Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Another Quick Visit to Modern Greece

And now a quick break from Classical Greece to comment on modern Greece, which may be back in the headlines soon.  I just couldn't resist commenting on a fairly unremarkable article on why the euro was a terrible mistake.  The problem, the author says, is that people simply aren't willing to make the sacrifices for outsiders that they are for their own.  West Germans, for instance, were willing to undertake considerable effort rebuilding East Germany because they were coming to the aid of their fellow Germans.  But they are unwilling to give even a small break to Greece because there just isn't enough fellow-feeling as Europeans.
With no shared sense of tribe comes a sharp reduction in compassion and attendant willingness to help. The elites who designed the Euro may genuinely have believed and even felt a sense that Europe is all about "us", but the currency's recent struggles show that for too many Europeans, it's more about us and them.
In my opinion, the author is being far too generous to the European elites who designed the euro. These elites may, indeed, have embraced all of Europe in a sense of "us."  But in their case "us" did not mean all Europeans, but "we, the Eurocratic elite."  To that elite, ordinary people throughout Europe are "them."

That is what ultimately underlies this crisis.

Athenians Kicking Down: Metics

Another group Athenian participants oppressed were metics, or resident foreigners.  Athens, as a prosperous and commercial city, attracted many immigrants.  But it did not admit them to citizenship, even if they had lived there for generations.  A metic had all the disadvantages of a citizen without the advantages.  Metics paid taxes and were subject to the draft.  They were excluded, of course, from the Assembly, from jury service, and from holding office.  Nor could they receive emergency rations, which were for citizens only.  A metic could not own real estate and was required to have a citizen sponsor.  Metics, unlike citizens, were subject to judicial torture and to enslavement for some offenses.  Killing a metic was ranked with killing a slave or accidental homicide as a non-capital offense.  And a metic was required to have a citizen sponsor.  At the same time, metics could own movable property, form binding contracts, and sue or prosecute (or be sued or prosecuted) on the same basis as a citizen.  Most metics were poor laborers; some were freed slaves; but some were rich and influential.

Such was the status of a metic.  Unlike slaves or women, metics were subjects of real controversy, mostly over the question of extending citizenship.  As we have seen, Solon and Cleisthenes were generous in extending citizenship.  But over time Athenians became stingier with it, first limiting citizenship to children of an Athenian father, and, under Pericles, requiring that both parents by citizens.  Plutarch reports that some 5,000 people were enslaved for the crime of falsely passing themselves off as citizens.  And, as we shall later see, when the democracy was overthrown and then restored, the leader of the restoration would propose to extend citizenship to all metics, foreigners, and slaves who took part, only to be rejected by an offended citizenry.  So clearly there was controversy over the status of metics and kicking down at them (whether by refusing to extent citizenship, by making citizenship harder to get, or by purging the citizen body and punishing impersonators) was popular with the democratic public.

But once again, democracy's aristocratic critics did not condemn it for that; they were more likely criticize it for handing out citizenship too easily.  Aristotle's Politics, for instance, criticizes Cleisthenes for extending citizenship to people who were not properly citizens.  And his Athenian Constitution expresses approval of rejecting a proposal to extend citizenship to anyone who took part in restoring the democracy, even slaves.  In short, restricting access to citizenship appears to have been popular with democrats and aristocrats alike.

And, I should add, I have seen no evidence of other, uglier forms of kicking down against metics.  I see no evidence, for instance, of denunciations of rich metics for leaching off the city, or calls to drive them out and seize their wealth.  Nor have I seen any evidence, even under conditions of high unemployment, of any populist politician denouncing poor metics as unfair competition for citizen laborers or calling for them to be expelled.  If there were anti-metic riots, pogroms, or persecutions, I have not yet seen evidence of them.  And this is worth noting, considering the outbreaks of violence so many societies (including our own) have experienced against powerless minorities.

In short, although Athens undoubtedly oppressed its women, slaves and metics, I no signs of any concerted populist attempt to kick down against any of these groups, opposed by the more aristocratic faction.  Athens does not appear to have practiced the worst forms of kicking down as a domestic political movement.

