Monday, April 30, 2007

The EU Constitution and the Greek Political Thought

(with some remarks on Plato)

I. What is the sense in this topic?

1. The European constitution and the Athenian democracy

The text of the first European constitution has been signed from the heads of the 25 member countries in June 2004 (1). At the end of 2004 it has been ratified firstly by Lithuania and since then the process of the ratification is going on in Europe - either by the parliaments, or via referenda.
The constitution begins with a short preamble, expressing the political will of these countries to establish a union with an uniform legislature and pointing to some of the reasons for the creation of this union. The preamble itself starts with a motto - a phrase by Thucydides (II, 37), which says: "Our constitution is called democracy because the power is in the hands not of a minority, but of the whole people". (2)
The mere choice of this motto will mean, that the contemporary European Union will look for its ancestor in the Athenian democracy (or in the community of the Greek states in the pre-Hellenistic epoch). It looks like declaration for participation in a tradition in the same manner, as the usage of elements from the ancient temple architecture in countless European buildings from the Renaissance till the present day. This is also declaration for participation in a certain tradition. The motto may serve as occasion for a discussion of the relation between this contemporary political project (in which we also participate as citizens of countries, connected in various degrees with the EU) and the Greek political theory and practice. Anyway, if we want to approach this topic from its very beginning, we will have to say a few words about the more general grounds for the thinking of a connection between Europe and ancient Greece. It couldn`t be a case, when we have just one name - the fact, that some Greeks had said: we are in Europe.
To begin with, every political or cultural project needs a paradigm - either a contemporary one, which could be imported from somewhere, or a traditional one, which yet had been documented somehow, or one, invented as purely intellectual undertaking. Europe has the confidence of a place with traditions and is still remembering the time, when it had been the leader of the world. It is still a leader in some respects - for example, the number of states with high living standard (see HDR 2005 of the UN). This means that it wouldn`t accept to import external paradigms or that it wouldn`t agree, that it is doing this. Here we will already find a sure resemblance with Greece, and particularly with Athens. The whole phrase by Thucydides, from which has been excerpted the text, quoted above, says: "Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighbouring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves. Its administration favours the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy (translated by Richard Crawley). (3)
On the other hand, its political experience from the past 200 years is reasonable enough, the continent to be intimidated by a purely speculative political project. What is left is to face the tradition.

2. Greece as a political paradigm

But why Greece can be a political paradigm?
It is sometimes said, that the culture of Europe - this is the antiquity and the Christianity. However, the church shouldn`t propose political projects. Its task is different, as every ecclesiastic would agree: it is not occupied with the changes in this world, because of the fact, that the state, which is in the thoughts of every Christian as such, is not from "this world". Hence, the paradigm might come from Rome and its immediate continuation to the East - Constantinople. Such attempts had been made, but nowadays Europe - the one after the Second World War and after the Cold War - is longing to be democratic and non-imperial; whereas Rome had acted imperialistically even in the times, when it had still been democratic. Therefore, what remains is classical Greece.
What is there in Greece, besides democracy, with which it can boast (not only in Thucydides, but before him in Herodotus, and after that in Demosthenes)? What is the reason Europe in the XX and the XXI century to seek a connection with it? Here we reach to a point, whence we get immediately in a heated debate in the Union today. According to the Greek authors from the epoch, Europe (with the community of the Greek polises as its leader) is not-Asia; it doesn`t spread far beyond the Aegean, and even less beyond the Mediterranean sea, although, on the other hand, it wishes to settle on their east costs and thus to posses them as internal boundaries. Today the adversaries of the expansion should speak of the �natural boundaries� of Europe. Still, even in the Greek fifth century Europe had had something as natural boundaries - the utmost point, reachable by sea.
Secondly, the beginning of the historical and cultural documentation is in Greece; later on it had been accessible to every educated European. This means that the Greeks had been unable to quote a single author earlier than Homer, but all the Europeans after that were able to read Homer, and the later authors, who know him, as well. A written monument from a non-Greek (or non-European) origin becomes accessible for the participants in this tradition only in the III century B.C. - the translation of the 70-ies.
Hence, if the European wants to distinct oneself from the Christian or the Jewish tradition (and there are different reasons for that), the earliest important text, which could be reached by him, will be Homer. In this case, the beginning of the tradition, creating through the centuries a community of people, reading and thinking with words, and referring to common texts, will be in Greece.
Lastly, there is a third reason, approached by us in the upper lines. There is nothing in Greece, which to resemble a church, and to unite the people with common theses (the Credo of the faith, for example) regarding the question what they are. Obviously, the church would like to unite all the people around certain theses, because it claims, that they are the truth. But in the mundane Europe the political influence of the church (or the churches) is explicitly limited. No one is expected to confess one or another religion, or whatever faith. The situation in Greece is similar - it is secular.
In conclusion, it seems plausible to say, that Europe is referring to Greece upon necessity (thence, with the exception of the Bible, come the oldest texts, read by every generation), or because it finds there what it wants to be (democratic, mundane), yet remaining culturally and spatially confined (non-Asian). It might occur to someone that the limit could be put to the West, as well, and this also had been invented in Greece - Europe would like to be non-American, just like Plato had fancied Greece as non-Atlantic.

