Athens may have been getting a rough press of late but today we turn to her for inspiration as the birthplace of democracy – that ideal that invests power in the individual.
Around 500 BC, a canny Attic politician by the name of Cleisthenes foresaw that the only way to beat off those muscular Spartans was to break down the petty factions that were undermining Athenian society. For too long the infighting of the ruling elite had been bickering over who would rule the Acropolis. Cleisthenes called on the people to back him. Every tanner, blacksmith and street urchin would have a voice. This was investing kratos – power – in the demos – people. Surprisingly, even to Cleithenes who cleared out before the Spartans made their move, it worked. The masses rallied to protect their Athens and a new super power was born.
There is a message here for all of us – that our civilisation works best when each individual has choice – where they have control over their destiny. As Einstein argued;
“The really valuable thing in the pageant of human life seems to me not the political state, but the creative, sentient individual, the personality; it alone creates the noble and the sublime, while the herd as such remains dull in thought and dull in feeling.”