On the international level, though, the story is quite different.  Athens did, in fact, come to dominate and exploit numerous foreign city-states that became resentful, and to behave with extreme cruelty and brutality toward anyone who rebelled.  It was this that led to the Peloponnesian War and (at least temporarily) the downfall of Athenian democracy.  And here there can be no doubt.  The popular party was the imperialist party and the war party.  The aristocratic party opposed war and expansion, to say nothing of Athens' cruel and brutal acts toward rebellious allies.  This was the consistent pattern, beginning before the war and continuing after.  This is the kicking down that did become a political movement that I intend to address shortly.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Athenians Kicking Down: Slaves

Besides keeping their women secluded, the Athenians also owned a great many slaves. The practice of slavery was unquestioned, or nearly so, in Classical times.*

Our knowledge of slaves in ancient times is limited; most people simply considered them beneath notice.  However, it would appear that enough slaves were being brought in to make them cheap -- cheaper to buy than to breed.  Most households had a few slaves -- to have none was a sign of extreme poverty, but the vast (and impersonal and brutal) slave plantations of Rome did not exist in rugged, barren Greece.  By law a slave's testimony was not admitted unless under torture.  Where citizens were punished for crimes with a fine, slaves were punished with flogging -- one lash per drachma.  Nonetheless, a master's power over his slaves was not absolute.  Killing a citizen was punished by death; killing a slave (including by the owner) was punished by exile.  Serious mistreatment of a slave could be prosecuted; in some cases of mistreatment, a slave could flee to sanctuary and demand to be sold to a better master.

The concern behind these laws was not primarily humanitarian. Rather, it was the fear that allowing citizens to be petty tyrants over their household slaves would encourage a sort of arrogance incompatible with democracy:
[I]t was not for the slaves that the lawgiver was concerned, but he wished to accustom you to keep a long distance away from the crime of outraging free men, and so he added the prohibition against the outraging even of slaves. In a word, he was convinced that in a democracy that man is unfit for citizenship who outrages any person whatsoever.
But one does now and then hear a certain humanitarian concern for slaves.  Recall what Aeschylus had to say on the subject:
An upstart lord,
To whom wealth's harvest came beyond his hope,
Is as a lion to his slaves
Certainly in our own (U.S.) experience, it was understood that a gentlemen felt a certain paternalistic obligation toward his slaves and was expected to include them in a gentleman's general obligation to be gracious to his social inferiors.  To be cruel was to the "trashy" and lower class.  

So, did the critics of democracy complain that poor men admitted to citizenship grew arrogant in power and acted as tyrants over their slaves?  Quite the contrary, the aristocratic critics of democracy were more likely to complain that the spirit of liberty and equality had gotten so out of hand that even slaves had caught it.  An anonymous critic (referred to as the Old Oligarch) complained:
Now among the slaves and metics at Athens there is the greatest uncontrolled wantonness; you can't hit them there, and a slave will not stand aside for you. I shall point out why this is their native practice: if it were customary for a slave (or metic or freedman) to be struck by one who is free, you would often hit an Athenian citizen by mistake on the assumption that he was a slave. For the people there are no better dressed than the slaves and metics, nor are they any more handsome. [11] If anyone is also startled by the fact that they let the slaves live luxuriously there and some of them sumptuously, it would be clear that even this they do for a reason. . . . .** And where there are rich slaves, it is no longer profitable in such a place for my slave to fear you. In Sparta my slave would fear you; but if your slave fears me, there will be the chance that he will give over his money so as not to have to worry anymore. [12] For this reason we have set up equality between slaves and free men, and between metics and citizens. The city needs metics in view of the many different trades and the fleet. Accordingly, then, we have reasonably set up a similar equality also for the metics. [13]
So, how much of this reflects reality and how much reflects upper class fears and prejudices?  It is hard to say.  Slavery in ancient times was not based on race, of course, nor do Athenian slaves (or metics) appear to have been required to wear any special badge of their status.  Since poor men were also citizens, a citizen would not necessarily be any better dressed than a slave.  This would mean that a slave would not be distinguishable on sight from a citizen which might, indeed, have protected them from a good deal of random violence and allowed them to be less slavish in their demeanor.

