Recoiling from the power that Athenian democracy placed in the hands of the poor, the founding fathers of the United States took Athens as primarily an anti-model, whereas nineteenth-century defenders of slavery found Athens a very congenial model indeed, seeming as it did to lend a mantle of legitimacy to an unspeakable practice. After a “honeymoon period” in which democracy was idealized as the only legitimate form of government, now at the outset of the twenty-first century the alliance of democracy with a capitalism that often proves heartless to the less fortunate has raised some troubling questions about democracy itself. Despite its small size, classical Athens offers valuable guidance for tempering current difficulties in both the United States and elsewhere by adopting and adapting the selection of some officials by sortition, direct election by popular vote of elected officials, a rigorous system of accountability, and the fostering of civic and community values.

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