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2. Introduction to Ancient Greek History: The Dark Ages


Poziom:

Temat: Społeczeństwo i nauki społeczne

Professor Donald Kagan: Now,
I'm going to ask you this question.
Why are you here? That is to say,
why should you, we, all of us,
want to study these ancient Greeks?
I think it's reasonable for people who are considering the
study of a particular subject in a college course to ask why they
should. What is it about the Greeks
between the years that I mentioned to you that deserves
the attention of people in the twenty-first century?
I think the answer is to be found, or at least one
answer--the truth is there are many answers--in that they are
just terribly interesting, but that's very much of
a--what's the word I want, the opposite of
objective--subjective observation by me.
So I would say, a less subjective one is that I
believe that it comes from their position,
that is to say, the position of the Greeks are
at the most significant starting point of Western Civilization,
which is the culture that most powerfully shapes not only the
West but most of the world today.
It seems to me to be evident that whatever it's other
characteristics, the West has created
institutions of government and law that provide unprecedented
freedom for its people. It has also invented a body of
natural scientific knowledge and technological achievement that
together make possible a level of health and material
prosperity undreamed of in earlier times,
and unknown outside the West and those places that have been
influenced by the West. I think the Nobel Prize
laureate, V.S. Naipaul, a man born in
Trinidad, of Indian parents, was right, when he spoke of the
modern world as our universal civilization shaped chiefly by
the West. Most people around the
world who know of them want to benefit from the achievements of
Western science and technology. Many of them also want to
participate in its political freedom.
Moreover, experience suggests that a society cannot achieve
the full benefits of Western science and technology without a
commitment to reason and objectivity as essential to
knowledge and to the political freedom that sustains it and
helps it to move forward. The primacy of reason and the
pursuit of objectivity, therefore, both characteristic
of the Western experience seem to me to be essential for the
achievement of the desired goals almost anywhere in the world.
The civilization of the West, however,
was not the result of some inevitable process through which
other cultures will automatically pass.
It emerged from a unique history in which chance and
accident often played a vital part.
The institutions and the ideas therefore, that provide for
freedom and improvement in the material conditions of life,
cannot take root and flourish without an understanding of how
they came about and what challenges they have had to
surmount. Non-Western peoples who wish to
share in the things that characterize modernity will need
to study the ideas and history of Western civilization to
achieve what they want and Westerners,
I would argue, who wish to preserve these
things must do the same. The many civilizations
adopted by the human race have shared basic characteristics.
Most have tended toward cultural uniformity and
stability. Reason, although it was
employed for all sorts of practical and intellectual
purposes in some of these cultures,
it still lacked independence from religion and it lacked the
high status to challenge the most basic received ideas.
Standard form of government has been monarchy.
Outside the West, republics have been unknown.
Rulers have been thought to be divine or appointed spokesmen
for divinity. Religious and political
institutions and beliefs have been thoroughly intertwined as a
mutually supportive unified structure.
Government has not been subject to secular reasoned analysis.
It has rested on religious authority, tradition,
and power. The concept of individual
freedom has had no importance in these great majorities of
cultures in human history. The first and the sharpest
break with this common human experience came in ancient
Greece. The Greek city states called
poleis were republics. The differences in wealth among
their citizens were relatively small.
There were no kings with the wealth to hire mercenary
soldiers. So the citizens had to do their
own fighting and to decide when to fight.
As independent defenders of the common safety and the common
interest, they demanded a role in the most important political
decisions. In this way,
for the first time, political life really was
invented. Observe that the word
"political" derives from the Greek word polis.
Before that no word was needed because there was no such thing.
This political life came to be shared by a relatively large
portion of the people and participation of political life
was highly valued by the Greeks. Such states,
of course, did not need a bureaucracy for there were no
vast royal or state holdings that needed management and not
much economic surplus to support a bureaucratic class.
There was no separate caste of priests and there was very
little concern, I don't mean any concern,
but very little concern with life after death which was
universally important in other civilizations.
In this varied, dynamic, secular,
and remarkably free context, there arose for the first time
a speculative natural philosophy based on observation and reason,
the root of modern natural science and philosophy,
free to investigate or to ignore divinity.
What most sets the Greeks apart is their view of the world.
Where other peoples have seen sameness and continuity,
the Greeks and the heirs of their way of thinking,
have tended to notice disjunctions and to make
distinctions. The Greek way of looking at
things requires a change from the characteristic way of
knowing things before the Greeks,
that is to say, the use of faith,
poetry, and intuition. Instead, increasingly,
the Greeks focused on a reliance on reason.