Likewise Plato:
The last extreme of popular liberty is when the slave bought with money, whether male or female, is just as free as his or her purchaser; nor must I forget to tell of the liberty and equality of the two sexes in relation to each other.
Why not, as Aeschylus says, utter the word which rises to our lips?
That is what I am doing, I replied; and I must add that no one who does not know would believe, how much greater is the liberty which the animals who are under the dominion of man have in a democracy than in any other State: for truly, the she-dogs, as the proverb says, are as good as their she-mistresses, and the horses and asses have a way of marching along with all the rights and dignities of freemen; and they will run at any body who comes in their way if he does not leave the road clear for them: and all things are just ready to burst with liberty.
This, now, is clearly hyperbolic and not to be taken literally.  We know quite well that Athenian women did not share in the state's liberty and equality.  (This passage also calls into question just how seriously Plato took the equality of women he elsewhere advocates).  And it seems most unlikely that the status of domestic animals was any different in Athens than elsewhere.  Rather, it reflects the old upper class fear that if their own power and hegemony is threatened, all order and hierarchy will cease.  The truth is quite different.  Everyone all up and down the hierarchy is eager to maintain is eager to maintain their own dominance over everyone below them.

In other words, kicking down is popular.  Nonetheless, there does not appear to have been a political movement in Athens to see how viciously one could kick down against slaves.  Rather, the Athenians put some restraints on how slaves could be treated (or mistreated) to discourage the formation of despotic habits.  And at least some aristocratic critics did not approve.
*Aristotle defends the practice of slavery, a thing that would be necessary only if someone had criticized it.  However, the work he is refuting in defending slavery has been lost, so we cannot tell what its critics said.  In any event, to the extent that slavery had critics, they were a few obscure ivory tower philosophers of no practical influence.
**The deleted passage is too garbled to make any sense.  The translator says that the garbling is in the original, which appears to be corrupted.  

Athenians Kicking Down: Women

So, it is my hypothesis that the worst traits of democracy are its tendency toward belligerent nationalism and the popularity of kicking down.  I will get to Athens' belligerent nationalism later and only say now that it would be the city's undoing.  But were the Athenians prone to kicking down?

This is really two questions. First, did Athenian participants oppress people who were not eligible participants in the democracy?  That one is easy.  There is no question that they did.  Women had no legal capacity and were kept in the house, locked away in the women's quarters.  Metics (resident foreigners) were excluded from citizenship no matter how many generations they lived in the city. And slaves may well have been an absolute majority of the population.

The more difficult question is whether oppressing non-eligibles was a political movement.  In other words, was there controversy over how to treat non-eligibles?  And, if so, did the democratic public favor treating them worse than the democracy's aristocratic critics?  Note that this can take at least three forms.  There can be a movement to improve the lot of non-eligibles, and opposition to it.  There can be a movement to worsen the lot of non-eligibles and opposition to it.  Or the position of non-eligibles can be uncontroversial in the democratic body politic, but certain aristocratic critics can tut-tut over how unenlightened the common people are.  Let us consider, then, how Athens treated the three groups of inhabitants who were not eligible participants.

Women.  Undoubtedly Athens treated its women abominably.  Women were kept locked up in the women's quarters, leaving the house only for festivals or funerals, and told that the ideal woman was she who was least on the tongues of men, for good or ill.  Furthermore, it would appear that the high point for democracy was a low point in the treatment of women.  Women in Homeric times are not portrayed as veiled and secluded; women's position rose again in Hellenistic times (i.e., the Greek empires created by Alexander the Great).  It is hard to tell how much of this was coincidence and how much was related.

Certainly it is no secret that in highly hierarchical societies, women as wives and mothers of rulers can exercise political power in ways not available to women in more egalitarian societies.  This applies to Greece no less than other societies.  For instance Herodotus recounts that in the Greek colonies under Persian control, Artemisia of Halicarnassus succeeded her husband to rule as queen because their son was under age.  She accompanied Xerxes on his expedition and was Xerxes' best adviser, the only one to warn him not to engage the Greeks in a sea battle.  When Xerxes, despite suspecting that she was right, proceeded with the attack, Artemisia fought in the Battle of Salamis and commanded five of the best ships.  Afterward, she advised Xerxes to get out while the going was good, and this time he listened.  Likewise, in oligarchic Sparta, women were not secluded, but traveled about freely, engaged in athletic training, lorded over the helots, and ran the household, and sometimes the community, in the men's absence.  In egalitarian Athens, women were shut out from political power altogether.

