Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Donald Trump: Tea Party Candidate?

So, is Donald Trump the Tea Party candidate?  That is just another way of asking, is the Tea Party a libertarian movement or a right-wing populist movement.  My answer has to be quite simply that I don't know.  The Tea Party, like so many American political movements, is highly diffuse.  Anyone who wants can start claim to be the Tea Party and act in its name.  (Its far-right reputation limits who will want).  Thus it is entirely possible for Tea Party donor, think tank and media elites to be libertarians while rank-and-file activists are populists.  Certainly outsiders are not well qualified to tell.

When the Tea Party was founded, I said* that it looked like something new -- an attempt to build a populist movement entirely on economic conservatism, and that time would tell if such a thing was possible.  It seems fair to say that the answer proved to be no.  Republican candidates may be formally pledged to phase out Medicaid, turn Medicare into a voucher system, cut Social Security, and make major tax cuts in the top rates.  But they dare not say so too openly because to do so is wildly unpopular, including with most of the Tea Party.  Meanwhile, people who studied the Tea Party rank-and-file* found that they were not quite so libertarian as the leadership would like. Granted, their top issue was the deficit and cutting government spending.  But as is so often the case, they had a rather specialized definition of "spending."  Spending meant spending on the unworthy. They did not want to cut spending for worthy recipients, such as veterans, or seniors who had paid into the system.  Thus they favored spending cuts on unemployment insurance, food stamps, housing subsidies and the like, but not on Social Security, Medicare or veteran's benefits.  And they were not so absolutely averse to a tax increase at the Republican leadership -- so long as they weren't paying it to a Democratic administration.  The other issue they felt very strongly about was illegal immigration.  And certainly hardcore anti-immigration types are not shy about abandoning small government principles when he comes to immigrants.  In short, the Tea Party looked like a sort of microcosm of the Republican Party -- a libertarian leadership and right populist rank and file.

And therein lies the problem, both for the libertarian Republican leadership and the populist rank-and-file.  Or rather, two problems.  One is political  What is a party to do when the visions of its leadership and the vision of its followers are so strongly at odds?  This difference was papered over during the Cold War because both factions were strongly hawkish.  Maybe they can manage the same feat now in the War on Terror.  But overall the rank-and-file have been expected to mobilize their passions on behalf of causes most did not share.  Now they are threatening to take their revenge by choosing a leader diametrically opposed to what the party elite favors.  "Trump poses a dire threat to the party: If elected, he could not be trusted to work for the Republican agenda. The party elite will oppose Trump with everything it has."

The other problem is practical.  Just because a program is popular does not necessarily make it workable.  Sometimes the elite takes its positions for a good reason.  For instance, one of the reasons there is so much focus on cutting Social Security and Medicare is that as our population ages, those programs will take up a greater and greater share of the budget.  Certainly, they will take up more of the budget than is spent on immigrants, so expelling immigrants (besides being expensive) will not make up for the costs of an aging population.

And then there is the political and practical matter of actually being elected.  As Jonathan Chait puts it, "You can get rich being loved by a quarter of the country and hated by the rest, but you can’t get elected president that way. "  And many of Trump's other traits -- his obnoxiousness, his bombast, his obvious lack of qualification to be President, his utter impracticality -- have presumably alienated some would-be supporters who might have voted for a more reasonable candidate with the same views.  (Admittedly, they may also attract some who mistake obnoxiousness with principle and bombast with speaking truth to power).

In short, I still think that Trump is utterly unqualified to be President and is a panderer without principles.  But this time around he has actually seized on a real issue that really matters.

____________________________
*Was not able to hunt down link.

Donald Trump: Not Far Right, but Populist Right

I vowed I would refrain from commenting about the 2016 election at least until the primaries begin next year.  I promised not to take Donald Trump seriously.  I still believe that he has plenty of time to flame out and fully expect him to.  But a number of commentators have written some good pieces on him, so I simply can't resist wading back in.

First is Paul Krugman.  Krugman comments that Trump fills a much-neglected box in American politics.  There are straight-up conservatives on both economic and social issues.  There are straight-up liberals on both economic and social issues.  And then there are semi-libertarians, not full-on libertarian by any means, but economically conservative and socially liberal.  These last are over-represented in the donor class to both parties and the cultural elite.  These tend to be considered the three options in American politics.  But what of the fourth quadrant, that is economically liberal but socially conservative?  They make up, after all, a substantial portion of the population, but Krugman does not have a name for that quadrant, so he calls it Trumpism or even National Social Democracy.

