Discussion Forum: Week 11

This week, our Assembly sessions focus on questions of citizenship: who should be a citizen in Athens? What incentives should there be to encourage citizens to participate in governing the city? Pick a text from the first half of the semester, and briefly discuss how it connects with these questions. What views do the characters in Plato and Aristophanes express about citizenship? What reservations can you imagine these authors might have about expanding or encouraging civic participation? Where do you see Plato and Aristophanes questioning or promoting democratic ideals of expansive citizenship?

Respond directly to the prompt, or to comments from your fellow students below. Remember that to receive credit for participating, you must comment at least once before the start of class on Wednesday. Please respond as yourself, out of character.

47 thoughts on “Discussion Forum: Week 11

  1. Everyone born in Athens should receive citizenship. If foreigners want to become citizens there should be a waitlist, and a formal test evaluating one’s commitment to Athens. I don’t think there should be too many incentives encouraging one to participate in government. One should participate on their own accord. Incentives relating to money can lead to corruption and an unfair democracy. Socrates thinks that citizens shouldn’t be paid to perform their civic duties

    1. I agree with Ben’s points here, and to expand on his last sentence surrounding Socrates’ thought that citizens shouldn’t be paid to perform civic duties, we can see in Apology the idea that private citizen’s survive, and have more effective methods of serving the public when they do so as themselves, as private citizens. I took from the quote that people who act as a member of government, a bureaucrat, a “public servant” that is paid, allows room for corruption and incentive issues.

      “If I’d tried to enter political life way back, I would’ve perished long ago and I would have been of no benefit at all either to you or myself. don’t get angry at my telling the truth: for there is no one on earth who will survive if he genuinely opposes you or any other democracy and prevents much injustice and lawbreaking taking place in the city; but he who actual fact fights on behalf of what is just must, if he’s going to survive even for a short time, do so in his capacity as a private citizen and not as public servant.”

    2. I agree that incentives must be thought about carefully to reduce the likelihood of corruption and unjust practice. With similar goals, I am intrigued by Socrates’ ideas of having a philosopher ruling class, separate from the aristocratic elite that typically dominate the political realm. This system might lead to a more thoughtful outcomes that benefit more than just those in power. However, for this to succeed it would require that the philosophers who are ultimately enlisted to take on this duty must be properly vetted. Doing so seems a tricky task with no real objective measures that can be taken since philosophy really is quite subjective.

      Another valuable idea that Socrates brings up is that of a meritocratic system. Again, the process of implementing this is difficult as it raises the question of how do we judge who is best suited to perform a certain task. If Athens can figure this out, there is no doubt that it will regain its glory.

    3. I agree with Ben. I firmly believe that everyone who has shown devotion to the prosperity of Athens should be given a chance. Although I do understand the hesitation. It is important to discover someone’s true intentions before they become a citizen. This is why I think that everyone should have to pass a test of loyalty. Whether it be a look into their history to see how they’ve contributed to Athens or a test. I also agree with Ben when he says that government participation should be voluntary.

      1. I believe that in Ancient Athens, all people who were born in the city should be granted citizenship regardless of if their parents were citizens or not. Although some ancient aristocrats and oligarchs in the ancient city believed that that depending from an athenian bloodline should be necessary for one to become a citizen, I believe that this idea is dangerous and promotes xenophobia as well as nationalism. Further, it closes the opportunity for citizenship to people who may be very devoted and able to positively contribute to the city-state. For example, my character in the game, Lysias, is a wealthy, hardworking metic who is not afforded the right of citizenship based on how he emigrated from Italy. I believe that if the ancient city was open to the idea of conditionally allowing people to gain citizenship if they displayed devotion to the city, this would allow for a more productive society where more citizens could contribute wealth, ideas, new perspectives, and diversity. An educated, hardworking metic such as Lysias should be able to somehow display his loyalty to Athens by presenting himself in front of a council of some sort in order to apply for citizenship.

        Aristophanes criticizes Socrates in his play, specifically for piety and how he is disrespectful towards the gods. He does not believe that Socrates is a contributing and good citizen, but rather is poisoning society because he preaches antidemocratic ideals and is brainwashing the youth. This shows that Aristophanes wanted to preserve traditional Athenian Society and did not want people to speak out against traditional Athenian ideals.