Women need not have access to political power to excel in other ways.  In the late seventh and early sixth century, B.C., on the Island of Lesbos, Sappho became a poet so great that men did not rebuke her for her unwomanly behavior, but looked upon her poetry with unqualified admiration.  She was classified as one of the nine great lyric poets all educated young men should read (the other eight, of course, were all men) and hailed as the tenth muse.  Solon, himself a poet, was said to have said after learning one of her poems that now he could die happy.  Classical Athens was the scene of a great flourishing of culture, art, and intellect, but that flourishing appears to have been an all-male affair. Not one women is named as a writer, poet, artist or philosopher.

Well, the opportunities of women of the elite tell us little about the lives of ordinary women.  In Egypt, women had legal capacity and could own property, contract and sue.  In Athens, women had no legal capacity and were entirely under the guardianship of their nearest male relative.  Roman women lacked legal capacity, but were not kept secluded, but could come and go as they pleased and served as hostess along with their husbands.

In short, Athens clearly treated half its population badly.  I see no evidence, however, that this was a political movement.  It appears to have been completely uncontroversial and challenged by no one, including the women themselves.  Certainly so far as I am aware, there was no political movement afoot either to give women greater rights or to reduce them.  Nor do the democracy's critics seem to have tut-tutted much over how it treated its women.  Critics often derided the Assembly as a bunch of rowdy rabble.  But, despite the proverbial violence of lower class men toward their wives, I am not aware of anyone speaking of them as the sort of riff-raff who beat their wives or made similar comments.  Plato, it is true, proposed in The Republic to give women complete equality.  But there are little clues here and there that he didn't really mean it.  Aristotle, commenting on Sparta, listed the greater liberty it offered to women as one of its defects.  And Plutarch in his Life of Lycurgus defended Spartan women against charges that they were immodest or promiscuous. Yet in his ultimate assessment, he said:
And so their women, it is said, were bold and masculine, overbearing to their husbands in the first place, absolute mistresses in their houses, giving their opinions about public matters freely, and speaking openly even on the most important subjects. But the matrons, under the government of Numa, still indeed received from their husbands all that high respect and honour which had been paid them under Romulus as a sort of atonement for the violence done to them; nevertheless, great modesty was enjoined upon them; all busy intermeddling forbidden, sobriety insistedon, and silence made habitual. Wine they were not to touch at all, nor to speak, except in their husband's company, even on the most ordinary subjects. So that once when a woman had the confidence to plead her own cause in a court of judicature, the senate, it is said, sent to inquire of the oracle what the prodigy did portend; and, indeed, their general good behaviour and submissiveness is justly proved by the record of those that were otherwise. . . . . Their respective regulations for marrying the youngwomen are in accordance with those for their education. Lycurgus made them brides when they were of full age and inclination for it. Intercourse, where nature was thus consulted, would produce, he thought, love and tenderness, instead of the dislike and fear attending an unnatural compulsion; and their bodies, also, would be better able to bear the trials of breeding and of bearing children, in his judgment the one end of marriage.

The Romans, on the other hand, gave their daughters in marriage as early as twelve years old, or even under; thus the thought their bodies alike and minds would be delivered to the future husband pure and undefiled. The way of Lycurgus seems the more natural with a view to the birth of children; the other, looking to a life to be spent together, is more moral. 
Such was the view of women by democracy's aristocratic critics.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Athens: Diffuse Government, Ostracism, and Tall Poppy Syndrome

So, in Athens of the 5th Century BC, we have a government that is diffuse to the point of absurdity.  All legislation an important foreign policy decisions are made by an Assembly in which all adult male citizens (eligible participants) are free to attend.  Any participant can propose, debate, or amend any measure.  Drafting proposed legislation, setting the agenda, and receiving ambassadors is handled by a Council of 500, chosen by lot to one-year terms and limited to two terms in a lifetime.  There are some 500 executive officials, each presiding over a very small area of day-to-day government, each chosen by lot for a single one-year term.  Because they are chosen by lot, none of these officials require any significant popular following.  Because they serve for only one year, none of them can use his office as a significant base of power.  The only elective officials are military and treasury officials.  And only military officials are not subject to term limits.

There seems to be a clear danger here.  When military officials are the only ones who are elective and therefore need a significant popular following, and when military officials were not bound by strict term limits and could use their office to build a base of power, the implications are clear.  The leadership will always consist of victorious generals.  There will be a natural tendency toward military dictatorship.

