opposition to the European Union, "When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice."

We go about our daily business on a planet in which I'm compelled to remain loyal to some sort of ridiculous club to take part in political life.

It's a place where I have never cast a vote that's actually made a difference — because of ever-shifting political positions drawn up by majority governments based on internal compromises.

Is it any wonder the ancient Greek ideal appeals to me?

We've come so far in our development yet seem so intent on overcomplicating and corrupting a process that was once simple enough to make you want to weep with joy. Of course it wasn't perfect. If you didn't own land, were a woman or a slave you couldn't vote. But enlightened repairs have been made.

Reading the headlines just accelerates my ancient Greece dream. I imagine a redrawing of the election process before Donald Trump can become president. I imagine — or want to imagine — a world in which the ambition to become a politician should immediately exclude you from becoming one.

When I sleep, I dream in ancient Athens. When I wake up, I get Trump.

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