Referendum: after the ‘weapons grade’ shock to the UK’s political system, do you still remember that? Great lessons from Mary Beard and Ancient Athens on the shortcomings of Ostracism…
I am not suggesting that there is a direct lesson here that we can simply apply across the millennia. Ancient Athens is far too different from us for that: its citizen body was, for a start, no larger than the size of some modern university student unions, and was completely “woman-free”.
But Athens can help us to look harder at ourselves. Handing us a referendum once every twenty years or so, largely depriving us of accurate information in a fog of slogans and rhetoric, and allowing us all, on both sides, to vent our various discontents and prejudices in a yes/no vote is not a way to reach a responsible decision.
Nor is it a way to re-empower a disempowered electorate. That, as Athenian democrats would have seen, needs something much more radical, and it has to happen not twice in a lifetime but in the day-to-day practice of political life.