Monday, 19 March 2007

Mumia Abu-Jamal -- When Democracy Equals Empire

From Suryu

Every American president, whether Democrat or Republican, conservative or liberal, speaks lovingly of 'democracy', whenever the nation engages in some escapade abroad. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, it did so, ostensibly, to 'bring democracy to the Middle East.' When it launches a raid in Grenada, or rains death on a poor neighborhood in Panama, when it invaded Haiti in the last century, ad infinitum, it always did so in the name of 'restoring democracy.'

What is this democracy of which they so blithely speak?

We all have heard the term since our infancy, but who really knows what it means? I wanted to learn more about it, so I began to read one of the finest historians I know of,
the great C.L.R. James, author of the ground-breaking *The Black Jacobins*, an influential study of the Haitian Revolution. Some years ago, James published a pamphlet titled, *Every Cook Can Govern: A Study of Democracy in Ancient Greece* (Jackson, MS: New Mississippi, Inc., Mar. 1986). I found myself (as I often am when I read his stuff) blown away by what I learned. As his subtitle suggests, James looks at Greek history for the roots of the democratic idea, and finds it, in some stages, truly democratic, in ways we can hardly imagine. He writes:

Perhaps the most striking thing about Greek democracy was that the administration (and there were immense administrative problems) was organized upon the basis of what is known as sortition, or, more easily, selection by lot. The vast majority of Greek officials were chosen by a method which amounted to putting names into a hat and appointing the ones whose names came out. Now the average C10 bureaucrat or Labor Member of Parliament in Britain would fall in a fit if it was suggested to him that any worker selected at random could do the work he is doing. But that was precisely
the guiding principle of Greek democracy. And this form of government is the government under which flourished the greatest civilization the world has ever known. [p.1.]

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