ABSTRACT

The first efforts to replace monarchy and aristocracy by popular self-government were made among the ancient Greeks, who invented both the word “democracy” and the constitution it signified. The Athenians, who brought democracy to its highest early development, understood it to mean the self-government or autonomy of the community or polis. Although they also came to appreciate the need to respect the autonomy of the individual, they restricted this form of autonomy to male citizens, and generally believed that the autonomy of the polis took precedence over that of the individual. The subdivisions of the polis—the family, the village and the tribe—were understood to be integral parts of the whole, rather than independent components, and there was no separation of religion and society. The emphasis was therefore very much on communal autonomy. Athenians put so much emphasis on communal autonomy, i.e., the autonomy of the polis, that they failed to develop an understanding of democracy that would have had broader appeal and would have balanced communal autonomy with the autonomy of individuals and sub-groups.