Illusions of Democracy in the Hellenistic World
Democracy during the Hellenistic period experienced widespread diffusion as well as a shift towards vaguer meaning and more expandable usage. Specific examples, then, help to shed light on the factors that increase this discrepancy between illusion and reality within a democracy.
<p>Examples of Hellenistic democracies highlight a growing discrepancy between reality and illusion that is inherent in any political constitution, but most especially in democracy. There are two main factors which undermined the reality of the democratic sovereignty of the people within the Hellenistic democracies examined in this discourse: first, the rule of the people was undercut by direct or indirect influence of external kings; second, democracy shifts from a reality to an illusion as more and more political offices are inherited by an elite of wealthy and politically influential families. This elite exploited the tradition of publicly commemorating citizens who were great benefactors of the state or had performed some magisterial service. By developing the tradition of public, competitive, and therefore theatrical, contribution and service to the polis, the wealthy elite made their political power acceptable, ensured a family legacy of political leadership, and most importantly, established an oligarchic regime without abolishing the democratic institutions. The awarding of honorific titles (e.g. "the son of the polis") created the illusion that the community was a big family, and expressed the expectation that the members of the elite would treat their polis with the same affectionate care that loving sons treat their mothers. Theatrical behavior of kings and statesmen displayed affability and closeness to the people. Taking into consideration the Hellenistic paradigm of theatricality, one can critically study the theatrical behavior of both the modern elite and statesmen who attempt to create a deceptive image of themselves by exploiting the possibilities of the mass media. <br /><br /></p>
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