Main content

Episode 2

Episode 2 of 3

Michael Portillo examines the past and future of democracy over 2,500 years.

Michael Portillo goes back in time to trace the difficult and often dangerous journey the democratic ideal has taken to arrive at the version we recognise today.

Although the democratic experiment began in fifth century BC Athens, it wasn't without its critics at the time and it didn't survive. Despite Roman talk of "the people", the form of government that Plato and Pericles would recognise lay largely untouched until the Renaissance - and even then it was dismissed as a route to chaos and mob rule. Michael Portillo looks back at the statebuilders of the England, France and America as they grappled with the problems of how to enfranchise the people.

The story of compromise, confusion and conflict that surrounds the ideal of democracy back then helps us understand its frailties now, as well as the difficulties that can arise when countries rush to adopt this complicated and unruly form of government.

Producer: Philip Sellars.

Available now

45 minutes

Last on

Tue 18 May 2010 21:30