Saturday, 1 March 2008


Listening to people talk about "politics" today, I feel very sad about the lack of basic understanding that most people have about "politics." I'm not talking about party positions or philosophical positions. I'm talking about the basics of politics.

To understand politics in our society, we need to reflect on "the cradle of democracy" -- ancient Greece. The Greeks had an wonderful word -- politeia. (That is the word from which we have our English words "politics" and "political.") That Greek word meant citizenship -- particularly "the rights and responsibilities of the citizen" — and citizens collectively.

But over the millennia we have developed "political institutions," of two kinds.

First, there are assemblies, which bring people together: city councils, legislatures, parliaments, congresses, etc. These are now filled with "elected representatives."

Second, there are parties: associations or groups of people who tend to think the same way about most things.

The flaw with these "political institutions" is that they have taken away — usurped — the rights and responsibilities of of citizens. Their actions deprive ordinary citizens of their politeia -- their "politics. "About the only thing left is the "right" and "responsibility" to put an "X" on a particular line of a particular piece of paper at particular times.

The loss of those rights is a historic study in itself.

There was a time when the leaders of the assemblies might have been "the brightest and best" — but more often they were simply the people who had the most power — either economic or military. With today's assemblies, there are lots of bright people on the outside — often brighter that the elected representatives. But because the elected hold the power — power which they are usually reluctant to share — we citizens have lost the core of our citizenship.

The time has come for us to reclaim our politeia -- our citizenship.

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