    4. I agree with Ben that there needs to be some sort of test to see one’s commitment to Athens to determine whether or not one should become a citizen. There doesn’t seem to be a correlation between if someone is born in Athens and their commitment to Athens. Other than that, I agree with Ben that someone should perform their civic duties because they care about the city and shouldn’t be paid for it.

  2. I agree with Ben here as everyone born in Athens should receive citizenship. This would be an obvious and distinct law if the people of Athens could document who was born where efficiently. For people who are not born in Athens, there should be an immigration test to see if the possible immigrant’s values align with Athenian values. For example, if there were a lot of immigrants allowed into Athens who were very anti-democratic, then there would soon be a divide within the city. I also do not think there should be incentives for people to participate in government opportunities because the motivation for a successful government is based on false motives. In addition, I think ben makes a great point about how Socrates views citizens being paid to do a civic duty. An Athenian who works within the government should want to be there on their own will so that there is honor within their work.

  3. In Aristophanes’ Knights, the character Demosthenes describes how an uneducated man would make a great politician, especially one that is ignorant. The satire in this play concerning the corruptness and inabilities of politicians suggests that Aristophanes would be open to expanding citizenship. If more groups of people had the opportunity to vote, then the chances of one party dominating the democracy and electing a corrupt official would be decreased. It also indicates that people should be involved in governing a city in order to prevent corruptness.

    1. Wouldn’t it have been the other way around? I think Aristophanes was trying to use satire in Knights to show how easily misled the people, represented by Demos, are by politicians such as Cleon, represented by Paphlagon, and the Sausage Seller. I don’t think he would have agreed with expanding democracy to allow more people to vote, as it would have led to more people being easily swayed into voting for politicians like Cleon, which would probably be a criticism he would have had of democracy as a whole.

      1. I would have to agree with Brandon here. I think Aristophanes was highlighting the danger of allowing foolish people into the democracy, as foolish voters give way to the rise of corrupt and dangerous politicians. I think the point of an uneducated man being a politician is more a critique of democracy than it is a demonstration of why Athens open citizenship to all.

        1. I would have to agree with Renn here. Opening the democracy and citizenship to everyone was something that Aristophanes was warning against, as allowing anyone to speak up in the public forum could lead to dangerous and foolish policies and sentiments, not to mention corruption. The critique of democracy points out the downfalls of letting anyone, regardless of qualification, become a public official.

  4. Aristophanes’ play Knights seems to demonstrate Aristophanes’ own reservations about the expansion of civic participation by satirizing the Athenian system of democracy. The figure Paphlagonian, who is meant to represent the actual politician Cleon, is characterized as a corrupt, untrustworthy villain. Cleon in real life was not a landowner, instead gaining his money through the low esteem industry of leather, which creates a dimension of class conflict for the play. Perhaps Aristophanes disliked Cleon because of his origin. Furthermore, the play seems to imply that the common people are easily misled, as represented by the character Demos. He is won over by flattery and chooses short term, easier plans rather than more effective ones. Aristophanes, through his work, appears to question democratic ideals as being unstable and prone to corruption.

    1. I agree that everyone born in Athens should become citizens and foreigners should have a system to become citizens relatively easily. I also think that small payments for participation in governing should be allowed, not to the extent where people can become rich from politics; but small payments would allow poorer citizens to not worry about missing work or other monetary hurdles. However, I agree with the overall Socratic idea that citizens should participate in their civic duties out of a place of servitude rather than self-gain.

    2. I agree with Deklan’s reading of ‘Knights.’ I think ‘Birds’ also reflects similar trepidation about the expansion of citizenship. Further, it seems to me that Aristophanes and Plato’s Socrates would agree that expanding citizenship and thereby expanding the Assembly’s electorate is a dangerous game. These authors would probably posit that more Assembly members could lead to less efficiency and more dumb decisions..

      1. I definitely agree with this. It seems like overall, one of Aristophanes’ main concerns about Athens and the way it runs is about efficiency and people of lesser intelligence/value to Athenian culture getting in the way. This is evident in Knights, but I think even more so in Birds, where Pisthetaerus keeps turning people away from his new society for various reasons. This is sort of in contradiction with other parts of the plot, like the fact that the chorus very passingly mentions that enslaved people should come and join the society.