Nevertheless, we should keep in mind, that:

a. Greece, although standing in the tradition, does not offer Europe only one tradition (because in Greece there is not only democracy and tolerance, but also enough of tyranny, oligarchy, and also xeno- (barbaro-) phobia and all kind of discrimination); nor it is the only beginning of the European tradition (the Jewish-Christian is older).
b. Also it is not clear whence comes the obligation by all means to begin with the oldest in the incessant tradition (there is no general agreement to think, that we are or that we ought to be what we had been in the initial times).

II. What kind of Europe is suggested in the project for the European Constitution

1. The reasons for the appearance of the Constitution

Now, we have to say something about the causes, which lead to the idea of the EU and for its successful (for the time being) 50-years long development.
I would like to dwell on one of them: this is the shared desire of the most and the more powerful states (supported, obviously, by the societies, whose states they are) to handle with political means the great political uncertainty, which is going on in Europe for more than 200 years. This uncertainty is derived, firstly, from a disputation as old as Europe itself: how to discover and how to reach the just social order? And secondly, it is derived from another dispute, the solution of which is no easier: which are the European communities, which have to posses their own states; which are the nations?
During the last 200-220 years Europe has survived the following kinds of collisions: civil wars aiming at the change (or the preservation) of the political establishment; wars between the states; collapse of the states and appearance of new states; dictatorships and totalitarian regimes; genocides. I have in mind mainly: the French revolution and the Napoleon`s wars; the shaping out of big states as Germany and Italy; the dissolution of the Ottoman empire and the appearance of many small independent states on the Balkans; the Soviet revolution. And still: the two world wars and, besides them, the emergence of totalitarian, dictator`s or simply non-democratic regimes in Italy, Spain, Germany, the Soviet Union; the deletion of million Armenians and Jews in the beginning and in the middle of the century by the Turkish and the German rulers (respectively); the deletion of million of Soviet citizens by their own government; the division of Germany; the creation and the dissolution of the Soviet Union; the creation and the disintegration of Yugoslavia.
The initiative for the creation of the European Union, which now reaches the attempt to establish, via the constitution, a union, resembling a state, aims at the counteracting to this rather prolonged, tragic and at first glance desperate tendency. Someone might dislike the comparison, but the situation in Europe during these two centuries differs slightly from the situation in the Near East during the second half of the XX century. Even if it differs, I wouldn`t dare to claim, that the comparison would be in favour of the Europeans. For all these things, which I tried to remind you with a few words, there is an allusion in the preamble of the constitution with the very reserved expression "bitter experiences". (4)
This is the task of the EU, which is now aimed at through the constitution - to stop the process of the fall and emergence of states and to announce the solution of the question, "which one is the better political/social order".


(1) This text was read at the symposium "Rights and Values in Expanding Europe: A Mutual Enrichment through Different Traditions", June 3-4, 2006, organized by the Italian Cultural Institute in Sofia, Goethe Institute, Institute for Axiological Research - Vienna, Sofia University - Graduate Programme in Philosophy Taught in English.

(2) Here I quote the text and its translation in the way they are written in the constitution. The Greek text is: ...

(3) ...

(4) See the "Preamble".

