It’s ‘International Day of Democracy’ (15 September). So I have just written my forthcoming review for History Today of Paul Cartledge’s outstanding new Democracy: A Life. A major argument underpinning his superb volume is that we don’t pay enough attention to the meaning of the –cracy part of the word.
|Image Honouring Athenian anti-tyranny law of 336 BCE|
That is one reason why the Athenian democracy did not deteriorate into an oligarchy but functioned effectively for close on two hundred years. The understandable frustration with inadequate representation lies beneath the loyalty of grass-roots UK Labour Party members towards Jeremy Corbyn (whatever you think of his un-coruscating performance as leader).
|DAMOKRATIA (4TH CENTURY BCE)|
But most personifications in history have been hideous harridans conceived by opponents of democratisation, as in post-French-revolution British cartoons. Other visualisations are just ludicrous; witness the colossal ‘Democracy Monument’ in
|A 1798 anti-reform cartoon|
|Bangkok 'Democracy Monument'(1939)|
Come to think of it, the ‘International Day of Democracy’ was invented in 2007 by a United Nations committee chaired by—wait for it—Qatar, which not only uses forced labour but is to all intents and purposes an absolute hereditary monarchy (not to mention the floggings, outlawing of atheism, trade unions, homosexuality etc.). This is despite a cosmetically enhanced consultative council and assembly.
Like Paul Cartledge, I am both convinced that ''real' democracy--government of the people, by the people, for the people--is the way forward for human civilisation and that the word and ideal are all too frequently traduced. I don’t think we should take today's celebrations too seriously.