Reason permits a continuing rational inquiry into the nature
of reality. Unlike mystical insights,
scientific theories cannot be arrived at by meditation alone
but require accurate observation of the world and reasoning of a
kind that other human beings can criticize,
analyze, modify, and correct. The adoption of this way of
thinking was the beginning of the liberation and enthronement
of reason to whose searching examination,
the Greeks thereafter, exposed everything they
perceived natural, human, and divine.
From the time they formed their republics until they were
conquered by alien empires, the Greeks also rejected
monarchy of any kind. They thought that a human being
functioning in his full capacity must live as a free man in an
autonomous polis ruled by laws that were the product of
the political community and not of an arbitrary fiat from some
man or god. These are ideas about laws and
justice that have simply not flourished outside the Western
tradition until places that were outside the Western tradition
were influenced by the West. The Greeks, however,
combined a unique sense of mankind's high place in the
natural order. The Greeks had the most
arrogant view of their relationship to the divinity,
as I will tell you about later in the course,
of any people I know. So on the one hand,
they had this very high picture of this place of man,
but they combined it--excuse me,
and what possibilities these human beings had before
that--with a painful understanding of the limitations
of the greatness and the possibilities before man.
This combination of elevating the greatness in
reality and in possibility of human beings with the
limitations of it, the greatest limitation being
mortality; that together,
composes the tragic vision of the human condition that
characterized classical Greek civilization.
To cope with it, they urged human beings to
restrain their overarching ambitions.
Inscribed at Apollo's temple at Delphi, which became–well,
the Greeks came to call it the navel of the universe,
but it certainly became the center of the Greek world--and
which was also seen as a central place of importance by
non-Greeks who were on the borders of the Greek world.
That temple at Delphi had written above the Temple these
words, "Know Thyself," and another statement,
"Nothing in Excess." I think those together really
mean this: know your own limitations as a fallible mortal
and then exercise moderation because you are not divine,
you are mortal. Beyond these exhortations,
they relied on a good political regime to enable human beings to
fulfill the capacities that were part of their nature,
to train them in virtue, and to restrain them from vice.
Aristotle, and his politics, made the point neatly,
and I quote him, "As a man,"
- I'm sorry, "As man is the best of the
animals when perfected, so he is the worst when
separated from law and justice. For injustice is most dangerous
when it is armed and man armed by nature with good sense and
virtue may use them for entirely opposite ends.
Therefore, when he is without virtue, man is the most
unscrupulous and savage of the animals."
Aristotle went on to say that the justice needed to control
this dark side of human nature can be found only in a well
ordered society of free people who govern themselves,
and the only one that he knew was the polis of the
Greeks. Now, the second great
strand in the history of the West is the Judeo Christian
tradition, a very different tradition from
the one I have just described. Christianity's main roots were
in Judaism, a religion that worshipped a single,
all powerful deity, who is sharply separated from
human beings, makes great moral demands upon
them, and judges them all,
even kings and emperors. Christianity began as a
persecuted religion that ultimately captured the Roman
Empire only after centuries of hostility towards the Empire,
towards Rome, towards the secular state in
general. It never lost entirely its
original character as an insurgent movement,
independent of the state and hostile to it,
making claims that challenge the secular authority.
This, too, is unique to the West, just like the Greek
experience is unique. This kind of religious
organization is to be found nowhere else in human society.
So the union of a universalist religion,
with a monarch such as the Roman Empire,
who ruled a vast empire, could nonetheless have put an
end to any prospect of freedom as in other civilizations.
But Christianity's inheritance of the rational disputatious
Greek philosophy led to powerfully divisive quarrels
about the nature of God and other theological questions,
which was perfectly in the tradition and uniquely in the
tradition of Greek philosophical debate.
What I am doing is making a claim that even the
Judeo-Christian tradition, which is such a different one
from the Greeks, and in so many ways seems to be
at odds with it, even they were dependent upon
one aspect of the Greek culture, which is inherent in
Christianity and important in Christianity.
That too, was ultimately, a Greek source.
Well, the people who the Romans called barbarians
destroyed the Western empire and it also the destroyed the power
of the emperors and their efforts to impose religious and
political conformity under imperial control.
The emperor in the east was able to do that because they
were not conquered by the barbarians,
but in the West, you have this situation where
nobody is fully in charge. Here we have arrived at a
second sharp break with the general experience of mankind.
The West of the Germanic tribes that had toppled the Roman
Empire was weak and it was divided.
The barriers to unity presented by European geography and very
limited technology made it hard for a would-be conqueror to
create a vast empire, eliminating competitors and
imposing his will over vast areas.
