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5.0 out of 5 stars Overall Review, 27 Oct 2012
Moses I. Finley writes with the eloquence and confidence that only the best social historian of Ancient Greece can. In this neat book Finley is trying to at first introduce us to what he deems to be a a great democratic civilisation, Ancient Athens, which he then contrasts with our democracy with the overall aim of enriching ours. Finley is inspired to publish this book by the increasing political apathy and political ignorance which, he believes, is harmful to modern democracy. He is simply unconvinced by elitist theories that argues that political apathy is a "virtue" that is transformed into a good political tool through a periodic voting of "experts" or "elites". However, Finley admits that he does not know the answer on how to fix this problem, which I believe contributes to the effectiveness of his work, allowing his work to take up a role as a book which expand our horizons. Ancient Athens then was as direct a democracy as one is going to get. For example, every decision of the state was voted for in an open air mass gathering of eligible citizens (over 18 male Athenians), where a minimum of 6000 citizens have to be present for the session to start and every decision of the state was made. Finley goes through, in some details, how the system works and the pros and cons of Athenian democracy and society. He then explores themes that both Athenian democracy and modern democracy grapple with or have a complete different opinion on. Themes such as how a national consensus is determined, what is the national interest? What are the limits of freedom of speech? And how does that effect censorship in a democracy are all touched upon.
This book is the written version of a series of lectures that Finley delivered to a university audience. This makes the book a smooth, fascinating read that avoids the trap many academics fall into by making their work boring and disinteresting by the style of their writing. Finley does dedicate time to the root of key Greek words and phrases, which is slow to read, and at times declares that some words have no adequate English substitute, which leaves you bewildered as to why he went down that path.
Overall, Finley is a faithful believer in the power of the public interest and participation in securing the political and social outcomes desirable for the public. He argues that though the Athenians made mistakes (Sicilian expedition being an example) a political system whereby the population is interested and participating is on much firmer ground then a political system that borrows a theory or two from elitism (you can't preserve liberty by castrating it he declares). In the end Finley muses about the advantages of a government as a continued effort of mass education and having faith in the public while he pushes aside a certain vision of a "good life" instead opting for a vision of a "good" involvement in political life. One can not return to the chaotic system of open air parliament in a mass urban democracy but one does wonder if a more open source, using the internet as a medium, government will contribute to what Finley is arguing for.
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Democracy Ancient and Modern: Revised Edition (Mason Welch Gross Lectureship Series)
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