Constitutional Political Economy

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 58–82 | Cite as

A political economy perspective of direct democracy in ancient Athens

Original Research


Using a political economy framework the paper argues that in ancient Athens direct democracy, absence of political parties and appointment to office by lot were inextricably linked. Direct rather than representative democracy was in the interest of the constitutional framer at the time of the transition to democracy. Deciding directly each policy issue under majority rule diminished the intermediation function of political parties, a tendency possibly reinforced by an integrative ideology of defending the polis. In the absence of political parties to fight elections and distribute rents from office, appointment of office-holders by lot randomized their selection, a process which yielded an accurate representation of individual preferences, and distributed rents irrespective of the private wealth of individual citizens.


Ancient Athens Direct democracy Majority voting Political parties Appointment to office by lot, Cleisthenes reforms 

JEL Classification

D7 N4 



I wish to thank Dennis Mueller and Claire Taylor for their comments and suggestions on a previous version of this paper. Their advice has been invaluable in clarifying my own thoughts as well as improving the presentation of the paper. Of course, responsibility for any remaining errors or omissions is mine alone.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EconomicsUniversity of UlsterNewtownabbey, Co. AntrimUK

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