This introductory chapter considers the difficulties of establishing a democracy on a firm, stable basis. It argues that democracy is a fleeting phenomenon in the history of government and has lain outside the experience of the vast majority of the peoples of the world down the ages. It originated and flourished in Athens for almost two centuries, 2,500 years ago, but later vanished from history up until its revival in the seventeenth century, and even then it was slow to progress. The chapter charts the evolving meaning of democracy throughout the centuries, before turning to its birthplace in Athens as a site of further study, emphasizing the importance of studying democracy's early days in order to make sense of current political issues.
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