In fact, plenty of people have a name for that quadrant.  It commonly referred to as populist, but that is only half true.  Populism tends to be used as a pejorative these days (a decidedly elitist view) as one who plays on the public's anger and resentments, rather than their legitimate aspirations.  And an economically liberal/socially conservative viewpoint need not be one of anger and resentment.  In fact,* I have heard that viewpoint described as Christian Democratic, an eminently wholesome and respectable movement in much of Europe and Latin America.

Except for one thing.  Trump's "social conservatism" does not take the form of his views on sex or religion or family life (the less said about Trump on any of those matters the better!), but of immigrant bashing.  Christian Democrats, by contrast, my support a strong welfare state and other constraints on capitalists, and may be be conservative on matters of religion, sex, family life, public mores, etc.  But they do not scapegoat vulnerable minorities.  To do so is un-Christian.  Trump's immigrant-bashing makes him a populist in the pejorative sense -- one who plays to people's anger and base instincts.

Others have commented that Trump's views are not all that unusual.  In fact, they very similar to rising nativist parties in Europe such as the UK Independence Party, Marine LePen's French National Front, the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, and various nativist parties in the Nordic countries.  These parties are described as far right, but they are not far right on economic issues.  In fact, they are often the only ones fighting against EU-imposed austerity and anti-labor measures.  Nor is this combination all that unusual or new even in US politics.  Pat Buchanan and George Wallace were noted for their race-baiting but hewed left on economic matters.  Trump is following in the same tradition when he opposes the Republican Establishment's drive to cut Social Security and Medicare while cutting tax rates at the top.  These parties are not properly labeled far right so much as right-wing populist.  And right wing populism, with its emphasis on kicking down at vulnerable minorities, is an ugly business.

_________________________________________
*Too lazy to hunt down link.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Analysis of Failure of Democracy in Argos

I will begin with the comment that I expected military defeat to lead to many democratic failures, while in times past many people were more afraid of military glory.  The record here is a bit slim, but Argos appears to be a rare example of both at once.  The city as a whole suffered a military defeat and the democracy was (partially) discredited as a result.  At the same time, the elite regiment achieved military glory and saw its status enhanced.  My other comment, as before, is that our record is very inadequate, so there is a lot of guesswork here.

Nonetheless, here go my predictions:

GENERAL TRAITS:

Extreme polarization:  This appears to have been the case, although we do not have enough details to to say much more.

Abandonment of procedural norms:  Once again, our information here is insufficient.  We do not know what form ordinary democratic politics took in Argos before the democracy was overthrown. But the final overthrow appears to have taken the form of a coup thinly disguised with legal procedures, i.e., the 1,000 killing the democratic leaders and then "persuading" the assembly to vote them into power.

Hm.  I seem to be treating polarization and abandonment of procedural norms as sort of axiomatic, things that happen by definition.  I originally meant for them to be happening specifically in the context of democratic politics as usual.  That may have been the case in Argos, but we just don't know enough to say.

Political violence or private paramilitaries:  Political violence, yes.  Private paramilitaries, no.  The failure of democracy in Argos appears to have taken the form of a coup by the official state military. And so far as I can tell, this was something new in Greece.  Up until then, democracies had been overthrown by oligarchies and both had been overthrown by dictators.  But up till then, people seeking to overthrow the established government had relied on private paramilitaries, or foreign mercenaries, or treasonable collusion with a foreign army.  Armies consisted of citizen-soldiers, each supplying his own gear.  So long as the army is co-extensive with the citizenry, it can be counted upon to be loyal.  But in Argos the regular army was supplemented with an elite force that saw itself as the real military power, separate from the citizen body and (presumably) sought to shrink the citizen body down to the size of this elite force.  That raises some interesting questions about a state like Athens that extends citizenship to men too poor to afford gear and serve in the army.  Will the army decide to shrink to citizen body down to itself?  Granted, in Athens poor men provided by backbone of the country's military power by serving in the navy.  But if the army wants to stage a coup, how can the navy resist?  These questions will become very important soon.

