The Ancient Athenian Lesson: Law as the Guardian of Democracy in the Battle for American Politics

Austin, Texas – As the legal battle over former President Donald Trump’s eligibility to run for office again reaches the US Supreme Court, many are expressing concern over the increasing role courts play in determining the democratic process. However, one law professor argues that the history of law itself demonstrates that it is not in conflict with democracy, but rather a crucial safeguard against tyranny.

Examining the ancient democracy of Athens, the law professor highlights the connection between law and democracy as laid down by its notable lawgivers – Draco, Solon, and Cleisthenes. The democratic constitution of classical Athens arose from an insurrection and the subsequent realization of the need for stronger foundations. Athenian law, particularly concerned with preventing tyranny, emerged with Draco’s written legal code.

Of particular interest is the procedure of ostracism, introduced by Cleisthenes in 508BC. This procedure functioned as a powerful check on the ambitions of potential tyrants. Athenians would vote on whether to trigger the ostracism process, without knowing in advance who would be banished. If the vote was in favor, a subsequent vote would occur, where citizens would scratch the name of the leader they wanted banished on a potsherd. The person with the most appearances on these potsherds would be banished from the city for a decade. Ostracism helped maintain political stability in Athens for over a century and a half, amidst a turbulent world.

While Athenians were famously litigious and the legal system was susceptible to abuses, Athenians held their laws in deep reverence. The philosopher Aristotle even believed that law made human society possible. The resilience of Athenian democracy itself, enduring major conflicts with Persia and Sparta, is a testament to the success of their laws.

Drawing from this historical wisdom, the law professor reminds readers that law is essential for protecting against tyranny and ensuring that rule by the people remains possible. As the US grapples with its democratic future, the professor emphasizes the need for a steadfast commitment to the law by the people in order to maintain the democratic principles upon which the nation was founded.

In the midst of ongoing debates surrounding American democracy, the insights from ancient Athens offer valuable perspective. While concerns are raised over the judicial intervention in political matters, the professor provides a compelling argument that law and democracy are not mutually exclusive. In fact, a strong adherence to the rule of law is vital in safeguarding democratic values and preserving the rights of the people. The history of law in Athens serves as a stark reminder that a society’s devotion to its laws can pave the way for political stability and protect against the rise of tyranny.

Ultimately, the lesson learned from Athens is that the democratic process can thrive alongside a robust legal system. The people must remain resolute in their commitment to the principles of law and justice, as they have the power to shape the future of their democracy.