TheReforms of Solon
Inthe contemporary world, the term democracy is a household phrase. Inevery democratic state, power is vested in the hands of the people.Nevertheless, it is evident that each democratic country has itsexceptional way of executing this ideology of the standard rule.Ironically, it is not easy to designate what makes up democracy andthe point at which dictatorial and monarchical governments’ crossesthe borders of social equality.
Oneof the proponents of a democratic environment is Solon. In fact, onecannot research on democracy without bumping into his works andcontributions. Solon was not only an Athenian lawmaker but also apolitician and a poet. He came from a noble family, andprofessionally he was a merchant and a poet. He was elected as anArchon in 594BC in Athens at a time when the society was facingeconomic and moral misery because of the agricultural crisis that hadhit the nation (Hertzoff 340). His political reforms, which heimplemented in the early years of the sixth century, bring out theaspects of revolution in democracy. However, some of the changes,which he brought, also controvert several of the democratic ideals,an issue that has set a platform for contentious debates, up to date,on the execution of the contract linking the democratic governmentsand the people. Though not primarily democratic in the modernsettings, his reforms played a critical role in the contextual periodthat he was in politics and they acted as the springboard towards thefoundation of democracy.
Solon’sImpacts in Democracy
Oneof the elementary basics of democracy is the feature of powerdistribution among people. Before Solon, power rotated around anindividual or was vested within a small group of people mostly thearistocratic family members. This authority was passed down thefamily line. His dispute over this traditional structure was one ofthe major steps taken in the field of democracy (Hertzoff 341). Thelarger part of his reforms was his move to restructure the socialstratification into economic classes. He was aware that wealth wasthe foundation of man’s worth and prestige. From a general pointof view, this does not seem to solve the dilemma of stratificationamong people. The possibility to amass wealth through tradingactivities and successful business enterprises in the new economicorganization gave room for social mobility. This was contrary to theprevious aristocratic structure which did not allow individuals whohad acquired wealth to sit on the same political table with theircounterparts that had inherited their wealth and subsequentlypolitical authority. Furthermore, he enacted the idea of drawingoffice bearers using lots. This move ensured that there was totalequality across the classes. He however noted that though acquisitionof wealth was possible, it was never that simple. He went ahead toaccount for this through provision of an open opportunity for anymember that belonged in the three of the top tiers he had justestablished to become a political official.
Healso allowed individuals in the lowest economic class which was notinitially allowed to serve in any official post to act as jurors(Hertzoff 343). Aristotle and Plutarch declared that such positionswere critical since when individuals were controllers of the votesthey subsequently controlled the state. The jury plays a significantrole in the making of final decisions on the cases that come beforethem. Since the law granted the opportunity for one to file an appealeven on the verdicts reached by the famous courts, it was possiblethat any course, even those that were decided by the office bearers,they could find their way before the low-class jury. This aspectprovided an excellent platform for the ‘hired hands’ as thelowest class were popularly referred to, to have a say in thegovernment of Athens. Speculations even arise that Solon went a stepfurther and wrote the laws using unclear words to make them open forinterpretation which called upon the services of the top jury to comeup with the final resolutions on their intentions , and ensure thatthe lowest class gained influence (Hertzoff 345). By making theeconomic system flexible, a democratic environment was createdthrough elimination of the emphasis on inherited status and familybackground. This concept allowed citizens across the classes to takepart to some extent in the running of the state irrespective of theirsocial status.
Solonaddressed other essentialities in the Democratic field as well. Heintroduced the idea of people’s rights to the public. Included inthe concept of individual rights is the certainty that individualshave inborn worth and all people are equal. They include the rightfor each party to make autonomous choices, and most significantly,the safeguarding of such rights by the legal entities. Solon’s lawwhich prohibited using individuals as collaterals confirmed thesentiment that humans are inherently worth and should not at anypoint be used as a bargaining chip. This law fulfilled the firstfeature of individual rights. The whole population, Solon himselfincluded, was subjected to the similar set of legislation. The lawswere written on the Kyrbeis and later posted for the public to see.One of the areas in which the laws were directly applicable was inthe aspect of inheritance (Hertzoff 347). Within his laws, a man hadan opportunity to decide using a particular set of rules to make adecision on who would be a legal heir of his property after hisdeath. Until that time, it was automatic that the inheritancebelonged to the members of the family.
Carefullyattached to the concept of individuals’ rights is the ability ofthe legislations to protect the rights of the citizens. He addressedthis by giving room for everyone that had a wish of seekingretribution for those who had been wronged to go ahead and do so.This rule restrained the rich people from exploiting the poor sinceanother citizen who had adequate capital would step up and presentthe case to the courts (Hertzoff 352). He also establishedcomprehensive protections like the one that made it illegal to rapefree women and making sure that resolutions were reachedindependently in relation to influences that could be liable indeflation of a person’s ability to reason.
Althoughthe above reforms from the reorganization of the socioeconomic systemto the emphasis on individual rights provide a real basis fordemocracy, some of his legislations were totally anti-democratic. Forinstance, when he restructured the class system, he only alleviatedthe restrictions that were there based on inheritance but he stillset aside positions for each status. Those in the higher classes heldthe most powerful offices. A good example is the election of theArchonship and subsequently, the Areopagus which was only a select ofthe top estate. The administration and the running of the mostaffairs in the city rested in the hands of the Areopagus (Hertzoff355). Although his system had some features of being compliant whencompared to the previous structures, it did not have the majoraspects of the contemporary democracy. In the United States ofAmerica, a person may assume high political positions provided hegets the majority votes irrespective of their social and economicstatus. Though it is almost impossible on practical grounds to getthe majority vote without a strong financial foundation, legally itis possible. Social mobility was practicable in the class setting inthe Solon’s system, but the remarkable economic achievement wasalso difficult to be realized.
Hisrestructured class system also limited the concept of citizenship.This aspect directly meant that holding an official position was alsorestricted to men and only allowed exiles and those that had familiesand other professions to become citizens through naturalization(Hertzoff 365). He also infringed on individual rights when he cameup with laws of marriage, business, and mourning. He also made itcompulsory for everyone to take part in political disputes whicheliminated the right of many individuals to make a choice of stayingout of certain disputes.
Manyscholars, using contextual lenses, agree that Solon’s reforms weredemocratic and built democratic foundations for the moderndemocracies. He came up with a new system that made it possible forone to move up the social classes, enacted legislations to protectindividual rights and even rejected offers to become a tyrant leader.
Hertzoff,Andrew. "Eros and Moderation in Plutarch`s Life of Solon."Review of Politics 70.3 (2012): 339-369. AcademicSearch Premier.Web. 11 Oct. 2016.