The danger on the right.  Well, if I define oligarchy as inherently right wing, then yes, the overthrow was from the right.  The left wing menace is from dictators holding themselves out as champions of the common people against the oligarchy.

RIGHT WING TRAITS:

Driven more by fear than ambition:  No.  As with Plataea, Corcyra, and Megara, this does not hold in Ancient Greece.  There is nothing to suggest that the Argive oligarchy was driven by fear.  It seems, instead, to have been driven by ambition in the belief that this elite military force were the city's true and rightful rulers.

Inability to tell radicals from moderates, fear of middle class being squeezed out:  These are sub-categories of fear and do not apply here -- just as they did not apply in Plataea, Corcyra, or Megara.

Not dependent on a charismatic leader:  Here I would have to say we don't know.  We have at least the name of the leader of the 1,000 -- Byras.  We can confidently say he was not a charismatic leader in the sense of appealing to the masses.  But we have no idea how charismatic or influential he was within the 1,000.  It does appear, though, that this was a military oligarchy rather than a military dictatorship.

Triggered by military defeat:  Or, as discussed above, military defeat of the democracy, but military glory for an elite force.  It is interesting that this elite force would proceed to make common cause with Sparta, who they had just been fighting.  But we can well imagine an ideological affinity between them.  Many other countries purported to admire Sparta, but never went to far as to actually attempt to copy them.  The Argive elite forces just might have, given the chance.

TYPE OF FAILURE:

Foreign invasion:  Argive democracy was not directly displaced by a foreign invading army, but the oligarchy came to power in collusion with a foreign army.  As with Plataea, Corcyra, and Megara, the faction that sought the support of a foreign army ended up losing.  In some ways this should not be surprising.  The side that is winning does not, after all, have any need to seek the intervention of a foreign power.  But it is interesting that in none of these cases was foreign intervention able to tip the domestic balance of power in favor of the weaker party.  (In Plataea it was strong enough to destroy the city altogether, but not enough to make the oligarchs prevail).

Military coup:  See above.

FASCISM:  Almost none of the fascistic traits apply.

Middle class populist movement against those above and below:  No.  I don't think middle class populism or right wing populism was ever invented in Ancient Greece.  The overthrow of Argive democracy was purely the action of an elite (military) against the general citizen body.

Driven by fear and ambition, but predominantly by fear:  As with Plataea, Corcyra, and Megara, the oligarchs appear to have been driven entirely by ambition.

Paramilitary party claiming a political monopoly:  We don't really know whether the 1,000 competed in Argive politics but played unfair.  Apparently they sought to legitimize their rule by intimidating the assembly into approving it.  But basically this was not a paramilitary party, but a coup by the official military.

I will make short work of the most generally accepted traits of fascism.  None of the fear-based or populist traits of fascism apply.  The oligarchs were not imperialist at all, but sought a submissive policy toward Sparta.  In fact, imperialism in ancient Greece appears to have been mostly a trait of democracy.  They probably did not have a charismatic leader, and certainly not the sort of leader-worship typical of fascism.  They were anti-liberal in the sense of seeking to narrow and exclude. They practiced political violence.  And the oligarchs believed in the right of their group to dominate, though in a very different way from the nationalism of fascism.  But basically, they were a military coup by an elite military regiment, which is something different altogether.

Failures of Democracy: Argos

So, as we last left Athens, Alcibiades had persuaded his countrymen to ally with Argos against Sparta.   The Argives had been anticipating the war for some time and apparently* prepared for it by training 1,000 men as an elite force of full-time, professional soldiers, to be equal to the Spartans.

Argos soon started a war with its next-door neighbor.  Sparta intervened on behalf of the neighbor and Athens sent a thousand men to the aid of Argos.  For some time the war was uneventful because the Spartans were very religious, to the point of letting it interfere with military efficacy.  They would not fight during a festival or cross a border if sacrifices were unfavorable so as a result not much happened for quite a while.

