Sunday, January 25, 2015

Pisistratus and Fascism

All right, here we go.  I promised I would look at failures of democracy in general and see in what ways classical fascism was and was not typical.  Partly at work here was figuring out what we should look out for.  So, comparing Pisistratus to classical fascism, both my views and those of professional historians, this is what I get.

A middle class populist movement that predominantly kicks down, but also punches up:  Fascism was the movement of a middle class resenting those above it and fearing those below it.  As such, like most populist movements, it both punches up and kicks down.  But fear is stronger than resentment, so it mostly kicks down.  Pisistratus was seen in classical times as a lower class populist, punching up at the aristocracy.*  There does not appear to have been much of a middle class at the time; Pisistratus is largely responsible for its formation.  Of course, by modern standards, even the poorest citizen could be considered at least lower middle class -- they were above the slaves.  (More on that later).  And, to the extent that Pisistratus made his fortune or the city's fortune in silver mining he could be said to have kicked down. Mines, after all, were worked entirely by slaves in those days, and the lot of a mine slave was extraordinarily brutal.  But Pisistratus did not kick down in a populist fashion, i.e., he did not drum up popular support by showing how brutal he could be to mine slaves, or any other kind of slaves.  His popularity came from punching up.  But he appears to have done so in the least destructive way -- one that plays to people's aspirations more than their resentments, and seeks to build up, rather than tear down.

Driven by both fear and ambition, but mostly fear:  Pisistratus' movement was driven by ambition, both his ambition for power and his followers' ambition for a better life.  He does not appear to have played on fear.

A paramilitary party that has seized (or aspires to seize) power and claims (or aspires to claim) an effective monopoly on political power:  This is an anachronism because political parties in the modern sense had not yet been invented.  However, Pisistratus apparently did form the Hill People into a group that competed for power in the democratic process, which is roughly a political party.  But he did not play fair.  He persuaded the assembly to vote him a club-wielding bodyguard of hill country followers, which he used to state a coup.  So, yes, I think it is fair to call Pisistratus fascistic in this sense.  Of course, it was not his paramilitary party, but his foreign mercenaries that ultimately won out.

Stanley Payne's Definition:

Fascist negations:

Anti-radical:  No.  Pisistratus did not pose as the protector of the established order against radicals who threatened it.  He was the radical who threatened it.  Granted, a lot of his success and popularity came from knowing when not to be too radical.  He respected Solon's laws except when they threatened his power.  So he was less radical than he appeared.  But he certainly did not pose as an anti-radical.

Anti-liberal:  So what does it mean to be liberal?  I have argued that to be liberal is to seek to widen the circle of people who morally matter and that to be anti-liberal is to seek to narrow it, or to attack liberals from drawing the circle too widely.  By our standards, all ancient Greeks seem frightfully illiberal.  They accepted slavery.  They dismissed non-Greeks as barbarians.  And, when you read classical social philosophers or political scientists, they all seem to have an extraordinary moral myopia.  None of them can recognize that non-citizens really matter.  That being the case, I think it fair to define liberal of the time as wanting to widen citizenship and anti-liberal as wanting to narrow it.  By this standard, Pisistratus was of the liberal faction, wanting a wide citizenship.

Anti-conservative:  Being on the radical and liberal side makes Pisistratus anti-conservative more or less by definition.  But he did conserve Solon's laws and even his offices and sought to win over as much of the aristocracy as he could by friendly dealings.

Ideology and goals:
-- Creation of a new nationalist authoritarian state based not merely on traditional principles or models
-- Organization of some new kind of regulated, multiclass, integrated national economic structure, whether called national corporatist, national socialist, or national syndicalist
-- The goal of empire or a radical change in the nation’s relationship with other powers
-- Specific espousal of an idealist, voluntarist creed, normally involving the attempt to realize a new form of modern, self-determined, secular culture.

Of these, empire or radical change in foreign relations was clearly a concept in classical times.  And Pisistratus gave no sign of being an imperialist.  The tyrannoi did often support each other and help each other seize power.  But they had enough domestic security concerns not to want to push their luck in war or aggressive foreign policy.  

