The Legacy of Ancient Greece

The Greek View of Life


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Section 1. The Greek State a "City."

The present kingdom of Greece is among the smallest of European states; but to the Greeks it would have appeared too large to be a state at all. Within that little peninsular whose whole population and wealth are so insignificant according to modern ideas, were comprised in classical times not one but many flourishing polities. And the conception of an amalgamation of these under a single government was so foreign to the Greek idea, that even to Aristotle, the clearest and most comprehensive thinker of his age, it did not present itself even as a dream. To him, as to every ancient Greek, the state meant the City--meant, that is to say, an area about the size of an English county, with a population, perhaps, of some hundred thousand, self-governing and independent of any larger political whole.

If we can imagine the various County Councils of England emancipated from the control of Parliament and set free to make their own laws, manage their own finance and justice, raise troops and form with one another alliances, offensive and defensive, we may form thus some general idea of the political institutions of the Greeks and some measure of their difference from our own.

Nor must it be supposed that the size of the Greek state was a mere accident in its constitution, that it might have been indefinitely enlarged and yet regained its essential character. On the contrary, the limitation of size belonged to its very notion. The greatest state, says Aristotle, is not the one whose population is most numerous; on the contrary, after a certain limit of increase has been passed, the state ceases to be a state at all. "Ten men are too few for a city; a hundred thousand are too many." Not only London, it seems, but every one of our larger towns, would have been too big for the Greek idea of a state; and as for the British empire, the very conception of it would have been impossible to the Greeks.

Clearly, their view on this point is fundamentally different from our own. Their civilisation was one of "city-states", not of kingdoms and empires; and their whole political outlook was necessarily determined by this condition. Generalising from their own experience, they had formed for themselves a conception of the state not the less interesting to us that it is unfamiliar; and this conception it will be the business of the present chapter to illustrate and explain.

Section 2. The Relation of the State to the Citizen.

First, let us consider the relation of the state to the citizens--that is to say, to that portion of the community, usually a minority, which was possessed of full political rights. It is here that we have the key to that limitation of size which we have seen to be essential to the idea of the city-state. For, in the Greek view, to be a citizen of a state did not merely imply the payment of taxes, and the possession of a vote; it implied a direct and active co-operation in all the functions of civil and military life. A citizen was normally a soldier, a judge, and a member of the governing assembly; and all his public duties he performed not by deputy, but in person. He must be able frequently to attend the centre of government; hence the limitation of territory. He must be able to speak and vote in person in the assembly; hence the limitation of numbers. The idea of representative government never occurred to the Greeks; but if it had occurred to them, and if they had adopted it, it would have involved a revolution in their whole conception of the citizen. Of that conception, direct personal service was the cardinal point--service in the field as well as in the council; and to substitute for personal service the mere right to a vote would have been to destroy the form of the Greek state. Such being the idea the Greeks had formed, based on their own experience, of the relation of the citizen to the state, it follows that to them a society so complex as our own would hardly have answered to the definition of a state at all. Rather they would have regarded it as a mere congeries of unsatisfactory human beings, held together, partly by political, partly by economic compulsion, but lacking that conscious identity of interest with the community to which they belong which alone constitutes the citizen. A man whose main pre-occupation should be with his trade or his profession, and who should only become aware of his corporate relations when called upon for his rates and taxes--a man, that is to say, in the position of an ordinary Englishman--would not have seemed to the Greeks to be a full and proper member of a state. For the state, to them, was more than a machinery, it was a spiritual bond; and "public life", as we call it, was not a thing to be taken up and laid aside at pleasure, but a necessary and essential phase of the existence of a complete man.