Friday, April 27, 2007

Demosthenes and the Unity of the Greeks

(An essay on the Demosthenes` political speeches)

"United in diversity"
(motto of the EU, according to the first European Constitution)

The purpose of this text (1) is, first of all to examine the question: to what extent were the Greeks unified as a community in the second half of the IV century B.C., and what kind of unity was that? However, on the other hand, what I am going to say will by all means refer to the present situation in Europe. The past two weeks have revealed quite clearly, that the Europeans are not sure they want to live in one state, or in a union resembling a state.
This has caused concern in those among them, who for the last 50 years have believed that the existence of such a state will be for the good and who have devoted their efforts for its creation, or who have merely hoped it to appear. The concern is no less for those who, for the time being, live outside the political boundaries of what is going to become such a state, but who wish to be part of it. It has become clear now that many citizens of European countries who have cooperated, agreed with, or at least tolerated the establishment of this state already declare they are not going to cooperate or even endure it any more. It is not easy to say what will happen. Let us assume that the question now is: how united can Europe be? And further on: how big can Europe be and still remain united? And lastly: can Europe not be united to the extent presumed in the Constitution, and also to the present-day extent, and nevertheless remain peaceful and free? By virtue of my profession, and also out of necessity – since this is the part from human history I have dealt mostly with - I will make an attempt to consider these issues with the help of what happened in Greece at the end of the epoch of the free city states. For during the 4th century B. C. and earlier as well, Greece encountered difficulties with its unity. It was sometimes willing to be united, but never – apart from some rare occasions, for a short time and only partially – did it achieve that. So, I am going to look at these difficulties, which seem to me not quite different from the ones we encounter today, and I am going to do this with the help of what Demosthenes stated in his speeches.

I. Demosthenes’ s cause

Demosthenes is known mainly for his speeches against Philip of Macedon, or, more particularly, for his speeches arguing for the necessity of an active and unified Greek resistance against Philip, who by that time seemed quite ambitious and unlikely to be satisfied solely with the conquering of south Thrace and north Greece up to Thessalia. But from his earlier political speeches it is evident that he would embrace such a cause on another occasion as well. In his “On the symmoriai” (On the Navy-Boards) the subject is the need for intensified military preparations against the Persian threat, and in his “On the Liberty of the Rhodians” he pleaded for immediate military intervention in Rhodes, where democracy had to be re-established and the local oligarchs – removed, since they were dependent on Artemisia, the queen of Caria (the widow of the famous Mausol). These speeches reveal that Demosthenes took the following position as a politician.
The Greek cities, according to him, each by itself and as a whole, were threatened by a barbarian invasion. The dangers from the barbarian invasion seemed to lay not so much in the damages, accompanying each war (because the Greeks themselves used to cause enough such damages to one another), as in the fact that it inevitably, and maybe permanently, destroyed liberty. Since barbarians were not familiar with democracy, they were always under monarchy rule, which was equal to tyranny. (Demosthenes did not use the distinction ‘tyrant – king’ employed by almost all influential political thinkers, including Aristotle). But, on the other hand, even if some Greeks did not deem monarchy or oligarchy unacceptable (and there were such people), they should be worried by the threat of the barbarian as a non-Greek – that is someone who could commit all kinds of crime, anything. The Greeks were unable to handle separately with the pressure of the strong barbarian states, and therefore they needed union. That union should have an initiator, who should at the same time possess the potential of being a leader. And there was Athens, strong enough as a city to be a leader. Moreover, it had already been one. And something more. Athens, being a democratic city-state, could guarantee the freedom of all Greeks even if accepted as the only leader, because it never supported tyrants and oligarchs, but offered its opposition – the self-governing, i.e. democracy.
So, Demosthenes is the spokesman of those Athenians who see the future of their city as a leader of all Greeks in the face of a serious and incessant threat. The unity he is advocating is a “must” if the Greeks want to evade the yoke at all. Otherwise, there is no necessity for them to be united, because nowhere in his speeches he mentions that peace and welfare are satisfactory ends in themselves.