As for the others, they are modern concepts.  To raise them in classical Greece or Rome is an anachronism.  Underlying the remaining ideology and goals, but especially the second, is the assumption that a country's inhabitants and its citizens are the same or nearly so.  Fascists may want to purge their country of people -- citizen or inhabitant -- who they see as unworthy.  But they nonetheless end up wanting a "pure" country in which all inhabitants are true, proper, worthy citizens. In ancient Greece and Rome, it was taken for granted that citizens would be a minority of inhabitants, so a fascist conception of society was something inconceivable.  (More on that later).

Style and organization:

Emphasis on esthetic structure of meetings, symbols, and political choreography, stressing romantic and mystical aspects:  Obviously, to think in terms of modern fascist rallies is an anachronism here.  Pisistratus certainly had a sense of the theatrical, as demonstrated with his self-inflicted wounds, or the Athena girl. Compare the painting I have shown of Pisistratus and his Athena with pictures of any fascist rally and see if there isn't a certain similarity.

Attempted mass mobilization with militarization of political relationships and style and with the goal of a mass party militia:  No, Pisistratus was a populist agitator and had a small paramilitary of his hill country men, but he could hardly have been said to have seized power by mass mobilization, and in the end he preferred a passive citizenry that stuck to their private lives.

Positive evaluation and use of, or willingness to use, violence:  Well, Pisistratus attempted a coup (twice) and ended up invading with a mercenary army, so yes, he was clearly willing to use violence.  He does not seem to have glorified it, though, in the way that the fascists did, and once in power he used no more violence than necessary.

Extreme stress on the masculine principle and male dominance, while espousing the organic view of society:  Ancient Greece in general seems that way by our standards.  There is nothing to suggest that Pisistratus was any different from his contemporaries in that regard.

Exaltation of youth above other phases of life, emphasizing the conflict of generations, at least in effecting the initial political transformation:  No.

Specific tendency toward an authoritarian, charismatic, personal style of command, whether or not the command is to some degree initially elective:  Yes, this appears to have been the case.  Pisistratus continued to keep Solon's old offices and fill them with different candidates each year, but no one ever doubted who was really in charge.

Robert Paxton's Nine Mobilizing Passions:

A sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions:  This one is actually  hard to say.  There was a crisis, and Pisistratus did reject traditional solutions in dealing with it.  But at the same time, this suggests that the driving motive is fear, if not in the leader, at least in the followers.  And I maintain that both Pisistratus and his followers were driven more by ambition than fear.

The belief that one's group is a victim, a sentiment which justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against the group's enemies, both internal and external:  Certainly Pisistratus took his following among people who regarded themselves as victimized, but there was nothing to suggest the blind, hysterical lashing out that this implies.  As with the sense of crisis, this one has a cornered animal feel that I see no sign of in Pisistratus or his followers.

Dread of the group's decline under the corrosive effect of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences:  No, nothing to suggest this.

The need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary:  Again, I see nothing to suggest anything of the kind.

The need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group's destiny:  Other than the "incarnating the group's destiny" this sounds about right.  Pisistratus was, to all appearances, a strong, charismatic leader who offered much-desired leadership.

The superiority of the leader's instincts over abstract and universal reason:  No, and my reason for saying this is that Pisistratus seemed to respect the law, except where it interfered with his power.

The beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group's success:  Somewhat, to the extent that Pisistratus used violence to advance the cause of the Hill People.  But it does not appear to have been a major focus.

The right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group's prowess in a Darwinian struggle:  No.

In short, Pisistratus resembled classical fascists in that he was a charismatic, populist leader with a strong sense of the theatrical, driven by lust for power, and that he (initially at least) combined contesting power through the democratic process with the use of force by his own private paramilitary.  What he was not was any kind of totalitarian wishing to control all of society or deny people their private lives, nor did he play on fear.  So far as I know, he is the most successful of the left wing populist dictators.

*And, interestingly enough, although classical philosophers, historians and political scientists invariably were of the aristocracy and were sympathetic with it, they tend to see punching up by both Solon and Pisistratus as justified.  Which just goes to show that history is written by the victors.

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