Friday, December 2, 2016

Democratic features of Solon's reforms

There are three points in the constitution of Solon which appear to be its most democratic features: first and most important, the prohibition of loans on the security of the debtor’s person; secondly, the right of every person who so willed to claim redress on behalf of any one to whom wrong was being done; thirdly, the institution of the appeal to the jurycourts; and it is to this last, they say, that the masses have owed their strength most of all, since, when the democracy is master of the voting-power, it is master of the constitution.

Moreover, since the laws were not drawn up in simple and explicit terms (but like the one concerning inheritances and wards of state), disputes inevitably occurred, and the courts had to decide in every matter, whether public or private.

Some persons in fact believe that Solon deliberately made the laws indefinite, in order that the final decision might be in the hands of the people.

This, however, is not probable, and the reason no doubt was that it is impossible to attain ideal perfection when framing a law in general terms; for we must judge of his intentions, not from the actual results in the present day, but from the general tenor of the rest of his legislation.
. . . .

These seem to be the democratic features of his laws; but in addition, before the period of his legislation, he carried through his abolition of debts, and after it his increase in the standards of weights and measures, and of the currency.

There were significant property qualifications for higher office, but most office holders were chosen by lot from among all those eligible or from lists, themselves filled by lot from among all eligible.

Terms ranged from life tenure to one year.

Some were held for life upon completion of a term in another.

Aristotle, The Constitution of Athens.

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