These conditions permitted a development of institutions and
habits needed for freedom, even as they also made Europe
vulnerable to conquests and to extinction, and Europe was
almost extinguished practically before there was a Europe;
very early in its history. The Christian Church might
have stepped into the breach and imposed obedience and
uniformity, because before terribly long,
all of the West had been Christianized.
But the Church, in fact, never gained enough
power to control the state. Strong enough to interfere with
the ambitions of emperors and kings, it never was able to
impose its own domination, though some of the Popes surely
tried. Nobody sought or planned for
freedom, but in the spaces that were left by the endless
conflicts among secular rulers and between them and the Church,
there was room for freedom to grow.
Freedom was a kind of an accident that came about because
the usual ways of doing things were not possible.
Into some of that space, towns and cities reappeared and
with them new supports for freedom.
Taking advantage of the rivalries I've mentioned,
they obtained charters from the local powers establishing their
rights to conduct their own affairs and to govern
themselves. In Italy,
some of these cities were able to gain control of the
surrounding country and to become city states,
resembling those of the ancient Greeks.
Their autonomy was assisted by the continuing struggle between
Popes and Emperors, between church and state,
again, a thoroughly unique Western experience.
In these states, the modern world began to take
form. Although the people were mainly
Christians, their life and outlook became increasingly
secular. Here, and not only in Italy but
in other cities north of the Alps, arose a worldview that
celebrated the greatness and dignity of mankind,
which was a very sharp turning away from the medieval Western
tradition that put God and life in the hereafter at the center
of everything. This new vision is revealed
with flamboyant confidence by Pico della Mirándola,
a Florentine thinker, who said--wrote the following:
"God told man that we, meaning God,
have made the neither of Heaven nor of Earth,
neither mortal nor immortal, so that with freedom of choice
and with honor, as though the maker and molder
of thyself, thou mayest fashion thyself in
whatever shape thou shalt prefer.
Oh supreme generosity of God the Father, oh highest and the
most great felicity of man, to Him it is granted to have
whatever He chooses to be whatever He wills."
Now, this is a remarkable leap, even beyond the humanism of the
Greeks, something brand new in the world.
According to this view, man is not merely the measure
of all things as the Greek Sophist Protagoras had radically
proclaimed in the fifth century. He is, in fact says Pico,
more than mortal. He is unlimited by nature.
He is entirely free to shape himself and to acquire whatever
he wants. Please observe too that it is
not his reason that will determine human actions but his
will alone, free of the moderating control of reason.
Another Florentine, Machiavelli,
moved further in the same direction.
For him, and I quote him, "Fortune is a woman and it is
necessary to hold her down and beat her, and fight with her."
A notion that the Greeks would have regarded as dangerously
arrogant and certain to produce disaster.
They would have seen this as an example of the word that they
used, and we'll talk about a lot in this course,
hubris, a kind of violent arrogance
which comes upon men when they see themselves as more than
human and behave as though they were divine.
Francis Bacon, influenced by Machiavelli,
urged human beings to employ their reason to force nature to
give up its secrets, to treat nature like a woman,
to master nature in order to improve man's material well
being. He assumed that such a course
would lead to progress and the general improvement of the human
condition, and it was that sort of
thinking that lay at the heart of the scientific revolution and
remains the faith on which modern science and technology
rest. A couple of other English
political philosophers, Hobbs and Locke,
applied a similar novelty and modernity to the sphere of
politics. Basing their understanding on
the common passions of man for a comfortable self-preservation
and discovering something the Greeks had never thought of,
something they called natural rights that belonged to a man
either as part of nature, or as the gift of a benevolent
and a reasonable god. Man was seen as a solitary
creature, not inherently a part of society.
That is totally un-Greek. And his basic rights were seen
to be absolute, for nothing must interfere with
the right of each individual to defend his life,
liberty, and property. Freedom was threatened in early
modern times by the emergence of monarchies that might have been
able to crush it. But the cause of individual
freedom was enhanced by the Protestant Reformation.
Another upheaval within Christianity arising from its
focus on individual salvation, its inheritance of a tradition
of penetrating reason, applied even to matters of
faith and to the continuing struggle between church and
state. The English Revolution came
about, in large part, because of King Charles'
attempt to impose an alien religious conformity,
as well as tighter political control on his kingdom.
But in England, the tradition of freedom and
government bound by law was already strong enough to produce
effective resistance. From the ensuing rebellion came
limited constitutional representative government and
ultimately our modern form of democracy.
The example, and the ideas it produced,
encouraged and informed the French and the American
Revolutions, and the entire modern
constitutional tradition. These ideas and institutions
are the basis for modern liberal thinking about politics,
the individual and society. Just as the confident view of
science and technology has progressive forces improving the
lot of humanity and increasing man's capacity to understand and
control the universe, has been the most powerful form
taken by the Western elevation of reason.
