Where did democracy begin?

The textbook answer to the question, "Where did democracy begin?" is that it began in Athens in Ancient Greece.   I think there is a lot more to it than that, but let's look at Greek democracy (and compare it to ours) first.

Greek democracy was very different from American democracy today.  Greek democracy was a direct democracy.  All of the citizens (males only - sorry ladies) were expected to assemble, debate, and vote directly on laws.  Citizens had a lot of direct control over their rule, but it took up a lot of time.

 In American democracy, we the people elect representatives to assemble, debate, and vote on the laws for us.  This is called an indirect or representative democracy.   By electing representatives, we give control over to elected officials, and that frees us up to pursue our interests, careers, and whatever else we would like to do.

Acropolis of Athens by Leo von Klenze (public domain)
It is tempting to say that Greek democracy was better, and it probably was in certain ways.  Keep in mind, however, that the number of citizens (people with power) in Ancient Athens numbered only in the thousands.  We have over one hundred million registered voters in America.  What would that kind of debate look like?  Where the heck would we have it?  Where would we all go to the bathroom?

We like to give most of the credit to the Greeks because they invented the word democracy.  Democracy is from the Greek word demokratia.  Demos means "people", and and kratos means "power".  A literal translation of the term gives us "people power."  So, yes, democracy - by that name - began in Ancient Greece.   They were the first major civilization to do it on a large scale, but the idea of allowing a group to have input goes back to the very beginning of human existence. It has to!

The early hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) were probably organized by family or clan, and these groups eventually had associations with each other.  It is completely possible, and it makes sense, that the decision makers - probably the "elders" and heads of the families - got together and discussed what to do.  These elders probably got input from their spouses and families as well.

Did Paleolithic people have official laws, assemblies, councils, voting procedures, and a capitol building?  No, of course not.  They were just trying to survive.  They did not have time for these things.  They did have decisions to make, though.  When do we move?  Where do we move?  What's with this newfangled farming thing?  Should we try it or keep banging animals over the head and finding wild onions for all of our food?

If you have spent a single day in a group of any kind (especially a family) you know that the leader gets input from everybody whether they like it or not!

What the Greeks did was that they institutionalized democracy.  They made it official.  They encouraged citizen participation.  They deserve credit, and I gave it to them in a post I wrote a few years ago.  However, the roots of democracy go much deeper than the textbooks say.

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