The Temptation of Electoral Ostracism: The Ancient Athenian Way

When we speak about democracy it is inevitable that we go back to Athens. Acknowledge as one of the first place were the practice of democracy was started. However. It is a democracy somewhat unfamiliar to us – only a specific group of Athenian males were allowed to vote. And they had instituted certain democratic practices we do not use, although for us it is a social control often employed: Ostracism.

During the time of Pericles and Themistocles the democratic process of ostracism was used. Any Athenian could be sent away from the city for a period of time – 10 years would be the norm as I remember. This was a democratic process similar to an election. The candidate to be ostracised was nominated and he was given two chances to defend himself, refute the charges and convince the electorate not to send him away.

Anyone could be nominated. One could be charge with corruption, a social crime or even becoming too powerful.

And if you “won” your wealth would not be confiscated but you would not be allowed to bring it with you. The ostracized just had to leave.

This was different from the legal process where one could lose one’s property or head. The Great Athenian statesman Pericles was ostracized and even the legendary Themistocles suffered the same fate – ironically the hero and general of the Battle of Salamis ended up as a satrap of the Persian Empire.

In recent years they found archeological evidence of electoral process of ostracism – two jars filled with pieces of clay that bore the name of the electors.

Given the enormity of corruption and incompetence of our leaders; Then compound it with the legal constipation of our courts there are times when I wished, despite its inherent flaws and abuse, we could bring back the electoral process of ostracism, at least one would not be burdened by corruption and incompetence protected by tenure and an army of lawyers.

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