Democracy without political parties: the case of ancient Athens

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Political parties, formal, durable and mass organizations that inform voters on public policy issues, nominate candidates for office and fight elections for the right to govern, are ubiquitous in modern representative democracies but were absent from the direct participatory democracy of ancient Athens. The paper investigates how the political institutions of Athens may explain their absence. The arguments explored include voter homogeneity; the conditions at the start of the democracy, characterized by single constituency configuration of the demos, simple majority voting and lack of organized groups; the irrelevance of holding public office for determining public policy; appointment to public posts through sortition; and voting on single-dimension issues. The paper then discusses how in the absence of parties voters became informed and how political leaders were held accountable by the courts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)983-998
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Institutional Economics
Issue number6
Early online date30 May 2019
Publication statusPublished online - 30 May 2019


  • Direct Democracy; Ancient Athens; Absence of Political Parties; Public Office; Elections; Sortition
  • absence of political parties
  • public office
  • ancient Athens
  • sortition
  • elections
  • Direct democracy


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