This relation of the citizen to the state, as it was conceived by the Greeks, is sometimes described as though it involved the sacrifice of the individual to the whole. And in a certain sense, perhaps, this is true. Aristotle, for instance, declares that no one must suppose he belongs to himself, but rather that all alike belong to the state; and Plato, in the construction of his ideal republic, is thinking much less of the happiness of the individual citizens, than of the symmetry and beauty of the whole as it might appear to a disinterested observer from without. Certainly it would have been tedious and irksome to any but his own ideal philosopher to live under the rule of that perfect polity. Individual enterprise, bent, and choice is rigorously excluded. Nothing escapes the net of legislation, from the production of children to the fashion of houses, clothes, and food. It is absurd, says the ruthless logic of this mathematician among the poets, for one who would regulate public life to leave private relations uncontrolled; if there is to be order at all, it must extend through and through; no moment, no detail must be withdrawn from the grasp of law. And though in this, Plato, no doubt, goes far beyond the common sense of the Greeks, yet he is not building altogether in the air. The republic which he desiderates was realised, as we shall see, partially at least, in Sparta. So that his insistence on the all-pervading domination of the state, exaggerated though it be, is exaggerated on the actual lines of Greek practice, and may be taken as indicative of a real distinction and even antithesis between their point of view and that which prevails at present in most modern states.

But on the other hand such a phrase as the "sacrifice of the individual to the whole", to this extent at least is misleading, that it presupposes an opposition between the end of the individual and that of the State, such as was entirely foreign to the Greek conception. The best individual, in their view, was also the best citizen; the two ideals not only were not incompatible, they were almost indistinguishable. When Aristotle defines a state as "an association of similar persons for the attainment of the best life possible", he implies not only that society is the means whereby the individual attains his ideal, but also that that ideal includes the functions of public life. The state in his view is not merely the convenient machinery that raises a man above his animal wants and sets him free to follow his own devices; it is itself his end, or at least a part of it. And from this it follows that the regulations of the state were not regarded by the Greeks--as they are apt to be by modern men--as so many vexatious, if necessary, restraints on individual liberty; but rather as the expression of the best and highest nature of the citizen, as the formula of the conduct which the good man would naturally prescribe to himself. So that, to get a clear conception of what was at least the Greek ideal, however imperfectly it may have been attained in practice, we ought to regard the individual not as sacrificed to, but rather as realising himself in the whole. We shall thus come nearer to what seems to have been the point of view not only of Aristotle and of Plato, but also of the average Greek man.

Section 3. The Greek View of Law.

For nothing is more remarkable in the political theory of the Greeks than the respect they habitually express for law. Early legislators were believed to have been specially inspired by the divine power--Lycurgus, for instance, by Apollo, and Minos by Zeus; and Plato regards it as a fundamental condition of the well-being of any state that this view should prevail among its citizens. Nor was this conception of the divine origin of law confined to legend and to philosophy; we find it expressed in the following passage of Demosthenes, addressed to a jury of average Athenians, and representing at any rate the conventional and orthodox, if not the critical view of the Greek public:

"The whole life of men, O Athenians, whether they inhabit a great city or a small one, is governed by nature and by laws. Of these, nature is a thing irregular, unequal, and peculiar to the individual possessor; laws are regular, common, and the same for all. Nature, if it be depraved, has often vicious desires; therefore you will find people of that sort falling into error. Laws desire what is just and honourable and useful; they seek for this, and, when it is found, it is set forth as a general ordinance, the same and alike for all; and that is law, which all men ought to obey for many reasons, and especially because every law is an invention and gift of the Gods, a resolution of wise men, a corrective of errors intentional and unintentional, a compact of the whole state, according to which all who belong to the state ought to live." [Footnote: Demosth. in Aristogeit. Section 17.--Translation by C. R. Kennedy.]

In this opposition of Law, as the universal principle, to Nature, as individual caprice, is implied a tacit identification of Law and Justice. The identification, of course, is never complete in any state, and frequently enough is not even approximate. No people were more conscious of this than the Greeks, none, as we shall see later, pushed it more vigorously home. But still, the positive conception which lay at the root of their society was that which finds expression in the passage we have quoted, and which is stated still more explicitly in the "Memorabilia" of Xenophon, where that admirable example of the good and efficient citizen represents his hero Socrates as maintaining, without hesitation or reserve, that "that which is in accordance with law is just." The implication, of course, is not that laws cannot be improved, that they do at any point adequately correspond to justice; but that justice has an objective and binding validity, and that Law is a serious and on the whole a successful attempt to embody it in practice. This was the conviction predominant in the best period of Greece; the conviction under which her institutions were formed and flourished, and whose overthrow by the philosophy of a critical age was coincident with, if it was not the cause of, her decline.

Section 4. Artisans and Slaves.

