The Origin of Democracy
Press TV (2015)
In this Press TV documentary about “democracy” in early Athens and Rome, what intrigued me most is that it glosses over burning questions that are glossed over in high school social studies. It has always mystified me why the Athenians put Socrates to death and why the Roman Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official Roman religion in 313 AD – when only 20% of Romans were Christian and the emperor himself was non-Christian (he converted shortly before his death).
According to the Iranian scholars interviewed in this film, the supposed Athenian democracy was actually ruled by a hereditary nobility. Socrates ran afoul of them because he taught the Athenian form of government was actually a type of demagoguery. He was also highly critical of their lack of concern about morality, justice or the massive social inequality present in Athens at the time.
At the time of Socrates, only about 1/8 of the Athenian population (the landowners comprising the nobility) were allowed any input into government. Women and slaves (who comprised 3/4 of the population) and foreign non-slaves (about 10% of the population) were automatically excluded.
In addition to examining the contrasting political systems in the city-states of Athens and Sparta, the film looks at the Roman Republic (509-37 BC), which combined elements of both. It attributes attributes Constantine’s 313 AD Edict of Milan (which made Christianity the official religion) to a desire to unify the population during a period of growing class warfare and growing conflict with the Persian (Iranian) Empire. The latter, which stretched from the Indus to the Nile Rivers, was an enemy of Rome.
The film also explores two distinct differences between Western and Eastern systems of governance. Slavery was far more prominent under Western “democracy” and leaders were much hard to depose when they became corrupt. In contrast, Persian emperors were deposed when they became corrupt and lost the support of the people they ruled.
*A demogogue is someone who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power.