Every democracy, ancient and modern, endures the tension between two contrasting principles. The first is the egalitarian one: it is only right that all members of the community have an equal opportunity to contribute to decisions that affect everyone in that community. The second principle asserts that political regimes are rightful only if they ensure the common good (a valid idea for a democrat, too): from this point it follows that it is right that only those most capable, necessarily few, decide for all. The purpose of this essay is to rebuild the reasonings by which, in the Greek world of the fifth century BC, the democrats claimed the validity of democracy as a form of government not only ‘just’, but above all ‘capable of governing well’: against the anti-democratic tradition according to which good governance could not be achieved by a regime in which the vote of a carpenter, a cobbler, a rough peasant, weighed as much as that of a member of the elites. Almost always the texts at our disposal offer us only quick hints, minimal argumentative fragments: but these fragments, placed side by side, reveal an intimate and unexpected mutual consistency. Thus five ‘democratic theses’ emerge, interconnected with each other: therefore we can deduce the actual existence of a ‘democratic theory of democracy’ in the Greek world aimed at showing how the government of the many is more effective than the government of the few better ones (or self-styled such). At the same time, surprising and enlightening consonance is evident with modern and contemporary political thought: since, even after thousands of years, similar theoretical problems lead to necessarily similar reasonings.
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Gianfranco Mosconi (1974) is adjunct professor of Greek History (University of Cassino and Southern Lazio and University of Tuscia). He teaches Classical Literature at the Liceo ‘F. Vivona’ in Rome. He has published extensively on several topics: Athenian democracy of the Periclean age and its connections with music, education, economics, military strategy; structure and meaning of Plato’s Atlantis and its revivals; music and philosophy in Polybius; ancient Roman political thought.