We have now arrived at a general idea of the nature of the Greek state, and of its relations to the individual citizen. But there were also members of the state who were not citizens at all; there was the class of labourers and traders, who, in some states at least, had no political rights; and the class of slaves who had nowhere any rights at all. For in the Greek conception the citizen was an aristocrat. His excellence was thought to consist in public activity; and to the performance of public duties he ought therefore to be able to devote the greater part of his time and energy. But the existence of such a privileged class involved the existence of a class of producers to support them; and the producers, by the nature of their calling, be they slave or free, were excluded from the life of the perfect citizen. They had not the necessary leisure to devote to public business; neither had they the opportunity to acquire the mental and physical qualities which would enable them to transact it worthily. They were therefore regarded by the Greeks as an inferior class; in some states, in Sparta, for example, and in Thebes, they were excluded from political rights; and even in Athens, the most democratic of all the Greek communities, though they were admitted to the citizenship and enjoyed considerable political influence, they never appear to have lost the stigma of social inferiority. And the distinction which was thus more or less definitely drawn in practice between the citizens proper and the productive class, was even more emphatically affirmed in theory. Aristotle, the most balanced of all the Greek thinkers and the best exponent of the normal trend of their ideas, excludes the class of artisans from the citizenship of his ideal state on the ground that they are debarred by their occupation from the characteristic excellence of man. And Plato, though here as elsewhere he pushes the normal view to excess, yet, in his insistence on the gulf that separates the citizen from the mechanic and the trader, is in sympathy with the general current of Greek ideas. His ideal state is one which depends mainly on agriculture; in which commerce and exchange are reduced to the smallest possible dimensions; in which every citizen is a landowner, forbidden to engage in trade; and in which the productive class is excluded from all political rights. The obverse then, of the Greek citizen, who realised in the state his highest life, was an inferior class of producers who realised only the means of subsistence. But within this class again was a distinction yet more fundamental--the distinction between free men and slaves. In the majority of the Greek states the slaves were the greater part of the population; in Athens, to take an extreme case, at the close of the fourth century, they are estimated at 400,000, to 100,000 citizens. They were employed not only in domestic service, but on the fields, in factories and in mines, and performed, in short, a considerable part of the productive labour in the state. A whole large section, then, of the producers in ancient Greece had no social or political rights at all. They existed simply to maintain the aristocracy of citizens, for whom and in whom the state had its being. Nor was this state of things in the least repugnant to the average Greek mind. Nothing is more curious to the modern man than the temper in which Aristotle approaches this theme. Without surprise or indignation, but in the tone of an impartial, scientific inquirer, he asks himself the question whether slavery is natural, and answers it in the affirmative. For, he argues, though in any particular case, owing to the uncertain chances of fortune and war, the wrong person may happen to be enslaved, yet, broadly speaking, the general truth remains, that there are some men so inferior to others that they ought to be despotically governed, by the same right and for the same good end that the body ought to be governed by the soul. Such men, he maintains, are slaves by nature; and it is as much to their interest to be ruled as it is to their masters' interest to rule them. To this class belong, for example, all who are naturally incapable of any but physical activity. These should be regarded as detachable limbs, so to speak, of the man who owns them, instruments of his will, like hands and feet; or, to use Aristotle's own phrase, "the slave is a tool with life in it, and the tool a lifeless slave."

The relation between master and slave thus frankly conceived by the Greeks, did not necessarily imply, though it was quite compatible with, brutality of treatment. The slave might be badly treated, no doubt, and very frequently was, for his master had almost absolute control over him, life and limb; but, as we should expect, it was clearly recognised by the best Greeks that the treatment should be genial and humane. "There is a certain mutual profit and kindness," says Aristotle, "between master and slave, in all cases where the relation is natural, not merely imposed from without by convention or force." [Footnote: Arist. Pol. I. 7. 1255 b 12] And Plato insists on the duty of neither insulting nor outraging a slave, but treating him rather with even greater fairness than if he were in a position of equality.