Eventually, though (circa 419-418 B.C.), the armies did meet up.  The Argive army came face-to-face with the Spartans and appeared to have them at the advantage.  However, in fact the Argives were outflanked, with allies of Sparta on both sides and would assuredly have met with disaster.  The troops as a whole did not recognized the danger, but their generals did an proposed a truce.  The Spartan king unaccountably accepted, formed a four-month truce, and both armies retreated to face the anger of their respective cities for not achieving victory when they had the advantage.  The Spartan king was assessed an immense fine, which he escaped by promising to make up for his action with some important victory.  Instead, the Spartans tore down his house and and attached ten officers to him with the power to override him.  The Argive generals escaped stoning only by fleeing to sanctuary, and their property was confiscated.

After the truce had expired, the armies marched out again, the Argives this time with Athenian  reinforcements.  The precise military details need not concern us.  The important point is that the Spartans were taken by surprise, but assumed a fighting posture with remarkable speed.  One wing of the Spartan allies were defeated by the Mantineans and the 1,000 elite Argive troops, but the Spartan wing and the center routed the non-elite Argives and their allies, including the Athenians.  They allowed the defeated forces to escape and turned their attention to the victorious Mantineans and elite Argive forces.  Many of the Mantineans were killed, but most of the 1,000 Argives escaped.  This battle was known at the Battle of Mantinea and it restored the reputation of Sparta, which had suffered since their forces surrendered at Pylos.

Army formation at the Battle of Mantinea
Diodorus Siculus gives another account not included in Thucydides.  He says that the Spartans had the elite Argive force surrounded and they escaped only because ten officers overrode the king and ordered them to be allowed to escape, saying that such an elite force, fighting with the courage of despair, would inflict unacceptable casualties.  Given later events, this would seem to imply a certain collusion between them.

This defeat weakened that anti-Spartan democratic party in Argos and strengthened its pro-Spartan oligarchic party, as well as the prestige of the elite 1,000.  The pro-Spartan party therefore persuaded the Argives to reach a peace and alliance with Sparta on what, on the surface, appeared to be very reasonable terms.  Argos was to return its gains during the war and restore any hostages captured, and to join the Peloponnesian League.  Its autonomy and government were to be respected. Soon after, the parties formed an alliance.  But the reasonable terms soon proved to be so much window dressing.  The Spartans soon compelled the Argives to send a thousand men (presumably their elite force) to join a thousands Spartans to march on Sicyon (see above) and impose a more oligarchic government.  The two armies then joined forces in deposing the Argive democracy and installing an oligarchy.

As with Megara, Thucydides gives maddeningly few details, except to say that when the Spartans were next away celebrating a festival, the democrats rose up, fought a battle, and overthrew the oligarchs, killing some and exiling others.  The Spartans refused to leave the festival to intervene until too late, but the Argive democrats, knowing that they would eventually return, resumed their alliance with Athens.  Diodorus Siculus does not mention a Spartan role in the coup, but gives a few more domestic details.  He attributed the coup specifically to the thousand, a detail Thucydides hints at but does not say outright.  He rather contradictorily says both that their prominence and status as military heroes gave them much support and that they seized power by executing the democratic leaders and frightening the people into submission.  The oligarchy endured eight months before the people overthrew and executed the oligarchs.  We get one more hint about Argos' domestic matters from Pausanias, a second century A.D. traveler who cataloged the landmarks in Greece with some historical background information.  He says that the commander of the 1,000 was named Bryas and was "violent" toward the common man.  The catalyst for the revolution occurred when Bryas carried off a bride on her way to her wedding and raped her.  He then made the mistake of keeping her for the night, so she put out his eyes when he was asleep and fled to take refuge among the common people.  War broke out when the people refused to return her for punishment.  The democratic forces won out and slaughtered the oligarchy to the man.**

This account was given nearly 600 years later, as an explanation why the Argives built a certain statue to their god, so it is hard to tell how much of it to believe.  One thing is certain: there were survivors of the oligarchic party (who may or may not have been members of the elite 1,000 man regiment).  Their exiles are described as taking refuge in Phlius and as going to Sparta to seek intervention.  Indeed, there must have been survivors who did not go into exile because when the Spartans marched against Argos, they were counting on the assistance of oligarchs within the city. The Athenians had come to Argos' aid and set out to build walls linking Argos to the sea so that in case of a siege they could receive food from the sea.  Due to the urgency of the situation, women and slaves joined in the building.  The ultimate outcome was mixed.  The assistance from oligarchs failed to materialize, so the Spartans were unable to capture Argos.  But they did destroy the long walls, and they captures the minor town of Hysia, killing all the free men who fell into their hands.  (No further details given).  Alcibiades arrested some 300 Argives suspected of being pro-Spartan and took them to Athens as hostages.  Later, when another plot to overthrow the Argive democracy was suspected, the Athenians returned the hostages to Argos, where they were executed.  Sporadic warfare continued for a long time between Sparta and Argos, with Spartans laying waste to the Argive countryside and Argives taking out their anger on Phlius.

