Greece – Objective Consideration Of The Forms Of The State

The Hellenes could not establish a polis without providing a forum for deliberation, and at once there came into being an agora with its inevitable consequences: debates dealing with every single political question of the day and with the affairs of the state as a whole. The earliest poets, Hesiod with his admonitions and Tyrtaeus with his challenging appeals, range from the hortatory to the prophetic; Solon already voices detached reflection. After mind and tongue had been fully set free, not only the poets apostrophized, glorified, and scoffed at the polis in every manner, but statesmen spoke on the situation of the polis in broad and illuminating discourses, historians steeped themselves thoroughly in political views, and philosophers favored the state not only with their reflections but elevated it to an object of poetic meditation while tending actually to withdraw from the polis themselves.

These Hellenes examined not only their own poleis, and it was from them that we learned all that we knew about the constitutions of other ancient nations, from Egypt to Persia and Carthage, until as late as the nineteenth century, when archeological discoveries made additional contributions to our knowledge. Polybius gave us the most valuable and concise account ever made of the Roman state in the days of its greatness. Only the Greeks clearly visualized and compared everything.

The same year that Aristophanes staged his Clouds, there appeared the earliest political memoir surviving anywhere on earth, On the Athenian State, falsely attributed to Xenophon. An Attic oligarch-Critias or whoever it was-presented in icy detachment the working details of Athenian democracy, showing that, evil though the conduct of this government might have been, it was thoroughly appropriate to the ends in view.

In describing political situations and in establishing proposals, Thucyd ides achieved a sure and perfect mastery in his debates and speeches, and it is irrelevant whether they came from him or from those to whom they are ascribed. In his Hellenica, Xenophon gave us an account of the incom parable life-and-death contest in oratory [logomachy] between Critias and Theramenes. Soon the known orations on the Attic state and tribunal were to begin.

In his Cyropaedia, Xenophon limned an ideal king educated in Socratic ethics and thereby indirectly criticized Greek democracy in its decline. Even though it was not altogether to his liking, Xenophon admired Sparta and thought that it exemplified the best attainable state for Greece. Although Plato had early been repelled by the actual conduct of Attic state affairs and consequently had refused to take any part in them, he was for a long time nevertheless unable to shake off an urge for political activity.

He had the notion that only true philosophy could serve as a standard of right and wrong in private and public life and that misery would burden mankind until the philosophers became kings and filled the chief offices, or until the kings and top officials in the poleis became philosophers. It was obviously futile to try to get the Athenians then in power to become philosophers, but to try to persuade a single mighty ruler to turn to philosophy seemed to Plato to be worth the attempt. And so the man who had to stay aloof from Athenian politics went three times to advise the tyrants of Sicily, and each time had to flee for his life.

Plato even believed that his own utopias could be realized. In addition to the idealized image, given in Timaeus and Critias, of a primeval Athens nine thousand years ago and modeled substantially on Egypt, Plato developed two comprehensive polities, one absolute, the other moderate, as it might be realized on earth.

The first book, The Republic (Politeia), besides its formal literary excellence ha s property for sale in fethiye  enduring historical value owing to the vast amount of information it gives about contemporary conditions in Greece. This work is unique in disclosing the most profound motives and true intentions of the polis. The Republic demanded that the men of the two upper classes-the rulers and guardians-completely abdicate their individuality and submerge themselves in the communal life, giving up their private property, as well as eating and living with their wives. The children would not know their parents and would be reared as public wards from infancy. This showed most plainly how the ideal of the polis could harden the heart of even a choice spirit.

The Republic excluded the productive classes-farmers and industrial workers-that is, the masses, from participating in the affairs of the state, relegating them to the role of servants. At that time, however, the masses in Greece had the hilt in their hands, and it was unrealistic to believe that they would let go of it.

Nearly every utopia advocates the common possession of property. Two reasons made it impossible to introduce this innovation. To acquire private property, so as to indulge in personal enjoyment, was one of the chief ambitions of the Greeks at that time, corroding even a good many Spartans whose city the Republic resembles more closely and draws on more fully than it does any other Greek state. Moreover, people had learned somewhat to counteract the unequal distribution of wealth by periodically plundering the rich. Furthermore, the local guards stationed in barracks and naturally possessed of a high sense of duty, cut a sorry figure when pitted against the powerful mercenaries that pillaged the poleis at that time. Finally, the whole Republic, with its system of built-in safeguards against all innovations and with its caste divisions, each having its prescribed duties, contrasted most strikingly with the free and rich development individualism found among the Greeks contemporary with Plato.

But the most dubious element was the government of the whole scheme. According to Plato, early selection and careful nurture were to produce a superior class of rulers, all of which is hard enough to conceive of as happening smoothly because, after all, they were Greeks, but when they were supposed to be philosophers to boot, the reader may well begin to smile.

In his last years Plato contrived a limited utopia in his Laws, a work traceable in its main outlines to no other thinker and recognized already by Aristotle as written by him. This moderate ideal, devised with a view to easier practical application, was fundamentally as impossible as the Republic, precisely because it likewise flies in the face of the Greeks’ nature, indeed of human nature itself. The Laws did not require having women and property in common; it stipulated an agricultural community with 5,400 parcels of land distributed by lot and removed as far as possible from the sea, for which all Greeks languished.

 

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