Still, there can be no doubt that the Greek conception of slavery is one of the points in which their view of life runs most counter to our own. Centuries of Christianity have engendered in us the conviction, or rather, the instinct, that men are equal at least to this extent, that no one has a right explicitly to make of another a mere passive instrument of his will--that every man, in short, must be regarded as an end in himself. Yet even here the divergence between the Greek and the modern view is less extreme than it appears at first sight. For the modern man, in spite of his perfectly genuine belief in equality (in the sense in which we have just defined the word), does nevertheless, when he is confronted with racial differences, recognise degrees of inferiority so extreme, that he is practically driven into the Aristotelian position that some men are naturally slaves. The American, for example, will hardly deny that such is his attitude towards the negro. The negro, in theory, is the equal, politically and socially, of the white man; in practice, he is excluded from the vote, from the professions, from the amenities of social intercourse, and even, as we have recently learnt, from the most elementary forms of justice. The general and a priori doctrine of equality is shattering itself against the actual facts; and the old Greek conception, "the slave by nature", may be detected behind the mask of the Christian ideal. And while thus, even in spite of itself, the modern view is approximating to that of the Greeks, on the other hand the Greek view by its own evolution was already beginning to anticipate our own. Even Aristotle, in formulating his own conception of slavery, finds it necessary to observe that though it be true that some men are naturally slaves, yet in practice, under conditions which give the victory to force, it may happen that the "natural" slave becomes the master, and the "natural" master is degraded to a slave. This is already a serious modification of his doctrine. And other writers, pushing the contention further, deny altogether the theory of natural slavery. "No man," says the poet Philemon, "was ever born a slave by nature. Fortune only has put men in that position." And Euripides, the most modern of the Greeks, writes in the same strain: "One thing only disgraces a slave, and that is the name. In all other respects a slave, if he be good, is no worse than a freeman." [Footnote: Euripides, Ion. 854]

It seems then that the distinction between the Greek and the modern point of view is not so profound or so final as it appears at first sight. Still, the distinction, broadly speaking, is there. The Greeks, on the whole, were quite content to sacrifice the majority to the minority. Their position, as we said at the outset, was fundamentally aristocratic; they exaggerated rather than minimised the distinctions between men--between the Greek and the barbarian, the freeman and the slave, the gentleman and the artisan--regarding them as natural and fundamental, not as the casual product of circumstances. The "equality" which they sought in a well-ordered state was proportional not arithmetical--the attribution to each of his peculiar right, not of equal rights to all. Some were born to rule, others to serve; some to be ends, others to be means; and the problem to be solved was not how to obliterate these varieties of tone, but how to compose them into an ordered harmony.

In a modern state, on the other hand, though class distinctions are clearly enough marked, yet the point of view from which they are regarded is fundamentally different. They are attributed rather to accidents of fortune than to varieties of nature. The artisan, for example, ranks no doubt lower than the professional man; but no one maintains that he is a different kind of being, incapable by nature, as Aristotle asserts, of the characteristic excellence of man. The distinction admitted is rather one of wealth than of natural calling, and may be obliterated by ability and good luck. Neither in theory nor in practice does the modern state recognise any such gulf as that which, in ancient Greece, separated the freeman from the slave, or the citizen from the non-citizen.

Section 5. The Greek State Primarily Military, not Industrial.

The source of this divergence of view must be sought in the whole circumstances and character of the Greek states. Founded in the beginning by conquest, many of them still retained, in their internal structure, the marks of their violent origin. The citizens, for example, of Sparta and of Crete, were practically military garrisons, settled in the midst of a hostile population. These were extreme cases; and elsewhere, no doubt, the distinction between the conquerors and the conquered had disappeared. Still, it had sufficed to mould the conception and ideal of the citizen as a member of a privileged and superior class, whose whole energies were devoted to maintaining, by council and war, not only the prosperity, but the very existence of the state. The original citizen, moreover, would be an owner of land, which would be tilled for him by a subject class. Productive labour would be stamped, from the outset, with the stigma of inferiority; commerce would grow up, if at all, outside the limits of the landed aristocracy, and would have a struggle to win for itself any degree of social and political recognition. Such were the conditions that produced the Greek conception of the citizen. In some states, such as Sparta, they continued practically unchanged throughout the best period of Greek history; in others, such as Athens, they were modified by the growth of a commercial population, and where that was the case the conception of the citizen was modified too, and the whole polity assumed a democratic character. Yet never, as we have seen, even in the most democratic states, was the modern conception of equality admitted. For, in the first place, the institution of slavery persisted, to stamp the mass of producers as an inferior caste; and in the second place, trade, even in the states where it was most developed, hardly attained a preponderating influence. The ancient state was and remained primarily military. The great industrial questions which agitate modern states either did not exist at all in Greece, or assumed so simple a form that they did not rise to the surface of political life. [Footnote: There was, of course, the general opposition between rich and poor (see below). But not those infinitely complex relations which are the problems of modern statesmanship.] How curious it is, for example, from the modern point of view, to find Plato, a citizen of the most important trading centre of Greece, dismissing in the following brief sentence the whole commercial legislation of his ideal state:

