To an ancient Greek democrat (of any stripe), all our modern democratic systems would count as “oligarchy”. By that I mean the rule of and by – if not necessarily or expressly for – the few, as opposed to the power or control of the people, or the many (demo-kratia).
That is the case even if – and indeed because – the few happen to be elected to serve by (all) the people. For in ancient Greece elections were considered to be in themselves oligarchic. They systematically favoured the few and, more particularly, the few extremely rich citizens – or “oligarchs”
[…T]here are a number of ancient democratic notions and techniques that do seem highly attractive: the use of sortition, for instance – a random method of polling by lottery that aimed to produce a representative sample of elected officials. Or the practice of ostracism – which allowed the population to nominate a candidate who had to go into exile for 10 years, thus ending their political career.
And comparison, or rather contrast, of our democracies with those of ancient Greece does serve to highlight what’s been called creeping crypto-oligarchy in our own very different (representative, not direct) democratic systems.
Democracy in short has changed its meaning from anything like the “people power” of ancient Greece and has seemingly lost its purpose as a reflection let alone realisation of the popular will.
One can well see why Winston Churchill was once moved to describe democracy as the worst of all systems of government – apart from all the rest. But that should be no good reason for us to continue ignoring the widely admitted democratic deficit. Back to the future – with the democrats of ancient Greece.