A riposte to Russell Brand & a cheer for democracy

There are only a few days before the General Election and I’m looking forward to casting my ballot. Democracy shouldn’t be taken for granted and the least any citizen can do is cast their vote. People have fought and died for such a freedom. As a woman, voting is something I certainly don’t take for granted as my gender has only been granted full citizenship in the last 1oo years.

Coincidentally, I just finished reading the wonderful Bernard Crick’s Essays on Citizenship for my PhD research.  In the conclusion he reminds us that the Ancient Greeks believed in a version of democracy that challenges even the best of what is on offer today. We could do worse than use this 5th century oration by Pericles as political inspiration:

“Our constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the whole people. When it is a question of settling private disputes, everyone is equal before the law; when it is a question of putting one person before another in positions of public responsibility, what counts is not membership of a particular class, but the actual ability which the man possesses.  No one, so long as he has it in him to be of service to the state, is kept in political obscurity because of poverty. And, just as our political life is free and open, so is our day-to-day life in our relations with each other.  We do not get into a state with our next-door neighbor if he enjoys himself in his own way, nor do we give him the kind of black looks which, though they do no real harm, still do hurt people’s feelings.  We are free and tolerant in our private lives; but in public affairs we keep to the law.  This is because it commands our deep respect…

Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well: even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well-informed on general politics — this is a peculiarity of ours: we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.  We Athenians, in our own persons, take our decisions on policy or submit them to proper discussions: for we do not think that there is an incompatibility between words and deeds; the worst thing is to rush into action before the consequences have been property debated…

[from Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, translated by Rex Warner (New York: Penguin Classics, 1954)].