______________________________________________________ *Thucydides does not expressly mention Argos preparing such a force, but he does refer to it at the Battle of Mantinea, which would imply that Diodorus Siculus' account of its formation is essentially true.
**This is an example of the usefulness of a professional historian in pointing out this obscure source.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Enter Alcibiades


When we last left Athens, they had reached a peace with Sparta after ten years' war, under conditions that required a substantial exchange of territory.  This agreement soon went the way of all agreements between great powers that require small countries to comply.  The Athenians first and foremost wanted the return of Amphipolis, an important colony that had revolted.  The people of Amphipolis, however, were not agreeable and refused to be returned. The Athenians had to settle for a withdrawal of Spartan forces.  The Thebans were supposed to return an important fort to the Athenians and did -- but only after destroying it.  The Spartans first and foremost want the return of prisoners taken by Athens and of Pylos, an outpost of their territory which the Athenians were using to stir up trouble by the helots.  The Athenians returned the prisoners and removed the helots from Pylos so they would not longer be a security threat, but refused to return Pylos until their conditions were met.

 Meanwhile, the Peloponnesian League, which has maintained a united front as long as they were all fighting Athens, began to scheme to throw off Spartan hegemony.  Corinth was the chief schemer, but the critical city was Argos.  Argos was a traditional enemy of Sparta, the only major city in the Peloponnese not to join the Peloponnesian League, and one of the few democracies on the Peloponnese.  Up until then, Argos has remained neutral during the war and has prospered as a result.  But an extended truce with Sparta was set to expire and it was generally taken for granted in those days that in the absence of a formal truce, war would soon follow.  A complex and convoluted series of diplomatic maneuvers followed, the details of which need not concern us, except the practical upshot, which was that Argos ended up forming a league of democracies with Mantinea  and  Athens, with Elis thrown in for good measures.  As the above map makes clear, such an alliance was a grave threat to Sparta, not just to Spartan hegemony on the Peloponnese, but a threat to cut Sparta off from the mainland altogether.

Alcibiades
It is at this point that Alcibiades comes into the story.  I have  described Cleon as the man who gave demagogues a bad name.  Thucydides and Aristophanes (our main contemporary sources) were both strongly hostile.  It is hard to tell how much of their hostility springs from resentment of Cleon's un-aristocratic background and manners and lack of military experience, and how much from substantive disputes.  They accuse Cleon of "rabble rousing, corruption, malicious prosecution, smearing his opponents, presuming to think he knew more about military matters than seasoned generals, war mongering, prolonging the war for political gain, and crimes against humanity."  But one thing they never accuse him of is aspiring to be a dictator.

Alcibiades, now, is a different matter.  Alcibiades never became a dictator, but one cannot confidently say that he did not aspire to be one.  Certainly Thucydides says that the Athenians suspected  Alcibiades of aspiring to be a dictator, and that they were scandalized by the "lawlessness" of his private life and habits.  (Thucydides, a bit of a prude, mentions only his extravagant spending on race horses.  Plutarch gives a lot more examples).  Yet Alcibiades was a brilliant military commander and had an impeccable aristocratic pedigree.  This may be why Thucydides goes surprisingly easy on him, saying that Athens was ruined by the people's refusal to trust him.*   Aristophanes seems to share that opinion.  In Athens' most desperate hour, his advice was to take Alcibiades back, "You should not rear a lion cub in the city,/ But if one is brought up, accommodate its ways."  Then as now, the lion was a royal symbol.  His advice seems to be that Athens should give Alcibiades command even if he does aspire to be a dictator.  Just as I am unclear whether it was Cleon's lack of pedigree or lack of military experiene that made Thucydides and Aristophanes so despise him, I am also not clear whether their forbearance toward Alcibiades was because of his pedigree or his military skills.