This proved to be half-true.  Athenian leaders in the 5th Century B.C. did, indeed, tend to be victorious generals.  But there was no tendency toward military dictatorship.  Military glory proved to be most disastrous in the sense that it whetted the appetite for more and led (as we shall see) to imperial overreach and ultimately to defeat and ruin.  But it did not lead to military dictatorship, even though Athens chose victorious generals as its leaders.

What prevented military dictatorship?  Several things appear to have been at work.

Overall Greek culture was opposed to one-man rule.  That's very vague, I realize.  But the age of the tyrannoi had come and gone and no one wanted it to return.  The public was distrustful of any aspiring military dictator and victorious generals were products of the same culture.  And if anyone doubts that appeals to the general culture matter, consider what stopped George Washington from becoming a military dictator, no matter how inept the Continental government was.

Greek armies were citizen armies and had no interests apart from the citizenry.  This is a more concrete explanation.  The ancient Greek armies consisted of regular citizens, who provided their own gear.  What could compel a citizen army to stage a coup against the citizenry?  At this point we start heading into the issue much discussed in classical times -- the value of an armed citizenry able to resist usurpation.  To disarm the citizenry was the mark of a dictator.  But before we start endorsing the NRA on this one, it is also well to remember that the logic of arms = power was neither dictatorship nor democracy, but oligarchy because large numbers of poor men could not afford arms.

Athens was a naval power.  Navies, being off at sea, are ill-equipped to form military dictatorships. Besides, sailors were typically poor men who could not afford arms and were therefore ill-equipped to resort to force against countrymen who could afford arms.

Even military command was diffuse.  The Athenians, not trusting command to a single general, had ten elective generals, one from each tribe.  If one general started to act like a military dictator, the others would overrule him.  Thus military success was not enough to make for a leader.  For a general to be a true leader, he also had to convince the Assembly.  Leaders were not just victorious generals, but good talkers.  It is no wonder that Persuasion (Peitho) was personified as a goddess and greatly honored.

Abundant use of ostracism. To recap, ostracism did not mean social rejection in Ancient Athens.  It was a ten-year exile that could be imposed without due process.  It did not carry any overtone of crime or infamy, but was purely political.  Ostracism appears to have served two purposes.  Without the concept of formal political parties or loyal opposition, the Athenians appear to have ostracized the loser of any major political controversy in order to keep rival factions from tearing the democracy apart.  They also distrusted anyone too powerful, too eminent, or even too popular as a potential dictator, and therefore cast out anyone who was starting to look to powerful.

Herodotus gives the story of the tyrant Periander of Corinth who sent a messenger to ask his neighboring tyrant, Thrasybulus of Miletus for advice.  Instead of speaking, Thrasybulus took the  messenger out into a wheat field and cut down all the tallest stalks.  Periander understood the message well -- chop of the heads of anyone who raises them too high.  The Romans later adopted this same story to a Roman setting and substituted poppies for ears of wheat but the lesson was the same.  It if from this story that we derive the term tall poppy syndrome.

But tall poppy syndrome is not limited to dictators.  The democracy had an acute case of it.  The Greeks dreaded the goddess Nemesis, who brought ruin to anyone who rose too high or was too fortunate. And looking at their politics, it is easy to see why.

Miltiades, hero of the Battle of Marathon, the next year was thrown into prison and died of complications of a wound.*

Aristides, described by Herodotus as the "most worthy and most just" of the Athenians was nonetheless ostracized for leading the faction that opposed Themistocles' navy.  He was later recalled and shared in the command of the Persian War.

Themistocles, founder of the Athenian navy, hero of the Battle of Salamis in which the Greeks destroyed the vastly greater Persian navy, responsible for rebuilding the walls of Athens and establishing a fortified port, and setting the foundation for Athenian naval supremacy.  Ostracized, later falsely accused of treasonable correspondence with the Persians and forced to flee Greece for his life and and take up service with the Persians after all.**

Kimon, the son of Miltiades, took the war to Persia, liberate the Ionian colonies from Persian rule and encouraged many non-Greek vassals of the Persians to revolt.  Ostracized for pro-Spartan policies. He, too, was later recalled and gave the city further honorable service.

