In this brief excerpt from The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, Pericles extols the virtues of Athenian democracy at the burial of the first Athenians to be killed in the war against Sparta.
Every time I read this particular passage, I am struck by how it can say so much with so few words.
It is a model of eloquence and brevity.
Every word is there for a specific purpose and only for that purpose.
Every word is the right word.
Every word counts.
And the more important the concept is, the shorter and more airtight is its definition. Here are just a few examples:
Democracy is "...power in the hands not of a minority but of the whole people."
Equality is "...everyone is equal before the law."
Meritocracy means obtaining "..a position of public responsibility...not (by) membership of a particular class, but (thanks to) the actual ability which the man possesses."
Democratic Representation means no one "...(is) kept in political obscurity because of poverty."
This is writing at its very best.
And although it is from Athens and dates 461 B.C.E. , when writing is this clear, it becomes universal and timeless.
"Let me say that our system of government does not copy the institutions of our neighbours. It is more the case of our being a model to others, than of our imitating anyone else. Our constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the whole people. When it is a question of settling private disputes, everyone is equal before the law: when it is a question of putting one person before another in positions of public responsibility, what counts is not membership of a particular class, but the actual ability which the man possesses. No one, so long as he has it in him to be of service to the state, is kept in political obscurity because of poverty. And, just as our political life is free and open, so is our day-to-day life in our relations with each other. We do not get into a state with our next-door neighbour if he enjoys himself in his own way, nor do we give him the kind of black looks which, though they do no real harm, still do hurt people's feelings. We are free and tolerant in our private lives; but in public affairs we keep to the law. This is because it commands our deep respect.
We give our obedience to those whom we put in positions of authority, and we obey the laws themselves, especially those which are for the protection of the oppressed, and those unwritten laws which it is an acknowledged shame to break."