"As to those common business transactions between private individuals in the market, including, if you please, the contracts of artisans, libels, assaults, law-proceedings, and the impanelling of juries, or again questions relating to tariffs, and the collection of such customs as may be necessary in the market or in the harbours, and generally all regulations of the market, the police, the custom-house, and the like; shall we condescend to legislate at all on such matters?

"No, it is not worth while to give directions on these points to good and cultivated men: for in most cases they will have little difficulty in discovering all the legislation required." [Footnote: Plato, Rep. IV. 425.--Translated by Davies and Vaughan.]

In fact, throughout his treatise it is the non-commercial or military class with which Plato is almost exclusively concerned; and in taking that line he is so far at least in touch with reality that that class was the one which did in fact predominate in the Greek state; and that even where, as in Athens, the productive class became an important factor in political life, it was never able altogether to overthrow the aristocratic conception of the citizen.

And with that conception, we must add, was bound up the whole Greek view of individual excellence. The inferiority of the artisan and the trader, historically established in the manner we have indicated, was further emphasised by the fact that they were excluded by their calling from the cultivation of the higher personal qualities--from the training of the body by gymnastics and of the mind by philosophy; from habitual conversance with public affairs; from that perfect balance, in a word, of the physical, intellectual, and moral powers, which was only to be attained by a process of self-culture, incompatible with the pursuance of a trade for bread. Such, at any rate, was the opinion of the Greeks. We shall have occasion to return to it later. Meantime, let us sum up the course of our investigation up to the present point.

We have seen that the state, in the Greek view, must be so limited, both in territory and population, that all its citizens might be able to participate in person in its government and defence; that it was based on fundamental class distinctions separating sharply the citizen from the non-citizen, and the slave from the free; that its end and purpose was that all-absorbing corporate activity in which the citizen found the highest expression of himself; and that to that end the inferior classes were regarded as mere means--a point of view which finds its completest expression in the institution of slavery.

Section 6. Forms of Government in the Greek State.

While, however, this was the general idea of the Greek state, it would be a mistake to suppose that it was everywhere embodied in a single permanent form of polity. On the contrary, the majority of the states in Greece were in a constant state of flux; revolution succeeded revolution with startling rapidity; and in place of a single fixed type what we really get is a constant transition from one variety to another. The general account we have given ought therefore to be regarded only as a kind of limiting formula, embracing within its range a number of polities distinct and even opposed in character. Of these polities Aristotle, whose work is based on an examination of all the existing states of Greece, recognises three main varieties: government by the one, government by the few, and government by the many; and each of these is subdivided into two forms, one good, where the government has regard to the well-being of the whole, the other bad, where it has regard only to the well-being of those who govern. The result is six forms, of which three are good, monarchy, aristocracy, and what he calls a "polity" par excellence; three bad, tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy. Of all these forms we have examples in Greek history, and indeed can roughly trace a tendency of the state to evolve through the series of them. But by far the most important, in the historical period, are the two forms known as Oligarchy and Democracy; and the reason of their importance is that they corresponded roughly to government by the rich and government by the poor. "Rich and poor," says Aristotle, "are the really antagonistic members of a state. The result is that the character of all existing polities is determined by the predominance of one or other of these classes, and it is the common opinion that there are two polities and two only, viz., Democracy and Oligarchy." [Footnote: Arist. Pol. VI. (IV) 1291 b8.--Translation by Welldon.] In other words, the social distinction between rich and poor was exaggerated in Greece into political antagonism. In every state there was an oligarchic and a democratic faction; and so fierce was the opposition between them, that we may almost say that every Greek city was in a chronic state of civil war, having become, as Plato puts it, not one city but two, "one comprising the rich and the other the poor, who reside together on the same ground, and are always plotting against one another." [Footnote: Plat. Rep. viii. 551--Translation by Davies and Vaughan]

Section 7. Faction and Anarchy.

