f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

April 15, 2005

taxes and sycophants in athens

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 12:45 am

Like last year, I hereby declare this website a tax-whiner-free zone today.  By coincidence, 

while reading last night, I came upon the following brief description of the way they

“paid for Democracy” in ancient Athens, in Paul Woodruff’s little gem, First Democracy:

The Challenge of an Ancient Idea (Oxford Press, 2005):

 

                                                                                                              “TaxDayN” 

 

“The hard labor of slaves paid for just about everything in the ancient Mediterranean, 

including democracy.”


      “Throughout the period of democracy, wealthy residents of Athens

were subject to special levies, depending on their wealth and the needs

of the city.  The richest 2 or 3 percent were expected to pay for the

religious festivals that gave Athens both a civic life and a public education.

These included dramatic performances.  Citizens only, most often the super

rich, were expected to pay for the ships in the navy of Athens.  Both military

and religious financial duties were known as liturgies; they were a source of

pride and fame to the rich.  After performing a liturgy, you would be exempt

from further demands for a year, or, in the case of paying for ships, two years.

How were the donors selected?  It was an honor to be asked to perform a

liturgy, but if you thought someone else was richer, and that he therefore should

be ahead of you in line to pay for a ship or a festival, you could challenge him in

court, either to exchange his wealth for yours or to take on the liturgy.”


 FirstDemocracy   I wonder what Walter Olson and Evan Schaeffer (or even Judge

Preska) think of the Popular Court of Athens, as described  in First Democracy (at 50):


     “The right to bring charges now emerges [circa 462 B.C.] as an important

democratic principle.  Ordinary citizens could bring charges against leaders

of the government, and thereby make powerful people accountable to the

popular courts for their actions.  Penalties for frivolous lawsuits were heavy,

however.  If a prosecutor won less than one-fifth of the votes on his jury, he

would be punished by a heavy fine (1,000 drachmas).

 

       “The right to bring charges had an unwanted consequence– easy blackmail.

Sycophants made a living by theatening law suits against people who could afford

to pay them off.  Popular juries were unpredictable, and could be hostile to

aristocrats.  To many aristocrats, and evn to ordinary people, sycophants were the

worse consequence of democracy.”  

An interesting wrinkle that might please a lot of Americans: “There were no professionals

in the law.  Any citizen could prosecute, and anyone who was brought to trial had to

defend himself.”

 

p.s.  Woodruff’s call to get back to the original meaning of democracy — of the people and for

all the people (not just the majority) — is an important message.  Woodruff admires the democratic

ideal “because it takes human imperfections into account better than any other ideal of government.”

His suggestions for making America more democratic in spirit and reality are worthy of discussion

in another post.

 

 



where there’s people
there’s flies
and Buddhas


 

 




people of the capital
in parasol shade
drinking sake

 

 

 

 




pure mountain water–
people coming and going
muddy it



       –  from Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue





 

 

 

8 Comments

  1. propecia http://www.bestrxpills.com

    Comment by Daniel — July 5, 2005 @ 4:36 am

  2. propecia http://www.bestrxpills.com

    Comment by Daniel — July 5, 2005 @ 4:36 am

  3. The text was good, but i stil cant find the play ipdates. looking for it dude.

    Comment by Joe Fuentes — July 22, 2005 @ 10:03 pm

  4. The text was good, but i stil cant find the play ipdates. looking for it dude.

    Comment by Joe Fuentes — July 22, 2005 @ 10:03 pm

  5. A heap of wheat, says the Song of Songs
    but I’ve never seen wheat in a pile :)
    did you like it?

    Comment by Peter Jackson — July 23, 2005 @ 5:14 pm

  6. A heap of wheat, says the Song of Songs
    but I’ve never seen wheat in a pile :)
    did you like it?

    Comment by Peter Jackson — July 23, 2005 @ 5:14 pm

  7. Nice one, but what about der weg ? anywya, congrats from me.

    Comment by Richard Davis — July 24, 2005 @ 6:34 pm

  8. Nice one, but what about der weg ? anywya, congrats from me.

    Comment by Richard Davis — July 24, 2005 @ 6:34 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress