Principles of Representative Government by Bernard Manin

By Bernard Manin

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The Athenians, like many Greek peoples, put their faith in the drawing of lots. However, we must not form a false impression of a process that has been used as a subject of reproach against the Athenian 40 41 H a n s e n , The Athenian Democracy, p p . 2 5 5 - 6 , 1 3 9 . Nicolas-Denis Fustel d e C o u l a n g e s , La Cite antique [1864], Book III, ch. 10 (Paris: F l a m m a r i o n , 1984) p p . 2 1 0 - 1 3 . See also Fustel d e C o u l a n g e s , " R e c h e r c h e s s u r le tirage a u sort a p p l i q u e a la n o m i n a t i o n d e s a r c h o n t e s a t h e n i e n s , " in Nouvelle Revue Historique de droit francais et etranger, 1878, 2, p p .

57 However, the assertion is ambiguous and in any case applies to only one of the uses of lot, namely the selection of magistrates proper. In fact, appointment by lot did not affect the formal definition of functions or powers. The formal powers of magistrates were indeed limited, but this was because they were subject to constant monitoring by the Assembly and the courts. Selection by lot guaranteed more specifically that individuals serving as magistrates would not enjoy extra power by virtue of their expertise.

58 Democracy consisted in placing decisive power in the hands of amateurs, the people the Athenians called hoi idiotai. 59 That kind of rhetorical strategy obviously presupposed that those listening saw it as normal and legitimate that ordinary citizens should occupy magistracies. "60 The myth that Plato has Protagoras recount undoubtedly gives expression to a key element of democratic thinking. Plato, of course, had no sympathy for democracy and regarded Protagoras as an opponent whose ideas had to be refuted.

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