This internal schism which ran through almost every state, came to a head in the great Peloponnesian war which divided Greece at the close of the fifth century, and in which Athens and Sparta, the two chief combatants, represented respectively the democratic and the oligarchic principles. Each appealed to the kindred faction in the states that were opposed to them; and every city was divided against itself, the party that was "out" for the moment plotting with the foreign foe to overthrow the party that was "in." Thus the general Greek conception of the ordered state was so far from being realised in practice that probably at no time in the history of the civilised world has anarchy more complete and cynical prevailed.

To appreciate the gulf that existed between the ideal and the fact, we have only to contrast such a scheme as that set forth in the "Republic" of Plato with the following description by Thucydides of the state of Greece during the Peloponnesian war:

"Not long afterwards the whole Hellenic world was in commotion; in every city the chiefs of the democracy and of the oligarchy were struggling, the one to bring in the Athenians, the other the Lacedaemonians. Now in time of peace, men would have had no excuse for introducing either, and no desire to do so; but when they were at war and both sides could easily obtain allies to the hurt of their enemies and the advantage of themselves, the dissatisfied party were only too ready to invoke foreign aid. And revolution brought upon the cities of Hellas many terrible calamities, such as have been and always will be while human nature remains the same, but which are more or less aggravated and differ in character with every new combination of circumstances. In peace and prosperity both states and individuals are actuated by higher motives, because they do not fall under the dominion of imperious necessities; but war which takes away the comfortable provision of daily life is a hard master, and tends to assimilate men's characters to their conditions.

"When troubles had once begun in the cities, those who followed carried the revolutionary spirit further and further, and determined to outdo the report of all who had preceded them by the ingenuity of their enterprises and the atrocity of their revenges. The meaning of words had no longer the same relation to things, but was changed by them as they thought proper. Reckless daring was held to be loyal courage; prudent delay was the excuse of a coward; moderation was the disguise of unmanly weakness; to know everything was to do nothing. Frantic energy was the true quality of a man. A conspirator who wanted to be safe was a recreant in disguise. The lover of violence was always trusted, and his opponent suspected. He who succeeded in a plot was deemed knowing, but a still greater master in craft was he who detected one. On the other hand, he who plotted from the first to have nothing to do with plots was a breaker-up of parties and a poltroon who was afraid of the enemy. In a word, he who could outstrip another in a bad action was applauded, and so was he who encouraged to evil one who had no idea of it. The tie of party was stronger than the tie of blood, because a partisan was more ready to dare without asking why (for party associations are not based upon any established law, nor do they seek the public good; they are formed in defiance of the laws and from self-interest). The seal of good faith was not divine law, but fellowship in crime. If an enemy when he was in the ascendant offered fair words, the opposite party received them, not in a generous spirit, but by a jealous watchfulness of his actions. Revenge was dearer than self-preservation. Any agreements sworn to by either party, when they could do nothing else, were binding as long as both were powerless. But he who on a favourable opportunity first took courage and struck at his enemy when he saw him off his guard, had greater pleasure in a perfidious than he would have had in an open act of revenge; he congratulated himself that he had taken the safer course, and also that he had overreached his enemy and gained the prize of superior ability. In general the dishonest more easily gain credit for cleverness than the simple for goodness; men take a pride in the one, but are ashamed of the other.

"The cause of all these evils was the love of power originating in avarice and ambition, and the party-spirit which is engendered by them when men are fairly embarked in a contest. For the leaders on either side used specious names, the one party professing to uphold the constitutional equality of the many, the other the wisdom of an aristocracy, while they made the public interests, to which in name they were devoted, in reality their prize. Striving in every way to overcome each other, they committed the most monstrous crimes; yet even these were surpassed by the magnitude of their revenges which they pursued to the very utmost, neither party observing any definite limits either of justice or public expediency, but both alike making the caprice of the moment their law. Either by the help of an unrighteous sentence, or grasping power with the strong hand, they were eager to satiate the impatience of party spirit. Neither faction cared for religion; but any fair pretence which succeeded in effecting some odious purpose was greatly lauded. And the citizens who were of neither party fell a prey to both; either they were disliked because they held aloof, or men were jealous of their surviving.