      2. I agree with you. I believe that Aristophanes was making a point about how the people are easily mislead in ‘Knights,’ and I believe that he would have thought that expanding citizenship would lead to more foolish decisions; if most people vote for whatever seems to be the most appealing in the short term, then it would be harder for those who do look ahead to win in the Assembly. Furthermore, I think that Aristophanes, when considering the introduction of new ideas that comes with expanding citizenship, would have focused more on the possible introduction of negative ideas that positive ones.

      3. I agree completely with Grace’s point. Aristophanes was definitely making a commentary about political involvement (or even just being a member/citizen) within a city in ‘Birds’ as the play touched on Aristohpanes’ hesitation with citizenship expansion, which we see in ‘Birds’ with the denial of the different persons requested permission to enter the city, some of which had intriguingly crazy ideologies like the “father-beater” character. I think this could definitely be interpreted as Aristophanes exhibiting his reservation on citizenship expansion by criticizing Athenian democracy, with the main plot being constructing a new, “better” city.

        1. I definitely agreed with a lot of what has been discussed in this thread. I believe that as seen in Birds and Knights, Aristophanes is showing how expanding citizenship could be very dangerous to the health of Athens. He seems to feel that only some people are worthy of participating in athenian democracy, and that only some know what is best for the city-state. In Knights he clearly sees those with money but not land as being corrupt, and also shows how easily misled those without an education to be. Both of the traits cause him to believe that those without land and without an education to be unfit to vote.

  5. Given the nature of Aristophanes’ play “Knights”, I believe Aristophanes would want to expand citizenship. While it’s worth mentioning that “Knights” is a comedy and satire, so it is hard to take the jokes at face value, Aristophanes’ jokes about the “lowest” of society being great politicians would lend one to think that Aristophanes believes politics is hardly for the elite, so citizenship and voting rights should be expanded, as you do not need to be rich to understand Athenian society and the politics within it.

    1. I agree with this comment, and also think that Aristophanes would be for the expansion of citizenship. I think “Knights” and other plays by Aristophanes like “Birds” make a lot of fun of the people of Athens who are generally considered the most intelligent and the most powerful. His plays also mock the political climate and the laws of the city, which makes me think that Aristophanes would not be as glued to the good old days or few people with immense power. Because of this I think that he would agree that granting citizenship to more people in Athens would make the city more democratic and he would probably argue that politics would be less toxic.

  6. I believe that the citizenship of Athens should be expanded to include more worthy people. It is important to democracy to be able to represent all aspects of the society and all groups of people, thus each group should be somehow represented and given the chance to contribute to the conversation. Based on the premise and character comments in Aristophanes ‘Knights,’ I believe Aristophanes may have had interesting views on the idea of Athenian citizenship. During the scene where the sausage seller and the first slave are discussing the prophecy, the sausage seller says “Look, mister, I’m uneducated expect for reading and writing, and I’m damn poor even at those,” to which the first slave responds, “the only thing that hurts you there is that you’re only damn poor. No, political leadership’s no longer a job for a man of education and good character, but for ignorant and disgusting.” This seems to indicate that Aristophanes using satire to indicate his distrust and overall disapproval of the way that Athenian leadership is going. He seems to be open to the idea of adding more people into the discussion as he already does not entrust the current rulers with making just decision, so why not expand to more people that may have better morals.

    1. I agree with Elizabeth’s analysis. Expanding on their point, “knights” satirizes the idea of political leadership and corruption, but I still think that Aristophanes views are still that citizenship should be reserved for the elite. By juxtaposing the corrupt elite with the under qualified and poor majority, he shows problems made by the leadership of each group. I believe that citizenship should be expanded in Athens in order to have a greater range of opinions in government. Aristophanes makes an argument for this, to an extent, but also acknowledges the difficulties that would come with the change.

