The word democracy is derived from two Greek words, demos, which means people, and kratos, which means rule. Today the word has come to mean exactly that, ruled by the people. Many ancient political Greek philosophers would use the phrase “the governors are to be governed” which we can relate to today. Even though the Greek’s notion of democracy is dramatically different from our current democracy, it has been one of the most influential philosophies that have shaped the political thought of the United States. Ironically the term democracy is the most used term to describe the American government even though it has little meaning in our government today.
The Athenian government was the first democracy known to the world. Athens had a government where all of the citizens took part in the decision making. Thus, everyone who qualified as a citizen could participate and did not have to be an elected representative. For one to be considered a citizen they first had to be born in Athens and had to be free. Next, once turned eighteen years of age he had to have at least two years of military training then serve in the navy or army. After he has served he could then vote. After the age of thirty he could be considered for council. The women of Athens were also considered to be citizen however they did not posses any political power.
The Athenian democracy had three main branches which were the assembly, the council, and the jurymen. The assembly had the reasonability of making the policies for Athens. The assembly could be considered the legislative branch and it was made of eligible Athenian citizens. The council enforced administrative matters and the policies. They were also in control of the military and finances. The council was made of five hundred citizens and could be considered the executive branch. The jury men had the important yet tedious job of resolving disputes of the people. There were six thousand jurymen to manage this job in the courts. The Greeks of Athens had no single head of the government and no political parties.
The United States has some similarities with Athenian democracy but very few. There are three branches, the legislative, executive, and the judicial which are similar to the three branches of Athens’s government. The legislative branch is made of the Senate and the House of Representatives. They are in charge of making the laws of the states. The House of Representatives consists of a representative from each state. There is one representative from each district in the state. The district in each state depends on the population of the state. There are four hundred and thirty five members of the House. Each of them only serve for two years and then have to run for re-election.
The Senate consists of one hundred members. Each state has two representatives in the Senate. The Senate has three times the amount of service time than the House. The Executive branch is the president and his cabinet. The president gets to appoint his cabinet which consists of several positions, the Secretary of State, Attorney General, National Security Advisor, and more. The judicial branch has nine justices as apposed to six thousand, one that serve as the Chief Justice. Once they are appointed by the president they serve for the rest of their lives.
As you can see, the American democracy doesn’t quite fit the Greek’s definition of “democracy”. They have appointed officials that can dictate how the people live. The Greek democracy actually consisted of citizens that could participate in political issues without being elected or appointed.