MB: I think there are two competing visions of democracy, one which is rule by the people directly, as in the Athenian model (though it was restricted to male citizens), the other is through a set of institutions which have the contrary aim of actually restraining such direct power, as documented in the book by Jennifer Tolbert Roberts, Athens on Trial: the Anti-Democratic Tradition in Western Thought.
My focus is on the first model. The problem is that after 200 years of the second model, the primary areas of our life, like school and work, are not democratic, and so the basic problem is that we expect democratic behaviour from people (citizens / residents) who have basically never exercised it. This is one reason I favour the commons model, because it is based on self-governing communities, so it is a training school for democracy like no other.
OSB: When you say ‘the commons model’ what exactly do you mean? Where can we see a commons model acting as “a training ground for democracy like no other”?
MB: I follow the traditional definition of the commons, i.e. a shared resource, managed by a community according to its own norms. … Democracy has to be first of all a practice that is integrated in our lives, not something just like an election, which is like electing which elite is going to govern us (election = elite, both words have the same roots, and the Greeks saw elections as the aristocratic principle and the lottery as the democratic principle); the commons, defined as shared resources that are governed by communities according to their own rules and norms, are a good way to achieve this, i.e. as we learn and work, we practice democracy.
C. P. Cavafy Professor Emeritus of Classical Studies and Comparative Literature
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