Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"There's something monstrous about crowds, you know.
"Solon saw it in the disenfranchised, the poor masses not benefitted even by his laws.
"In horror, he saw that to control, he'd have to become a tyrant.
"So, when his time as magistrate was up, he stepped down.
"Pesistratus came to power because of Solon's reluctance to act.
"And even the Tyrant didn't slay the monster. He manipulated it, controlled it.
"And now that he's gone, it's about to wake up."
Good to see that historical political leaders had about as much respect for the masses as current day politicians.
There is a well known quote from Churchill from 1947, some two years after winning the war yet promptly being defeated in a general election some two months later (July 1945) that perfectly sums up my own feelings about the current state of parliamentary (and indeed Presidential)-led democracy. It goes along the lines of "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."
But at least we have the right to choose between our politicians, if not much else. For as Churchill also commented, upon hearing that he'd lost the election, whilst taking a bath, "They have a perfect right to kick me out. That is democracy". Quite so.
Neither of those quotes feature in this epic study of our most seemingly civilised arrangement of the structures of power and those who wield it. On our behalf and at our behest, obviously. If not always for our benefit... Because this work focuses squarely on the where and when the creators perceive that democracy itself was painfully birthed: 490BC in Athens.
Obviously a concept as grand as democracy itself can't really be pinpointed to any specific time or place as such, but the creators make a compelling case for supposing this region was sufficient a nexus of influential people and their conflicting, competing and occasionally even overlapping and even mutually beneficial interests, as to be the melting pot from which a cohesive elected structure that hadn't been previously seen on such a large scale, to emerge and take the reins and responsibilities, and of course, rewards, of power. All is told through the fictional eyes of Leander, an idealistic young man whose eyes are dramatically opened to the power struggles of the not-so-great or good with the death of his father in a riot.
I can't help feeling a shade disappointed by this work. In comparison to the magnificent LOGICOMIX where I was utterly engaged by the story they were telling, I found my attention waning slightly as I read through this. It is undoubtedly a very well researched exploration of events at that time, but it just didn't captivate me in the same manner. I note with interest it is the same Greek artist as LOGICOMIX but he's written this himself, in conjunction with a Greek 'cultural studies theorist' writers, so I wonder if that was the difference for me. In some ways I think I would have preferred a look at the 'development' of democracy through the ages to our modern day, but I quite understand that would have been a gargantuan undertaking.
Anyway, what is painfully apparent from reading this is that no one back then was involved for purely altruistic reasons. Manipulation, spin-doctoring, blackmail, rigging of elections, intimidation, murder, all were prevalent, perhaps even tacitly accepted as merely part of the process by those involved. In a word, politics, of the dirtiest possible kind, is what was practised at the time. You can make a case for saying that nothing much has changed over the years, even in our civilised Western democratic societies. Just perhaps the scale of these malpractices has been ratcheted down, replaced by an ever more devious sophistication and accomplished concealment.