  7. I, Aristocles, believe that while citizenship is an issue that needs to be discussed, it is not nearly as pressing as the discussion on how citizens interact with the government and politics. We need to limit the role that citizens can play in government because that is not their expertise. As I explained yesterday, a carpenter is an expert at making a chair but not at ruling a city. Sophists, on the other hand, having been educated in the ways of morals and ethics know a great deal more about ruling a city. I know nothing about building a chair, and as such nobody would ask me to do such a thing, so why are we asking people, that lack the necessary knowledge, to take on highly influential leadership roles? These ideas can all be seen clearly expressed in Plato’s The Republic where the ruling class is properly educated to rule the city while the rest of the town is educated to best fill their crucial roles.

  8. I believe that everyone in Athens is entitled to citizenship. Because they are subject to the laws and expected to contribute to society, everyone living in Athens should be allowed to participate in the political process. In Plato’s Apology, Socrates suggests that citizenship should be granted only to those who are educated and wise, namely philosophers. On page 137, Socrates asks, “And tell us another thing . . . whether it’s better to live among good citizens, or bad ones?” For Socrates, a “good citizen” was one who was educated and wise. This suggests that Socrates would oppose expanding civic participation in Athens. Instead, he would support narrowing the voting population to include only philosophers such as himself.

    1. I agree with this. Everyone living in Athens is expected to follow the laws they pass and live as a community under cultural and other expectations. It seems just that they are also given citizenship to have a vote for these laws that are affecting them. In “Birds,” several people are rejected from the city because they do not fit the requirements or occupation that they deemed worthy, but they would still be subject to the rules of the new city as they were essentially taking over as new gods.

  9. In Aristophanes’ Knights, Cleon (who Aristophanes was criticizing) says “I do not fear you as long as there is a Senate and a people which stands like a fool, gaping in the air.” This shows that Aristophanes, in opposition to Cleon’s view, thinks the people of Athens–the citizenry, at least–are smart and aware, and while this doesn’t explicitly argue for the expansion of citizenship, it is in conflict with the Solonians’ view that citizenship should be limited to those with property or with higher education, as many Athenians did not have those things. I personally believe citizenship should’ve been expanded, as more people participating in a democracy means that less would be content with how things were governed.

    1. I agree with this sentiment- concentrating power into the hands of the few, such as just land-owners narrows the perspectives of those voting in the Athenian democracy. Cleon’s sentiment that ‘the people’ are foolish is elitist and erroneous- anyone of Athenian descent is worthy of participating in Athenian government. We share the same values of democratic rule to better Athens, whether or not we own land.

  10. I agree with the sentiment of most that all native Athenians deserve citizenship and that in “Knights” Aristophanes is advocating for an expansion of citizenship as the intelligence of the masses is underestimated. On the other hand, I think that especially Plato would see the issues that could arise from payment in exchange for civic service, and how that could lead to corruption and isolates the act of civic service from the good it does. Also, both authors seem to notice the flaws in their democracy and see it somewhat straying from its core values, and I believe the only incentive should be to have one’s voice heard and uphold the values of Athens.

    1. I agree with your sentiments, native athenians deserve citizenship because they grew up in the city and therefore have stake in its fate. I agree with the folks in the forum who think that Knight’s indicates that Aristorphense wants to expand citizenship to the masses. Also, since most people here had a dislike for Socrates in the apology (including myself) Socrates’s argument for restricting citizenship to the educated look even worse than I would think such an argument would hold.

    2. Your analysis of Plato is definitely something I agree with, but I also believe Plato would be in heavy favor of a true democracy where all people have the chance to be represented. Plato was known to dislike athenian democracy namely for “mistaking anarchy with freedom” basically saying the government was ineffective and just a group of people meeting in a room. I think Plato would expand citizenship but also rework the entire system for voting.

  11. I Archinus, stood in the Pnyx defending the rights of the people with my friends when I was just a young boy. Without the great creation of democracy none of this would have been possible and we can thank Pericles for this wonderful leadership. And it is for this reason why we should preserve this system! We thrived under him, so why should we change what has already been perfected? Our actions and decisions are of the utmost importance, so we must preserve the righteousness within our citizens. Citizenship should not be expanded to metics and slaves because they do not know what it means to be a true Athenian, now I could be persuaded to allow metics to gain citizenship but I stand firmly against the idea of slaves becoming Athenians. We fought for our right to live on this land did we not?! After all did come from the ground here, and we belong here not slaves!