II. The balance of the powers

When speaking about Athens as a leader and initiator of the Greek union, Demosthenes refers to something as a tradition in the Greek history during the previous 140-150 years. This is the tradition of the unions electing the cities, which become “patrons of the Greeks”. Prior to the Persian offensive against the European Greeks the polises had been disunited, they hadn’t established great unions and they lead regular, although insignificant wars against each other. Moreover they had been over-occupied with their internal warfare, which had impeded the consistent diplomatic activity and made all unions and pacts unreliable. It could be assumed, that for the first time the Greeks began to consider a union during the Ionian revolt (499-494 B.C.) against Persia, which was reigning over the Greeks inhabiting the coast of Asia Minor through city-monarchs (tyrants), controlled by the Persian king. This union could both be successful and sustain the independence of Asian Greeks, had it been more resistant. However, in a fatal sea battle near Miletus the Greeks were defeated. According to Herodotus, that happened largely through the fault of the men from Samos who were strong in naval affairs, but suddenly hesitated, left the united navy, and although dependent on the Persians, managed to keep their island and its inhabitants safe and secure. This union didn’t have an outstanding leader, but had an initiator – the polis of Miletus, lead by a couple of its citizens. They were tyrants of the city for some time - supported by Persia - but later decided that they were too closely and severely controlled by the king – in other words, that they could fall victims of his arbitrariness at any time, and therefore organized the uprising.
The next union appeared after the victories of the European Greeks in 490 and 480. It was more lasting, but had one, and very strong at that, leader – Athens, which managed to win almost on its own the important battles at Marathon and Salamis. After the second victory the Athenians enhanced the democracy in their city, formed an anti-Persian union embracing many islands and continental cities outside Peloponnese, allocated a relatively large budget of the union and eventually usurped the right to manage this budget almost uncontrolled. Thus Athens acquired extraordinary wealth, and not a single from the cities-contributors, which saw how their money was spent, could leave the union against the will of the Athenians. The most decisive separatist attempt was made by the citizens of Samos (440-439 B.C), but Athens was already too powerful and attacked the island retaining it in the union.
Thus the Athenians lost their credibility with the majority of Greeks and provoked the enmity of Sparta. This enmity, according to Thucydides, caused the Peloponnesian war. And judging from the speech delivered by Pericles, which he included in his “History”, and also from some actions such as the unexpected and quite spectacular expedition to the West against Syracuse, the pretensions of Athens had grown too much for the 60-70 years following the Peloponnesian wars and they intended not only to preserve the union, but also to expand their influence far beyond the Aegean Sea. They even considered something as an empire, which was to include all the Greeks and not only them. However, they were defeated in the war and thus the first serious project for the unification of Greece collapsed at the end of the 5th century. That project seemed to have been an imperial one. The Athenians never managed or dared to repeat it again, and did not even think about it, as it can be assumed from the speeches by Demosthenes. He speaks explicitly about the danger for one polis (whichever it might be) to become over-powerful. As it can be seen in the “History” by Thucydides, Athens from the middle of the 5th century boasts with its political model and its achievements, and points out its advantages over Sparta. Athens from the middle of the 4th century, 100 years later, continues to insist on the merits of democracy, but sees its role simply as a leader which will offer the Greeks protection both against any foreign invasion, and also against increased domination of any of the Greek polises over the rest. Hence, it is not going to be a patron, demanding unconditional leadership over the others, but rather a center of the resistance against the barbarians and a guarantee for the independence of any Greek city, as much as possible. In brief, Athens does not want an empire, but a union of independent states, which may grow into a military union upon necessity, but provided that the separate states remain sovereign.
When speaking about these matters, Demosthenes has in mind the developments after the end of the Peloponnesian war. The Lacedaemonians did not allow the devastation of Athens, probably because they were aware that it would only lead to a change of the enemy, since then the center of influence in the North would move to Thebes, Corinth or even to their old rival Argos. For them, an oligarchic and controlled Athens was more convenient. Or maybe they just feared the very abrupt change in the entire Greek world, which might follow the disappearance of such a powerful state.
However, only ten years later the Lacedemonians had to fight against a coalition of several cities, one of which was Athens, once again democratized and recovering; and they had to resort to the support of the Persian king. Twenty more years later they were heavily and ignominiously defeated by Thebes, which made Thebes so mighty, that the Spartans in turn were threatened with destruction and then Athens helped them. Thus the balance of the powers was kept once again and it was becoming clear that the polises were not simply unwilling, but in fact would never allow any of them to achieve exceptional domination. It also became clear that this type of union seemed already impossible, and preserving the status quo would only provoke new and ever graver wars. All that would not have seemed so horrifying, if Philip of Macedon (382-336 B.C.) had limited himself with the control over the territories between the Adriatic Sea, Thessalia and the Black Sea Straits. But it was already evident that he was eager for much more.

(1) This text was read at the symposium “European Integration in Philosophical Perspective”, 10-11 June, 2005, organized by the Italian Cultural Institute in Sofia and the Philosophical Faculty at the Sofia University.

(follows in Monday, October 15)