Ethics Center presents Ancient Athenian Experiment

On Sept. 3 students had the opportunity to learn more about the democratic process. Professor JaNae Brown Haas spoke about the subject in the monthly ethics forum Great Thinkers in the History of Democracy.

This is the first of many to present here at UVU as part of Utah’s Democracy Project. The project’s main goal is to further people’s understanding of how a democracy works.

The theme for the day was “The Ancient Athenian Experiment.” Professor Haas’ focus was the democratic government of the ancient Greeks. Before she began her speech she stated, “Every word that comes out of my mouth is a criticism of the democratic experiment.” And that is exactly what it was.

“Democracy is not a very common form of government in world history. Only a few civilizations have practiced it, and the first civilization that we have records of that practiced it in the Western tradition were the ancient Greeks,” said David Keller, a professor of philosophy at UVU and director of the Center for the Study of Ethics.

Throughout the lecture, Haas covered almost 200 years of history. And with this she explained how the democratic society worked. “The Ancient Athenian Experiment” defined all of Greece: the fights, struggles and chaos of being or becoming a democracy.

Haas described to students some examples of how ancient Athens tried to govern itself. “The officials are selected by lot,” Haas stated, explaining that this means authorities were randomly chosen.

She also said that Athenian authorities came together to discuss land ownership, peace and war, and many others. The ancient government administration was at the hands of many — not just a few — and the jury at times held up to 5000 people.

Professor David Keller also said that those who attended “will learn about themselves and the political structure of the U.S. by learning about the origins of democracy.” After the 200 years of history that Professor Haas spoke about, there wasn’t any doubt about where democracy began.

Professor Haas holds a master’s degree in history from the University of Utah and the University of Wisconsin and has been teaching at UVU since 1990. She was the teacher of the year in 1997. Her specialties are ancient Greece and Rome.

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