Pericles, cautious but successful general, under whom Athens reached its height of power built its most beautiful architecture, and established itself for all time as a great center of culture and learning, also blundered into the Peloponnesian War.  When the war went badly, his enemies brought charges against him and he was fined between 15 and 50 talents.  But he nonetheless managed to be reelected the next year.  (He died shortly afterward, heartbroken).

The practice of ostracism prevented strife between factions from tearing the city asunder.  It may, perhaps, have blunted any possible drift that might otherwise have occurred.  But it also appears to confirm the fears of democracy's aristocratic critics, that engages in destructive punching up.  This desire to humble the city's greatest leaders looks very much like that.  But some qualifications are in order here.  This destructive punching up was directed at individual leaders.  There does not appear to have been any broad movement to dispossess the upper classes.  Nor did the socially conservative or anti-intellectual tendencies of any populist government keep Athens from shining as an unmatched center of culture and learning.  Nor were oligarchs in any way immune from Tall Poppy Syndrome themselves.  Quite the contrary, oligarchs fear dictatorship every bit as much as democrats.***

But then again, it is my belief that the real flaw of democracy (and the demos that makes it up) is not any excess in punching up, the the attractions of kicking down.  So the next question has to be, did the Athenians kick down.

*In fairness to the Athenians, Miltiades was not an altogether admirable character.  He was himself a former dictator, overthrown after leading an unsuccessful revolt against the Persians.  According to Herodotus, after his victory at Marathon, Miltiades went off and started a war with a minor city-state solely for the sake of a private grudge.  Herodotus also says that Miltiades took his death wound, not in honorable combat, but invading a women's shrine to Demeter where men were not allowed.  The goddess gave some expression of her displeasure that so frightened Miltiades that he frantically began climbing over the wall around the shrine, fell and injured himself.
**Themistocles was not an altogether admirable character either.  His wiliness and willingness to use deception were presumably acceptable among a people who honored Odysseus as a hero.  He was also prone to taking bribes and squeezing allies, and considered destroying the fleets of all the allies to establish complete supremacy, but Aristides overruled hiam.
***And with some justification.  Let us not forget how many classical dictators, from Pisistratus to Caesar, were of the popular faction and took the role of champion of the common people against the oligarchy.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Trajectory of Athenian Democracy: More Diffuse But Narrower

Although the overall trajectory of Athenian democracy from the time of Solon to its fall is often described as one of every-increasing democracy, that is only half true.  It is true in the sense that poor citizens had an ever-growing opportunity to participate, i.e., becoming more diffuse.  But the citizen body as a share of the total population almost certainly shrank and became less and less permeable, i.e., what was (by modern standards) not a true democracy but a broad oligarchy became steadily narrower.

Recall that under Solon all free, native-born Athenian men, however poor, became citizens. But they were not equal citizens.  Although distinctions of birth were abolished among citizens, they were grouped into four classes by wealth.  Although all could serve in the assembly or on juries, only the first three classes (i.e., property holders) could belong to the Council. And only members of the first class (by some accounts) or the first two classes (the cavalry, by other accounts) could hold the archonship.  The nine archons appear to have been powerful officials, holding the executive power of the state.  And there was a body of ex-archons, serving for life known as the Areopagus.  Its function is somewhat unclear, but Aristotle says:
The Council of Areopagus had as its constitutionally assigned duty the protection of the laws; but in point of fact it administered the greater and most important part of the government of the state, and inflicted personal punishments and fines summarily upon all who misbehaved themselves.
In other words, Solon's government was moderately tight.  Poor men could only vote and serve on juries, not hold office.  And the bulk of power probably rested with the nine archons and lifetime body of ex-archons.  But it was also broad.  Solon restored citizenship to anyone disenfranchised before him, except for treason or murder.  He offered citizenship to any immigrant prepared to move to Athens with his family and conduct a useful trade.  So it would appear that if Solon had had his way, there would have been no permanent class of metics, or unnaturalized immigrants.  As for slaves, we have no idea of knowing how many there were.  However, Athens was poorer and less commercial than it would become, so in all probability there were fewer.  (Herodotus mentions that at this time many families did not have household slaves and instead sent their daughters to fetch water).  In short, in all probability citizens made up a larger share of the population, and citizenship was easier to get in Solon's day than it would be at any time in the future.

