August 05, 2017
I’ve stayed far away from the new barbarians with their choppers, tanklike cars, home theaters on board, and fridge-shaped superyachts that terrorize sea life. In fact, dolphins escorted us into Kyparissi, a tiny village on the eastern Peloponnese sixty kilometers from Sparta, my grandmother’s birthplace. German and Spartan, not a bad combination, especially if one thinks democracy is a biological contradiction, which I do. Just look at the “remoaners” and you’ll see what I mean.
Back in the good old days, we Athenians knew how to practice real democracy. All Athenian males over 18, irrespective of wealth or status, had the right to attend the Assembly that met every nine days, where they decided how Athens should be run. War, peace, taxes, who remained in power, and who was deprived of it were decided by vote. The strength of the system depended on the ferocity with which the Assembly punished anyone who let down the side. Hammond would be a goner, and Corbyn would have been put to death at the start for high treason.
The system lasted from 508 BC to 322 BC, when the Macedonians ended it. It has never been repeated in its magnificence, its wisdom, and its fairness. But I’m not here to tell you about democracy, a sham if there ever was one—all one has to do is look at the E.U., the most undemocratic institution since Lenin. People actually believe that by paying their taxes to Brussels they will have a say in what the bureaucrats over in that rainy little place decide. It reminds me of the kind of big lie practiced by The New York Times when their columnists quote a fact invented by their own hacks. (The latest emetic vulgarity is the promotion of freak lifestyles!)
What ruined the greatest democratic experiment ever was the civil war between Athens and Sparta, which lasted 27 years, from 431 to 404 BC. When I was a child, I rooted for Sparta, a military oligarchy that both my teachers and family approved of. The war was fought because Sparta feared Athenian imperialism and cultural dominance. Does this remind you of something going on today? One could compare Athens to Uncle Sam, except the good uncle exports porn, celebrities, rap music, sci-fi horrors, and other useless techniques to keep the masses from thinking.
Athens did invite hubris by lording it over islands and states not strong enough to defend themselves, just as America is inviting nemeses by trying to export her corrupted democracy to faraway places like Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention Syria. Victor Davis Hanson, an American military historian of great wisdom, compared Athens of the fifth century to America in the 20th. He also compared the Peloponnesian War to World War I. Both were needless conflicts that brought on great disasters and change for the worse. Athens suffered terribly from the war against Sparta. Pericles died of the plague that swept the city, which became overcrowded once the Spartans lay siege to its environs. One out of 25 people was killed. The splendor that was Athens disappeared, as did the extraordinary achievements—never matched since—in science, art, philosophy, and the art of living.