  12. My character, Gorgias the Younger, would believe that those that grew up and were educated in the Athenian society should be entitled to citizenship and also allowed the chance to participate in governmental affairs. If one is contributing to society in whatever their field of expertise is, whether that be something physically or intellectually stimulating, they have the right to have a voice in the progress and decision-making Athens. Placing greater value only in people that are monetarily secure is a slippery slope as they are not representative of everyone that would be affected by legislation. In addition, Athenians should be civilized, respectful individuals; those that disrupt peace in Athens should not be awarded citizenship.

  13. I think an example of how citizenship is viewed by Aristophanes is evident in his play “Birds”. Aristophanes portrays a satirical version of Athens which is represented by Pisthetaerus rejecting many from joining the ‘utopian’ city based on their occupation. This showcases how Athens would handle the issue of citizenship and shows Aristophanes views on democracy as one that he ones to advance further, making citizenship accessible to all who inhabit Athens.

    On the other hand, In Plato’s Apology, Socrates does not agree with Athen’s current democratic state. Socrates argues that the right to vote should be in the hands of those who are knowledgable, or those who are philosophers like him. He argues that politics is taught and not everyone has the right to vote on it as not everyone has enough knowledge to do so. He thinks that currently, Athen’s is run unjustly and, therefore, the perspective of a democracy is incorrect.

  14. In Aristophanes Birds we see Peisetaerus create a “utopia” of his own. During the play we see various characters try to enter cloud cuckooland such as a decree seller, an oracle and gods and Peisetaerus turns all of them away from his utopia. Knowing that this was written around the time of the Peloponnesian war it seems that Aristophanes might be questioning the bureaucracy of Athenian government in a jovial sense. Considering the time period and Aristophanes status in society he might have been apprehensive to expand civic participation.

    1. I agree with you here Josh. From my understanding of Birds and especially the scenes referring to when people tried to gain entry into the utopia of Cloudcuckooland but were hastly rejected channels the thought that there is a certain caliber that is required to be a citizen of this society. I think this notion is very similar to ideas expressed by Pericles that an Athenian is a special breed and to be Athenian you must be from Athens, its dirt and soil, itself.

  15. Erick – In Aristophanes Birds, it is clear that citizenship and its privileges are exclusive to the inhabitants of Cloudcuckooland. This way, he is presenting the irony in Athenian concepts of polis supremacy, and how citizenship is highly restricted to outsiders. The mistreatment of visitors to the land of Cloudcuckooland exaggerates this unwillingness to accommodate outsiders as their is a superiority complex exerted by inhabitants. The failure of Cloudcuckooland almost foreshadows the potential fall of Athens for their questionable management of foreign affairs.

  16. The most obvious connection of citizenship for me is in Birds when all non-birds get barred entry from cloud-cuckoo-land. This seems like a direct comparison to Athenian thought, that being, that only one type of people (natural born citizens or birds) are allowed citizenship and rights in the city. It would seem that Aristophanes would likely be opposed to opening up citizenship and voting rights to more people in Athens.

  17. In Aristophanes Birds we see that the Birds attempt to keep Cloudcuckooland a place just for birds and aren’t very nice to humans. A quote from the story that shows this is, “Weak mortals, chained to the earth, creatures of clay as frail as the foliage of the woods, you unfortunate race”. The chorus said this to show that they are above humans in all ways and will rule the world. This is very similar to how the Solonian aristocrats are in Athens. The aristocrats want to keep the voting and power just to themselves so that the lower classes never really get any representation. They act as if their minds and there well-being is above all others in Athens.

  18. I think Plato’s system of citizenship with its extreme hierarchy really connects to our assembly. I think the aristocrats really crave this sort of hierarchy, and specifically a hierarchy where they are at the top. It is interesting to me that many Athenians from different factions seem to share this sense that a hierarchy is a natural structure for citizenship, even though for myself as a modern-day individual it seems perverse

  19. In “Knights,” Aristaphanes presents strong leadership in a member of society usually disregarded. While he is developing a social commentary of the sway of the demos, he also makes the point that good leadership is not limited to upper class citizens. It is also interesting that he has two enslaved persons discover the prophecy and fight for Athenian democracy. In addition, the main antagonist is an enslaved person. Aristaphanes shows diversity and constructive political thought among the population Athens typically disregards.

