Here’s the convergence that surprised me: what I found reading Thucydides seemed t be replicated in my neighbors at the meeting. The Funeral Oration, I argued , didn’t put as much emphasis on decision making as on the effects of participating in a democracy. That results in citizens who are self-reliant, resilient, innovative, or as Thucydides puts it are “equal to so many emergencies and graced by so happy a versatility as the Athenian.” (2.41.1 Tr. Crawley)
I see something similar coming out of the town meeting. I do not want to exaggerate: Westport (a thinly populated island eleven miles long) is no Athens. It’s more like one of the villages or wards throughout Attics, the demes, building blocks of Athenian demo-kratiad. Nor is Westport a model of participation: only about 70 of the town’s more than 600 registered voters showed up for the meeting (three hours on a sunny Saturday morning). But those who did were articulate, forthright, engaged. Many of the citizens had never gone beyond high school, but the quality of discussion was better than that in many faculty meetings I have seen. There was very little posturing or grand-standing. Things could get contentious but people found ways to show their mutual respect. The decisions reached seemed to me good ones, but more important, those who participated, I suspect, took away some of the qualities I respect among Mainers, not so different perhaps from those Thucydides observed, and (I believe) admired, among the Athenians and others who participated in democracies (Thuc. 7.55.2).