I’ve just finished reading Daniela Cammack’s PhD thesis (one chapter was presented recently here by Peter Stone) and would warmly recommend it — it’s mercifully short and extremely readable (available to download on the Harvard website). Chapter 3: The Most Democratic Branch? The Assembly vs. the Courts is of particular interest as it seeks to overturn the view that a) the assembly was the primary institution of Athenian democracy and b) the fourth-century reforms were conservative in nature. Cammack’s interpretation supports Yoram and Terry’s view that the switch in emphasis to randomly-selected institutions was in order to enhance the rule of the demos, rather than being a juridical a check on popular sovereignty (the view of Hansen, Ostwald, Sealey [and myself]). The courts (both legislative and juridical) were much less open to manipulation by elites as a) speech rights were restricted to litigants and persons elected by the assembly, b) isegoria was balanced by the use of a water clock and c) secret voting meant that it was harder to intimidate citizens into voting in any way other than by their considered judgment (aided by the higher minimum age and need to swear the dikastic oath). She provides several examples of assembly decisions that were heavily influenced by factional and elite domination
The take-home message of the chapter (p.172) is:
The form of representation used in Athens, the selection of a representative sample, is perfectly familiar to modern political science and proved to be an effective way of creating and protecting popular rule in Athens. It would be worth exploring how far it might also be used to benefit modern democratic politics . . . An inspiring starting point is E. Callenbach and M. Phillips, A Citizen Legislature . . .
This chapter is available individually on SSRN
Cammack, however, is sceptical regarding the claim that the lot-selected bodies were deliberative in the modern ‘external-collective’ sense of the word, as discussed in the thread initiated by Peter. She only devotes one paragraph to the council, in which she speculates (the primary sources are largely silent) that the deliberative style of the council may well have been similar to the assembly — i.e. a small number of semi-professional “politicians” speaking and the majority simply listening and then voting. Her focus is throughout on the allotted courts as the primary institution, so provides comfort to kleroterians, but not deliberative or epistemic democrats, as the courts were not deliberative in the Habermasian sense of the word.
Here’s the abstract of the thesis
Conventional accounts of classical Athenian democracy represent the assembly as the primary democratic institution in the Athenian political system. This looks reasonable in the light of modern democracy, which has typically developed through the democratization of legislative assemblies. Yet it conflicts with the evidence at our disposal. Our ancient sources suggest that the most significant and distinctively democratic institution in Athens was the courts, where decisions were made by large panels of randomly selected ordinary citizens with no possibility of appeal.
This dissertation reinterprets Athenian democracy as “dikastic democracy” (from the Greek dikastēs, “judge”), defined as a mode of government in which ordinary citizens rule principally through their control of the administration of justice. It begins by casting doubt on two major planks in the modern interpretation of Athenian democracy: first, that it rested on a conception of the “wisdom of the multitude” akin to that advanced by epistemic democrats today, and second that it was “deliberative,” meaning that mass discussion of political matters played a defining role. The first plank rests largely on an argument made by Aristotle in support of mass political participation, which I show has been comprehensively misunderstood. The second rests on the interpretation of the verb “bouleuomai” as indicating speech, but I suggest that it meant internal reflection in both the courts and the assembly. The third chapter begins the constructive part of the project by comparing the assembly and courts as instruments of democracy in Athens, and the iii fourth shows how a focus on the courts reveals the deep political dimensions of Plato’s work, which in turn suggests one reason why modern democratic ideology and practice have moved so far from the Athenians’ on this score.
Throughout, the dissertation combines textual, philological and conceptual analysis with attention to institutional detail and the wider historical context. The resulting account makes a strong case for the relevance of classical Athens today, both as a source of potentially useful procedural mechanisms and as the point of origin of some of the philosophical presuppositions on which the modern conception of democracy and its limits depends.