The United States government system is modeled after the ancient Greek democracy. While the United States is far from a pure democracy, it is home to many democratic principles.
America’s founders were very influenced by ancient Greek philosophy, politics, and culture. They were also very influenced by the English monarchy and its traditions.
This is why we have executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The president is the head of state and government, just as the monarch was in England.
The United States Constitution was designed with checks and balances in order to limit power and corruption. This is very similar to how Athenian laws checked power and corruption within their government.
Both governments had elections, but only certain people were eligible to run for office. Only wealthy men could run for high office in ancient Athens- women couldn’t either- while anyone can run for office in the U.S., regardless of gender or race.
Differences in citizens
While both the United States and ancient Athens had relatively diverse groups of citizens, how people were allowed to enter their society was different.
In ancient Athens, anyone could move to the city and seek citizenship. However, in order to obtain citizenship, one had to be born of an Athenian father.
This rule was enforced in order to keep the population growing and the city powerful. Having a strong citizen base ensured a strong army and prosperity.
The United States is a country built upon immigrants, so this does not apply to Americans. However, many Americans are of foreign descent, which contributes to the diversity of the country.
Indeed, there are many opportunities for people of all backgrounds to enter into American society and become citizens. This is due to the concept of equality under the law that exists in this country.
Differences in systems
While the United States and ancient Athens both had government, their systems were very different. In Athens, there was no executive branch, meaning no president or national leader.
Instead, policy was made by a group of citizens who were chosen by lot. These citizens were called archons and ruled for one year only. There was no judicial system in Athens, so if someone committed a crime, there was no punishment unless it was within the realm of property damage.
There was also no lawyer system, so if someone was accused of a crime, they had to find their own way to defend themselves. Finally, there was no legislative branch in ancient Athens; all legislation came directly from the archons.
These differences show how the two governments functioned with very different systems. The United States has an executive, judicial, and legislative branch which all play important roles in government.
Athens used a direct democracy
Unlike the United States, ancient Athens used a direct democracy system. In this system, every citizen had a say in government.
Government functioned by putting forth policy proposals, called proposals, on issues. These issues ranged from taxation to wars.
There were no politicians or political parties in ancient Athens. Instead, anyone could put forth a proposal to change legislation. This could be any citizen!
Citizens gathered in the Agora, which was a public space where citizens interacted and socialized. Here, they discussed issues and put forth proposals to change legislation.
Problems with this system include lack of representation and lack of continuity in government. Since anyone could put forth a proposal, there was no guarantee that good proposals would pass due to lack of qualification. Additionally, there was no steady government since anyone could vote out the current leaders and put in new ones.
Washington uses a representative democracy
Unlike ancient Athens, the United States uses a representative democracy. In the United States, citizens do not vote on legislation directly. Instead, citizens vote for politicians who then vote on legislation on their behalf.
Politicians are not required to follow the will of the people, however. Through debates, lobbying, and campaigning, politicians attempt to convince each other and their constituents that their position is the right one.
If a politician’s position gains enough support, then it may become law. Law can come from either the legislature or the courts, depending on the nature of the law in question.
The distinction between these two is important: The legislature only has authority over legislation; the courts have authority over law in general. This is why many campaigns focus heavily on issues of legality — because only those issues are legally binding.
Voting is not mandatory in the US, but is in some countries
One significant difference between US government and government in ancient Athens is that voting is not mandatory in the US. In fact, only 60% of eligible voters vote during general elections, according to the United States Elections Project.
Many people opt not to vote for reasons such as being too busy, not liking any of the candidates, or believing that their one vote doesn’t make a difference.
This is very different from countries like Belgium, where voting is mandatory. If you do not vote, you risk a fine or other form of punishment.
There are many reasons why this is a good policy, but the most significant one is that it increases voter turnout. More people choose to vote because they know they will be penalized if they don’t. This causes more people to be informed and involved in the election process.
The US has a federal system with divided powers
The United States is a federal system with divided powers. This means that the national government has some authority, and state governments have their own authority.
National government includes the executive branch, legislative branch, and judicial branch. The executive branch is led by the president, who heads the administration which carries out policy.
The legislative branch is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which make laws. The judicial branch is made up of courts that interpret and apply the law.
State governments have governors who head their administrations and legislatures that make laws. These states also have their own courts similar to the national court system.
Federalism is one of the key principles of United States constitutional law. Federalism refers to distribution of powers between national and state governments in a country like the US.
The US has a Constitution with amendments
In the US, government is defined by the Constitution, which is a set of guidelines and laws that regulate government functions, authority, and procedures.
The US Constitution is the fundamental law of the country that lays out how government functions are intended to work, as well as rights of citizens. It was put in place after the Revolutionary War to create a stable government and system of governance.
Prior to the Constitution, there was no permanent constitution or set of laws defining government. In fact, most governments at the time didn’t have constitutions or any sort of written fundamental laws.
The ancient Greek city-state of Athens had a form of democracy 2,500 years ago but lacked any written fundamental laws or a constitution. The Athenian Assembly made decisions through debates and vote counts but did not have written rules or guidelines for what it was doing.
The Athenian system was more open to corruption
One major difference between government in the United States today and government in ancient Athens is the concern with corruption.
Corruption, in this sense, isn’t about moral virtue but about the actual danger of using one’s position and power for personal gain.
The average American is likely more concerned with corruption than the average Athenian was 2,500 years ago. This is partly because we have access to far more information now than they did then, but it’s also because of how openly corrupt their government was.
As noted by political scientist Josiah Ober in his book The End of Democracy: The Ancient Greek Experience, “Athenian politics was almost wholly preoccupied with questions of money and wealth… [and] public life was pervaded by a pervasive anxiety about what other people were doing to get ahead.