Be that as it may, Alcibiades shows himself as a power-hungry warmonger and manipulator from the start.  Thucydides believes that Alcibiades wanted to encourage war with Sparta partly because he genuinely thought it was in Athens' best interest and partly because he resented Nicias getting all the credit for the peace.  (Alcibiades at the time was considered too young for such an important role).

The Spartan ambassadors arrived, settlement.  They presented their case quite convincingly to the Council and gave all promise of being equally convincing when they spoke to the Assembly.  He therefore convinced them to say that they did not have full power to negotiate and to allow him to be their spokesman instead.  Since Alcibiades' family had a longstanding history of being representatives of Spartan interests,** they were convinced.  The next day in the Assembly, Alcibiades asked the ambassadors if they had full independent power to negotiate.  When they said that they did not, Alcibiades feigned indignation and persuaded the people to reject the peace overture.  It was a dirty underhanded trick and Alcibiades is quite justly blames for it, but it is not quite as bad as it sounds on the surface.  The decision, after all, was not truly one between war and peace, but between alliance with one belligerent (Argos) or the other (Sparta).  By this trick Alcibiades was able to secure an alliance with Argos and lead Athens into yet another war.

______________________________________
*Thucydides did not live to complete his work, but he did live to see the end of the war.  At one point he describes how it concluded and specifically says that the war lasted 27 years, and that this was the only example he knew of oracles being right.  This remark seems a bit cynical to us; to the Greeks it must have seemed blasphemous.
**To openly declare oneself the champion of a foreign city's interests in one's own city was considered perfectly honorable and patriotic, a sort of consulate. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Back to Ancient Greece and a Note on Sources

So, back to Ancient Greece.  Up to now I given an account of the first ten years of the Peloponnesian War that was both too short and too long and says nothing about the failure of democracy in Athens. The upcoming series of posts will discuss the resumption of the war and the short-lived failure of democracy in Athens in 411 B.C.

The last time democracy had failed in Athens was when the dictator Pisistratus seized power.  We do not know the exact year that this happened, but Aristotle says that it was in the thirty-second year after Solon instituted the democracy, and that the interim years had been ones of turmoil.  Point of contrast -- the Weimar Republic last fourteen years (1919-1933), all of them turbulent.  Thus Pisistratus' takeover might be seen as a failure of a troubled young democracy struggling to establish itself.

When Athenian democracy was overthrown in 411 B.C., it had been 99 years (since 510) since Pisistratus' son Hippias had been overthrown and 97 years since the attempt by Isagoras to establish either a dictatorship or an oligarchy had been defeated and democracy established on a firm basis by Cleisthenes.  Point of contrast -- four score and seven (87) years passed between the Declaration of Independence and the Battle of Gettysburg.  And this exaggerates the age of the United States at the time.  If we take our continuous government as starting in 1788 (the first election under the Constitution), then a mere 72 years had elapsed between the the institution of a meaningful U.S. government and the secession of South Carolina.  But the United States was generally seen in 1860 as a mature democracy rather than a young and troubled regime.  The point here is that, regardless of how you measure it, Athens had a mature democracy when it was overthrown in 411, which had endured longer than the government of the US during our Civil War.

It also occurs to me that I really should say something about sources here, at the risk of sounding like the acknowledgments or preface section of a book.  Many thanks to amazon.com for making it easier to order obscure books than it has ever been before.  And even more thanks to the Perseus Digital Library a collection of all sorts of works from Classical Antiquity, both in the original Greek or Latin and translated into English, with some commentary.  The huge advantage of the Perseus Project from a blogging perspective is that it allows one to link to a source with considerable precision.  I had not learned to navigate it when I started this series, which is why my earlier posts contain much less precise links that leave a lot of digging to do, while my later posts contain pinpoint links to Perseus.

Our main source of information on the 411 B.C. overthrow of Athenian democracy and the events leading up to it is from Thucydides.  Thucydides' work is unfinished; it abruptly breaks off shortly after the coup failed, almost leaving the impression of the author having a heart attack in mid-paragraph.  This keeps him from giving any account of the aftermath of the coup, so I have followed to the end of Alcibiades' career in two later historians, Xenophon writing as a contemporary and often eye witness, and Diodorus Siculus, writing in Roman times, but apparently drawing on much earlier sources.  Aristotle's Athenian Commonwealth* gives a very different account of the coup.  Plutarch's biography of Nicias does not reach the coup, but give important information on the background leading up to it.  In his life of Alcibiades, the coup takes place offstage, but we get at least an offstage look at it, as well as information on the events leading up and the aftermath.  Speeches made at this time were oral and not preserved in writing (Thucydides admits that the speeches in his work are either drawn from memory or made up altogether), but after the Peloponnesian War Athens began to have professional speech writers who made speeches to be given to the Assembly or to juries.  The speeches of Andocides are an important source in events leading up to the coup, and during it as well.  A few other speeches touch on the coup and one is specifically addressed to it.

