Ancient Greece is often referred to as the birthplace of Western democracy. The rise of the American system of government took a great deal of inspiration from what was achieved in Athens and other cities of the time. However, the United States' government and ancient Greece's have a number of substantial differences.
Athenian Democracy Was Exclusive
While America has a past history of keeping women, minorities and non-property owners from the voting process, the country's current system is much more open than the one in place in ancient Athens. Women, racial minorities and immigrants were not viewed as citizens in Greece, and they had very little influence on the political process. Only male citizens over the age of 18 had a place in the political process. The rights afforded to citizens and non-citizens differed greatly, whereas the current American system provides equal protection to all citizens.
Direct vs. Representative Democracy
Ancient Greek government featured a direct representational structure. This meant that all eligible voters had input in many of the decisions that were made in contrast to the American republic style of government in which voters election politicians who cast votes on the issues at hand on their behalf. The ancient Greek system theoretically gave participants a much greater say in the actions of the state.
Greek Government Featured a Lottery System
While the modern American uses presidential nominations, court appointments, elections and other methods to fill government positions, the Greek system took a different approach. Members of the council were chosen by manner of random selection. This lottery system gave every citizen the chance to serve in government roles. This body was referred to as "The Council of 500." Chosen members could serve for a maximum of two years and would handle daily governmental operations such as budget allotment. America has no comparable apparatus for placing people in similar government roles.
Ancient Greece was a Slave Holding Nation
America and ancient Greece used to have similar stances on slaves, however, American democracy became more equal after amendments to its Constitution outlawing slavery and giving African Americans voting and citizen rights. The fact that slavery played a substantial role in the Greek economy and culture complicates the notion that ancient government operated a pure democracy. The social stratification of residents was not limited to whether or not a person had the ability to vote. The idea that all people are created equal is put forth as central to modern American government.
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