"Thus revolution gave birth to every form of wickedness in Hellas. The simplicity which is so large an element in a noble nature was laughed to scorn and disappeared. An attitude of perfidious antagonism everywhere prevailed; for there was no word binding enough, nor oath terrible enough to reconcile enemies. Each man was strong only in the conviction that nothing was secure; he must look to his own safety, and could not afford to trust others. Inferior intellects generally succeeded best. For aware of their own deficiencies, and fearing the capacities of their opponents, for whom they were no match in powers of speech, and whose subtle wits were likely to anticipate them in contriving evil, they struck boldly and at once. But the cleverer sort, presuming in their arrogance that they would be aware in time, and disdaining to act when they could think, were taken off their guard and easily destroyed." [Footnote: Thuc. iii. 82.--Translated by Jowett.]

The general indictment thus drawn up by Thucydides is amply illustrated by the events of war which he describes. On one occasion, for example, the Athenians were blockading Mitylene; the government, an oligarchy, was driven to arm the people for the defence; the people, having obtained arms, immediately demanded political rights, under threat of surrendering the city to the foreign foe; and the government, rather than concede their claims, surrendered it themselves. Again, Megara, we learn, was twice betrayed, once by the democrats to the Athenians, and again by the oligarchs to the Lacedaemonians. At Leontini the Syracusans were called in to drive out the popular party. And at Corcyra the people, having got the better of their aristocratic opponents, proceeded to a general massacre which extended over seven days, with every variety of moral and physical atrocity.

Such is the view of the political condition of Greece given to us by a contemporary observer towards the close of the fifth century, and it is a curious comment on the Greek idea of the state. That idea, as we saw, was an ordered inequality, political as well as social; and in certain states, and notably in Sparta, it was successfully embodied in a stable form. But in the majority of the Greek states it never attained to more than a fluctuating and temporary realisation. The inherent contradiction was too extreme for the attempted reconciliation; the inequalities refused to blend in a harmony of divergent tones but asserted themselves in the dissonance of civil war.

Section 8. Property and the Communistic Ideal.

And, as we have seen, this internal schism of the Greek state was as much social as political. The "many" and the "few" were identified respectively with the poor and the rich; and the struggle was thus at bottom as much economic as political. Government by an oligarchy was understood to mean the exploitation of the masses by the classes. "An oligarchy," says a democrat, as reported by Thucydides, "while giving the people the full share of danger, not merely takes too much of the good things, but absolutely monopolises them." [Footnote: Thuc. vi. 39.-- Translated by Jowett.] And, similarly, the advent of democracy was held to imply the spoliation of the classes in the interest of the masses, either by excessive taxation, by an abuse of the judicial power to fine, or by any other of the semi-legal devices of oppression which the majority in power have always at their command. This substantial identity of rich and poor, respectively, with oligarch and democrat may be further illustrated by the following passage from Aristotle:

"In consequence of the political disturbances and contentions between the commons on the one hand and the rich on the other, whichever party happens to get the better of its opponents, instead of establishing a polity of a broad and equal kind, assumes political supremacy as a prize of the victory, and sets up either a Democracy or an Oligarchy." [Footnote: Arist. Pol. VI. (IV) 1296 a 27.--Translation by Welldon.]

We see then that it was the underlying question of property that infused so strong a rancour into the party struggles of Greece. From the very earliest period, in fact, we find it to have been the case that political revolution was prompted by economic causes. Debt was the main factor of the crisis which led to the legislation of Solon; and a re- division of the land was one of the measures attributed to Lycurgus. [Footnote: I have not thought it necessary for my purpose, here or elsewhere, to discuss the authenticity of the statements made by Greek authors about Lycurgus.] As population increased, and, in the maritime states, commerce and trade developed, the problem of poverty became increasingly acute; and though it was partially met by the emigration of the surplus population to colonies, yet in the fifth and fourth centuries we find it prominent and pressing both in practical politics and in speculation. Nothing can illustrate better how familiar the topic was, and to what free theorising it had led, than the passages in which it is treated in the comedies of Aristophanes. Here for example, is an extract from the "Ecclesiazusae" which it may be worth while to insert as a contribution to an argument that belongs to every age.

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