The Century of Pericles (directed by Claude Weill)

The Century of Pericles (directed by Claude Weill)

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A regime that some have qualified, according to Churchill, as "the worst except for all the others", democracy has not always flourished, as we reminded us " The century of Pericles », Compilation of articles from a few pages of recognized authors, including François Hartog. Saving approach back to basics in these times when distinct notions such as "democracy" and "republic" merge.

Thus in France we have taken the annoying habit, in the media or within the various governments, of confusing these two concepts, France, especially after the republican consensus of the years 1900-1930 studied by Serge Berstein, seeing in the republic the most democratic form of government there is. However, not all republic is necessarily democratic (as evidenced by the case of China, which is democratic in name only).

Contemporary democracy, a utopia

As a political regime based on the sovereignty - direct or indirect - of all citizens, democracy concerns many countries in the world. At least equally bloated are the heads of state attaching their country to the label of democracy. However, let us learn to be wary of recognized and obvious facts. Democracy shares this common point with communism, that of never having existed ("there has never been a true democracy, and there never will be", dixit Rousseau, chapter IV, book III, Du Contrat Social ). However, is it not easy to conclude so quickly. De facto, the meanings of the word "democracy" distort the game, Athenian democracy hardly resembling democracy in the contemporary sense of the word. This book is an invitation to dive back into the Athenian laboratory of the 5th century BC. AD, century and place symbolized by Pericles, who was one of those who consecrated Athens as an intellectual and artistic capital, hence the title of the work.

The original democracy: Athens as a laboratory of ideas

Athenian democracy (etymologically "power to the people") was more limited and more radical than ours, which also added the principle of human rights. Reserved only for free men - approximately 40,000 people - democracy excluded slaves, metics and women from all citizenship. Only a few thousand citizens, organized in the Assembly (ekklèsia), which met forty times a year and could vote the laws (the Boulè, a council of five hundred members, prepared these laws), declare war and proclaim the peace, therefore wielded power directly.

The citizens elected or even drew lots for the magistrates who had a responsibility in the city for a year. A people's court had been established, the Heliee, which was based on isonomy, that is to say equality between all citizens, and whose purpose was to settle disputes in Athenian society. More serious matters, such as criminal matters, fell under the jurisdiction of the Areopagus, another tribunal made up of former archons. In Athens, democracy, then a singular regime, which had gradually taken hold, notably under the action of Cleisthenes (508), did not create a consensus and was, as we know, strongly exhausted by a Plato who held her to be the mother of tyranny: had she not in fact condemned her master Socrates to death?

In short, if Athenian democracy may have appeared imperfect, however, we must be vigilant and not conclude that it “is” or that it “is not” a democracy because such or such characteristic of contemporary democracy cannot did not apply to it: so we must, for example, exclude any moralizing remarks on the place of women in Athenian society.

A synthetic approach

One could have criticized this book, if it had not contained 165 pages, for its lack of exhaustiveness. However, on the contrary, does it constitute a seductive, altogether synthetic approach to the democratic question in Athens in the 5th century BC? AD Good idea to have dealt with it in about twenty short articles, which allow easy understanding of a large number of aspects of this diet, but also of the daily life of Athenians in the time of Socrates. However, this painting of Athens is also a drawback, the reader sometimes seeking the connection with democracy (first part especially). The fact remains that, despite this sketch of the background, "The Century of Pericles" has the merit of clarifying a notion whose origin remains, if not unrecognized, at least very vague, not only among the general public but also in circles. political and journalistic.

The Century of Pericles, collective. CNRS Editions, 2010.

Video: Law and Justice - Challenge of the Sophists - Pericles and the Ideals of Athenian Democracy


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