    While Aristaphanes later mocks Socrates, he is making a very Socratic argument about who should lead and participate in Athenian democracy. Citizenship and political leadership should not be limited to Athenians by birth. He proposes an interesting scenario where the city is saved by listening to non-citizens. Expanding and advancing political participation saved the demos.

  20. Aristophanes’s Knights connects quite well with the question of who should participate in democracy and the possible dangers of full participation by the people. Aristophanes’s thoughts on democracy reflect the sentiment of many Athenians during this time, and bears remarkable similarities to the sentiment expressed by some recent speakers in Monday’s class. The character of Mr. Demos, a clear representation of the people, is shown to be weak-willed and easily swayed by flattery and gifts. This mirrors the opinions of many elites in this simulation, who felt that broadening who could be a citizen and who could vote would create a majority of uneducated and morally weak voters who would wreck the city. Aristophanes, like these recent speakers, would likely be wary about expanding citizenship or voting rights for this reason. Based on his characterization of the people of Athens via the character of Mr. Demos, I feel that Aristophanes would not want the common man to see an increase in voting rights/citizenship.

  21. In Birds, Aristophanes considers the question of citizenship when Peisetaerus creates the new city in the sky. Peisetaerus at first says that anyone who wishes to live among the birds, and away from a society which worships the Greek gods, is welcome in Cloudcuckooland. However, as Peisetaerus grows big with power, he turns away visitors to the city who annoy him by their opposing views. It seems that Peisetaerus really only wants citizens of Cloudcuckooland who agree with him, and thus wants to limit citizenship to those who will create an echo chamber of similar ideas. Peisetaerus does not value the democratic exchange of ideas, and exemplifies the views of the aristocrats, who wish to limit citizenship and feign democracy.

  22. (Aristocles) I am of the opinion that citizenship should be restricted to the educated and trained members of our society. This means putting Athens’ best foot forward in the world of scholars, and promotes our image as a learned and well-educated city. This will also encourage non-citizens to seek out an education, which can only lead to the betterment of our city. Perhaps a test of sorts could be installed, where non-citizens can prove their scholarly background, and apply for citizenship on the grounds that their participation in our society can beneficial.

  23. It is intersting to me how elitism and selectivity, especially in an intellectual manner, are applied to citizenship rights. Tangentially, it makes me think of Aristophanes’ Clouds, and the manner in which Socrates and his followers created an elite intellectual circle, not unlike the proposals of some of our Athenian citizens, who think that a certain level of intelligence is imperative to citizenship and voting.

  24. In our first assembly on amnesty for supporters of the Thirty, it was evident that the assembly felt the best course of action for rebuilding Athens would be through unity, and acceptance of differing opinions. Following this desire for unity, providing worthy metics and slaves citizenship would increase support for Athens, incentivize participation, unify all classes within Athens, and diversify the polis. A diverse democracy, backed by the resources and support of wealthy metics, and represented by all Athenians, would better establish a strong democracy, and unified Athens. Rejecting supporters based on a lack of heritage would drive them away from Athens, and promote disenchantment as well. One possible process of granting citizenship could be through an application process. Metics and slaves could apply to a democratic council, elected by the assembly, in which they would list the ways in which they have supported and benefitted Athens, and ways in which they would continue to do so if given citizenship. Further, education for slaves and metics is very important, as it would enable them to better contribute as citizens. While that is a separate discussion, it relates to the ideologies of Socrates, in which I disagree over the idea of government by an educated elite. I believe that the best course of action towards a strong and unified action is in granting certain metics and slaves citizenship through a democratic application process. This would cultivate a diverse democratic assembly.

  25. In The Republic, Plato expresses concern for allowing the unjust ruler to rule, saying that this is the consequence of the just ruler not ruling. Along these lines, he also expresses the opinion that society should be led by an educated and virtuous elite. Citizenship in regards to the ability to rule (i.e. take part in the Assembly if such a system is to remain), should be reserved to those who are educated in how to live and lead well. On that note, education, being so critical to creating the citizens of the society, should be offered to everyone in Athens, and a test of one’s education and virtue should implemented to determine one’s citizenship.

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