This article shows how Athens in the late fifth and early fourth centuries mitigated Robert Michels' famous “iron law of oligarchy.” It is argued that Athens' success es related to its practice of universal male citizen participation in the administration of the city. At several points a comparison is drawn between how the International Typographical Union (ITU), studied in Lipset, Trow, and Coleman's Union Democracy, mitigated the “iron law,” and how Athens did so. The purpose of this article, however, is not to draw as many comparisons as possible. It is rather to suggest that the very possibility of comparison implies that the lessons of Athens are still relevant, if properly interpreted. This last clause is important, for it is argued that the way in which mass participation mitigated the iron law at Athens was subtle, and easily misinterpreted, perhaps especially by those who are eager to see greater participation in contemporary Western democracies.