The basic similarity between these two comes in the fact that they are both democracies. In both cases, the people are given the ultimate authority in the political system. Beyond that, however, there are many differences between the two. We will look at two important differences here.
First, Athenian democracy was a direct democracy. The people actually voted directly on major issues. Today, we generally have indirect democracies in which we only vote for representatives who will make laws for us.
Second, Athenian democracy was much more restrictive in terms of who could participate. Women were not allowed to participate and there was a large group of slaves who could not participate either. It is believed that only about 10% of the population was allowed to participate in the democracy.
The Athenian system of democracy was different from the modern system because the Athenian government only granted the rights of citizenship to men who owned property and who had completed their military training. The system excluded women, slaves, and children from being full citizens. In addition, people who were not citizens but who lived in Athens could not vote. In today's democratic system in the United States, everyone born in the nation is considered a citizen and can vote.
In addition, citizens in Athens participated in a direct democracy in which they voted on issues. During meetings of the Ekklesia, or legislature, the 40,000 Athenian men who were citizens could show up and vote. This system is different from modern systems of democracy, such as in the United States. In the U.S., people elected to the U.S. Congress vote on issues.
In Athens, elections were determined by a system of lottery, not by choosing particular people to run for office. People's names were put into a pool for election to the Council of 500 (called the Boule), and the Dikasteria (or courts). Unlike in the U.S., in which a President serves as the head of the executive branch, no one person was nominated to be the head of the Boule, and all 500 people in the Boule ruled together.
People who served in the Dikasteria did not have special legal training, unlike in the modern U.S., where people who work as judges and lawyers have to have attended law school. In Athens, people were not arrested by the police but by other citizens, and they were tried and defended by other citizens rather than lawyers.
There are similarities and differences between Athenian democracy and modern democracy. One similarity deals with the government. In a democracy, the citizens make decisions. The purpose of government is to serve the people. The people make decisions that affect them. The government must respond to the actions that the citizens want it to take. Another similarity is that in both democracies, not all people were allowed to participate at times. Women had no role in both democracies. In Athens, they had no role at all in the democracy while in our democracy the role of women was nonexistent for a long period of time.
A difference between the democracy of Athens and our democracy today is that in Athens the people directly made the laws themselves. In our democracy, we have what is called a democratic republic. This means we elect leaders who make decisions for us. Our leaders are supposed to do what the majority of the people they represent want them to do. Our leaders make the laws that affect us. We don’t make our laws ourselves.
While Athenian democracy and modern democracy have similarities, there are some significant differences.