First Democracy: The Challenge of an Ancient Idea

Front Cover
Oxford University Press, Mar 16, 2006 - Philosophy - 304 pages
Americans have an unwavering faith in democracy and are ever eager to import it to nations around the world. But how democratic is our own "democracy"? If you can vote, if the majority rules, if you have elected representatives--does this automatically mean that you have a democracy? In this eye-opening look at an ideal that we all take for granted, classical scholar Paul Woodruff offers some surprising answers to these questions. Drawing on classical literature, philosophy, and history--with many intriguing passages from Sophocles, Aesop, and Plato, among others--Woodruff immerses us in the world of ancient Athens to uncover how the democratic impulse first came to life. The heart of the book isolates seven conditions that are the sine qua non of democracy: freedom from tyranny , harmony, the rule of law, natural equality, citizen wisdom, reasoning without knowledge, and general education. He concludes that a true democracy must be willing to invite everyone to join in government. It must respect the rule of law so strongly that even the government is not above the law. True democracy must be mature enough to accept changes that come from the people. And it must be willing to pay the price of education for thoughtful citizenship. If we learn anything from the story of Athens, Woodruff concludes, it should be this--never lose sight of the ideals of democracy. This compact, eloquent book illuminates these ideals and lights the way as we struggle to keep democracy alive at home and around the world.

What people are saying - Write a review

FIRST DEMOCRACY: The Challenge of an Ancient Idea

User Review  - Kirkus

A treatise on the roots of democracy, mixed with a few prescriptions for what the author believes to be ailing US politics today.Woodruff (Philosophy/Univ. of Texas, Austin; Reverence, 2001 ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - bibliostuff - LibraryThing

I think this is an important book. The Author describes the 200 year Athenian struggle for democracy. He identifies 7 traits of Democracy and examines each with respect to events in ancient Athens. He ... Read full review


Democracy and Its Doubles
2 The Life and Death of Democracy
3 Freedom from Tyranny And from Being a Tyrant
4 Harmony
5 The Rule of Law Nomos
6 Natural Equality
7 Citizen Wisdom
8 Reasoning Without Knowledge
Are Americans Ready for Democracy?
Cast of Characters
Guide to the Peloponnesian War
Ancient Sources
Scholarly Works Cited

9 Education Paideia

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2006)

Paul Woodruff is Darrel K. Royal Professor in Ethics and American Society and Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Philosophy, The University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of the popular book Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue.

Bibliographic information