Nonetheless, what is most striking about Athens is not whatrnthe commonwealth could do (or even how it did it), but whatrnit could not do, especially if she is compared with democraticrnregimes since the French Revolution—governments that redistributedrnwealth, subverted religion, and interfered in privaternand domestic life.rnThis generalization requires some justification. Accordingrnto Thucydides’ Pericles, it was an Athenian peculiarity tornconsider the man who took no part in public affairs not as arnnon-busybody {apragmon) but as a good-for-nothing, and thisrntheme of public duty becomes a commonplace of Athenianrnpolitics. Nonetheless, one has to distinguish between a man’srnneed to win honor in the public activities of war and politicsrnfrom the private citizen’s (or, for that matter, public official’s)rnreluctance to meddle in the private affairs of another citizenrnand his household.rnIn the eariy fourth century, an Athenian citizen named Euphiletusrnwas tried for murder, after he killed his wife’s lover inrnher bedroom. The woman who informed on the couple prefacedrnher revelation with a disclaimer: “Euphiletus, don’t thinkrnI am accosting you because I am a busybody. In fact, the manrnwho is wronging you and your wife happens to be my personalrnenemy.” In other words, minding your own business is the positivernvirtue; interfering has to be justified.rnEven if there were Athenians who wished to use the powersrnof government as a wedge and crowbar to break down theirrnneighbors’ doors, Athens had no resources for coercion: therernwas no Athenian BATE to confiscate weapons of household defense,rnno schools to indoctrinate the children in filial disobedience,rnno police, even, to arrest a suspected burglar or break uprna brawl. Virginia Hunter’s recent book Policing Athens makesrnthis point emphatically: “Private initiative and self-help werernfundamental to policing Athens. . . . Athenians were bound tornone another by ties of reciprocal dependency. In order to carryrnout the tasks of policing and law enforcement, they required arndependable network of kin and friends.”rnSo far from being state-centered, Athens was a home-centeredrnsociety, in which families and kin-groups were expectedrnto discipline offenses within the group, rear their children, andrnprovide for their own security. The Athenian house and propertyrnwere more inviolable than an Englishman’s castle, andrnmarriage was an agreement between individuals and their families.rnThe marriages were registered not with the city but withrnthe formal kin-group, the phratry (ordinarily the husband’s).rnSimilarly, children were presented to the husband’s phrateres,rnwho might later be called upon as witnesses to the child’s legitimacyrn(and therefore citizenship).rnEor the proof of citizenship, the Attic demc, which certifiedrnboys when they reached 18, was far more significant than thernphratry. These 139 demes were subdivisions of the 1,000rnsquare miles of territory within the boundaries of Attica. In therncountryside, at least, these demes had traditionally been localrncenters; some of them, in fact, had been independent villagesrnbefore all Attica was merged into Athens. Later, they functionedrnas the formal political units, something like a ward orrndistrict, of the Athenian polls.rnApart from registering and certifying citizens, the governmentsrnof the demes supervised local religious cults, levied taxesrnfor local purposes, and in some cases arbitrated disputes.rnDemesmen fought together in the Athenian infantry and supportedrneach other in a variety of ways. Thucydides and Aristophanesrnboth testify to the unhappiness of rural demesmen,rnforced to live in the city during the Peloponnesian War, andrneven when numbers of them did gravitate to Athens for businessrnpurposes, they seem to ha’e stuck together. Socrates, onrntrial for his life, noted the presence of his fellow demesmen inrnthe courtroom, and this regional sentiment in Attica lasted, asrnRaphael Sealey points out, down to the first century.rnAthenian citizenship was rooted in the demes, much as Swissrncitizenship is based on the commune and the canton. “AnrnAthenian citizen was an Athenian citizen because, both logicallyrnand chronologically prior to that, he was a demesman.”rnSuch localism, says David Whitehead, the author of ThernDemes of Attica, stands in stark contrast with the United States,rnbut this was not always the case. The states of the Union were,rnin the beginning, genuine states, and, as Tocqueville explained,rnthose sovereign states themselves did little business: the life ofrn19th-century America was all in the towns and parishes thatrnbuilt schools and roads, raised posses and hanged horse thievesrnwithout bothering to ask permission from higher authorities.rnDemocracy in those days meant the very opposite of majorityrnrule, that is, the tyranny of a fictitious majority constructedrnby the thieves and con artists who, because they will do no honestrnwork, turn to politics. Democracv was the art of mindingrnour own business, within our houses, our parishes, our towns,rnand our states. The government of Alabama had no more rightrnto tell its citizens how to treat their children than the representativesrnof Massachusetts had to interfere in Alabama’s internalrnaffairs.rnThe federal structure of the Constitution and the Bill ofrnRights drew lines and imposed limits on the national government.rnCommon law, common custom, and common senserndictated others. The ministers of Ceorge III had been tyrants,rnbecause they overstepped those limits; their soldiers hadrnsearched our shops and invaded our houses; their governorsrnhad infringed or suspended our charters. Never again, we said,rnand for nearly 100 years we made good on the promise.rnGovernment kept within bounds by the force of law and custom:rnthat is what is meant by a politeia. The polity’s executivernfunctions might be discharged by a representative council, arntraditional aristocracy, or even a king, and the laws and customsrnmight be good or bad, but the legitimacy of the polity arises notrnfrom the state’s positive powers to make war or raise taxes butrnfrom the limitations imposed bv custom and acquiesced in byrnthe people. If the king wishes to impose newfangled burdensrnon the people, he is called a tyrant, and if a President decidedrnthat he had a mandate to impose socialized medicine, he toornwould be a tyrant, even if he were elected by 51 percent of therneligible voters instead of the mere 18 percent who supportedrnBill Clinton.rnThe legitimacy of a regime depends not upon what it doesrnbut on what it does not and cannot do. To the extent we stillrnlive under a government of laws and not of men, or rather, ofrnprecedent rather than of decrees, our national government isrnlegitimate. What the ratio is, between tyranny and polity inrnthe federal government, I do not know. But this much we allrnknow, or ought to: until some party or movement begins usingrnthe solemn speech of justice and legitimacy, as opposed to thernthieves’ language of profits and efficiency, the ramparts againstrntyranny erected by our ancestors will continue, one by one, tornfall to the invading army of judges, administrators, and democraticallyrnelected representatives.rnlO/CHRONlCLESrnrnrn