When Cleisthenes restored the democracy, he appears to have resolved disputes over who was and was not a legitimate citizen by the simple expedient of granting citizenship to all free, native-born residents but saying that in the future, a citizen must have an Athenian father.  In other words, he made government temporarily broader, but ensured that it would narrow over time.  Aristotle says that Cleisthenes made the government more democratic than before, which appears to mean that he made it more diffuse.  For instance, while the archon polemarch was originally the supreme commander-in-chief, Cleisthenes replaced him with ten generals (one from each tribe).  By Aristotle's time, the polemarch apparently had no command at all and was simply responsible for all religious ceremonies relating to war.  Presumably other archons started seeing their power restricted and spread in similar fashion.  (Again, see Aristotle for how little importance these once-powerful officials had left).

The next great diffusion in power came with the Persian Wars.  The four rights of first-class citizenship, from ancient times to the present, are the right to vote, to hold office, to sit on juries and to serve in the military.  Poor Athenians since Solon's time had had the right to vote and to sit on juries but were barred from holding office.  As for military service, poor men were not barred outright, but each soldier was required to supply his own gear.  Poor men who could not afford gear (beyond, perhaps, a sling), could not serve.  And military importance was closely linked with political power.  This began to change between the famous Battle of Marathon, which took place a mere twenty years after democracy was restored, and the bulk of the Persian War ten years later.  A leader named Themistocles, of humble and obscure origin, and perhaps something of a rough and ready populist, called for building a navy to meet the Persians if they returned.  Although the debate was formally over how best to defend the city, the political implications were clear.  Men too poor to serve in the army could serve as sailors* and earn the political power that comes with military importance. Put differently, it is well known that Athens was both a democracy and the supreme naval power of its day.  Less well understood were how closely linked democracy and naval power were. Athens' reliance on naval power successfully defeated the Persians.  As a reward to the efforts of Athens' poor citizens, their restrictions on office were lifted.

Finally, radical democrats Ephialtes and Pericles diminished the powers of the Areopagus (the body of ex-archons serving for life) to trials of murder and some religious matters.  Classical authorities are unanimous in condemning this action, saying that it removed the last brake on the democracy and allowed the people to run wild.  Unfortunately, none of them are very clear on what the Areopagus' functions were** or precisely what happened as a result of cutting back on its power, so any modern opinion on the subject cannot be much more than guesswork.

Then there was the matter of holding office.  Although removing the means test removed any formal barrier to poor men holding office, the amount of work involved was a full-time job, which effectively barred office to anyone who couldn't afford to take a year off of work without pay.  The democrats therefore introduced pay (quite modest) for office holding.  Pericles also introduced pay (even more modest) for jury service to make it easier for poor men.

But if Athenian democracy became steadily more diffuse, it also became narrower.  In Solon's day, any Greek moving to Athens and settling there permanently with his whole family to pursue a useful trade could become a citizen.  As the numbers of these immigrants swelled, the rule changed to allow only children of an Athenian father to become citizens.  Still, this allowed metics (especially wealthy ones) to marry their daughters to citizens and have citizen grand children.  Even an Athenian man's children by his slaves might become citizens.  Many of Athens' greatest statesmen in its early days had non-citizen mothers.  But Pericles changes the law to require both parents to be citizens for their children to be citizens.  According to Plutarch, some 5,000 people were convicted of falsifying citizenship and sold as slaves.  This was a major narrowing that caused the citizen body to dwindle over time.  It also seems a fair assumption that, as Athens became richer and more commercial, the slave population swelled.

Thus the assumption that Athens simply became more democratic over time is an over simplification, at least from the modern perspective.

*Technically, as rowers, but that raises certain unfortunate -- and false -- associations.  So I will stick with the admitted euphemism "sailors."
**Although they apparently included trials for treason.

Monday, April 13, 2015

And while other people have been going in hysterics over who may or may not be forced to bake a cake at a gay wedding, New Mexico has passed a first-in-the nation ban on civil forfeiture.  Hurray!!! It was unanimously passed by both houses of the Legislature, no less, and signed by the Governor.  It still allows forfeiture of property used in a crime, but only after conviction.  And the proceeds will go into the general fund, not the local police coffers.

I wish it had gotten even a fraction of the attention.