The usual advice to lawyers researching an unfamiliar area of law is to begin with a secondary source. It might not be binding authority, but it is a useful guide to the binding authorities out there and can spare the researcher a lot of fruitless hunting.  The same goes for modern historians of ancient societies.  They rely on much the same sources and a lot of what they have to say is based on little more than conjecture, but they have the advantages of being able to read the classical sources in the original and pick up on subtleties that are lost in translation.  They also have access to truly obscure sources, to archaeological work, and to the opinions and conjectures of other scholars.  But above all, they have been immensely useful in leading me to available sources and sparing me having the hunting to find them.  I have made use of Donald Kagan's history of the Peloponnesian War and 19th Century historian George Grote, whose works are in the public domain and available online.

_______________________________________
*My latest attempt to find some suitable translation of the Greek word politeia.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Neutering of Alexis Tsipras

All of which lead back to the subject of Greece.  Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called for elections on September 20 which, despite his disastrous performance, he is expected to win.  After defying Europe on austerity, loudly proclaiming Greek sovereignty, and calling a referendum to defeat an offensive austerity proposal, he then proceeded to cave and accept much harsher austerity terms and greater infringements on national sovereignty than the proposal that the people voted against.  So why is he still popular.  The cited article suggests three reasons:


  1. The only alternative to capitulation is leaving the euro, which the Greeks are not willing to do;
  2. Mainstream parties are thoroughly discredited, both by disastrous economic performance since 2008 and for their role in causing the mess in the first place;
  3. At least Tsipras made a serious effort to beat back austerity before he caved.  
I would add another reason.  People are tired of crisis and just want a return to normality, even if the current norm is really bad.  Tsipras, having done his level best before caving, is now ready to settle into his role as a respectable center-left political leader.

Of course, we know what has happened to respectable center-left leaders and parties in Europe since 2008.  They have embraced self-destructive austerity and are being abandoned in mass by their voters. The old center-left party in Greece has experienced mass defections to Syriza.  Now that Syriza has caved, where do they have left to go?

The crisis in Greece has truly driven home that there are only two alternatives -- either leave the euro, or stay on whatever terms the creditors choose to dictate.  Any attempt to resist the creditors will simply lead to harsher terms.  So why does leaving the euro remain so resolutely off the table?  This column believes that the Greeks are staying out of nationalism:

The Greeks, for their part, have been putting their national identity ahead of their pocketbooks, in ways that economists do not understand and continually fail to predict. It is economically irrational for Greeks to prefer continued membership in the eurozone, when they could remain in the EU with a restored national currency that they could devalue. 
But, for the Greeks, eurozone membership does not mean only that they can use the common currency. It places their country on a par with Italy, Spain, France, and Germany, as a “full member” of Europe – a position consistent with Greece’s status as the birthplace of Western civilization.
Maybe.  But I think what is really hard for people like me to understand is how "national identity" can be expressed by submitting to ever greater and more humiliating infringements on one's national sovereignty.  If there is one thing that these negotiations have made absolutely clear, it is that Greece is not, in fact, being treated as "on a par with Italy, Spain, France and Germany" -- well, at least with France and Germany.  Italy and Spain may be partners in humiliation.  The alternative is the prospect of leaving the euro is just too terrifying and that the Greeks still prefer the devil they know over the devil they don't know.

I guess it all depends on what happens next.  If the Greek economy recovers, no doubt Tsipras will remain popular and will be looked upon (quite wrongly) as a wise and foresighted statesman.  But if the economy continues to languish, then the pressure will continue to build for someone to do something to make it better.

And now I intend to abandon modern Greece and the modern world for a while and return to Ancient Greece and the overthrow of democracy in Athens in 411 B.C.