In the last two centuries, both these most characteristic
elements of Western civilization have in fact become increasingly
under heavy attack. At different times,
science and technology have been blamed for the destruction
of human community and the alienation of people from nature
and from one another - for intensifying the gulf between
rich and poor, for threatening the very
existence of humanity, either by producing weapons of
total destruction or by destroying the environment.
At the same time, the foundations of freedom have
also come into question. Jefferson and his colleagues
could confidently proclaim their political rights as being self
evident and the gift of a creator.
By now, in our time, however, the power of religion
has faded, and for many, the basis of modern political
and moral order has been demolished.
Nietzsche announced the death of God and Dostoyevsky's
Grand Inquisitor asserted that when God is dead all things are
permitted. Nihilism rejects any objective
basis for society and its morality.
It rejects the very concept of objectivity.
It even rejects the possibility of communication itself,
and a vulgar form of Nihilism, I claim, has a remarkable
influence in our educational system today,
a system rotting from the head down,
so chiefly in universities, but all the way down to
elementary schools. The consequences of the victory
of such ideas, I believe, would be enormous.
If both religion and reason are removed, all that remains is
will and power, where the only law is the law
of tooth and claw. There is no protection for
the freedom of weaker individuals, or those who
question the authority of the most powerful.
There is no basis for individual rights,
or for a critique of existing ideas and institutions,
if there is no base either in religion or in reason.
That such attacks on the greatest achievements of the
West should be made by Western intellectuals is perfectly in
keeping with the Western tradition.
The first crowd to do stuff like that, you will find,
in the fifth century B.C. in Greece is a movement called
The Sophistic Movement. These Sophists raised most of
the questions that my colleagues are now spending all their time
with. Yet, to me, it seems ironic
that they have gained so much currency in a time,
more or less, in which the achievements of
Western reason in the form of science and at a moment when its
concept of political freedom seemed to be more popular and
more desirable to people in and out of Western civilization than
ever. Now, I've been saying kind
things about Western civilization,
but I would not want to deny that there is a dark side to the
Western experience and its way of life.
To put untrammeled reasons and individual freedom at the center
of a civilization is to live with the conflict,
the turmoil, the instability,
and the uncertainty that these things create.
Freedom was born and has survived in the space created by
divisions, and conflict within and between nations and
religions. We must wonder whether the
power of modern weapons will allow it and the world to
survive at such a price. Individual freedom,
although it has greatly elevated the condition of the
people who have lived in free societies,
inevitably permits inequalities which are the more galling,
because each person is plainly free to try to improve his
situation and largely responsible for the outcome.
Freedom does permit isolation from society and an alienation
of the individual at a high cost, both to the individual and
society. These are not the only
problems posed by the Western tradition in its modern form,
which is what we live in. Whether it takes the shape of
the unbridled claims of Pico della Mirandola or the
Nietzschean assertion of the power of the superior individual
to transform and shape his own nature,
or of the modern totalitarian effort to change the nature of
humanity by utopian social engineering,
the temptation to arrogance offered by the ideas and worldly
success of the modern West threatens its own great
traditions and achievements. Because of Western
civilization's emergence as the exemplary civilization,
it also presents problems to the whole world.
The challenges presented by freedom and the predominance of
reason cannot be ignored, nor can they be met by recourse
to the experience of other cultures where these
characteristics have not been prominent.
In other words, to understand and cope with the
problems that we all face, we all need to know and to
grapple with the Western experience.
In my view, we need especially to examine
the older traditions of the West that came before the modern era,
and to take seriously the possibility that useful wisdom
can be found there, especially among the Greeks who
began it all. They understood the
potentiality of human beings, their limitations and the
predicament in which they live. Man is potent and important,
yet he is fallible and mortal, capable of the greatest
achievements and the worst crimes.
He is then a tragic figure, powerful but limited,
with freedom to choose and act, but bound by his own nature,
knowing that he will never achieve perfect knowledge and
understanding, justice and happiness,
but determined to continue the search no matter what.
To me that seems an accurate description of the
human condition that is meaningful,
not only for the Greeks and their heirs in the West,
but for all human beings. It is an understanding that
cannot be achieved without a serious examination of the
Western experience. The abandonment of such a study
or its adulteration for current political purposes would be a
terrible loss for all of humanity,
and at the base, at the root of that
civilization stood the Greeks. These are the reasons why I
examined their experience and I trust why you are thinking about
learning about it. Thank you.
I'll see you guys, some of you,
next Tuesday.
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