“A Ramble on the Greeks” By Richard Sale


     Before the fall of Greek democracy, Athens began as a center of education and humanity. The best honey and the most deadly hemlock were produced there.  

     According to Jacob Burckhardt, the great 19th century historian, the Athenians loved progress; they were quick to make decisions and execute them; they never hesitated; they were keen for foreign adventures and forays, and pursued advantage for themselves as much as possible.

     Plans not carried out were counted as failures.  Every gain seemed to them trivial compared to what remained to be done, and after a failure, they set to work to obtain some new success. They never paused to enjoy what they had. They were also incessant meddlers who gave no peace to themselves or their neighbors.    

    The best of the Greeks pursued excellence (‘arte’’), an honorable existence, but the din of the mob drove the excellent underground.  Homer said that the ambition of noble people was “to be first, and outshine the rest.” He called them “the Virtuous Few,” and they were to be a guiding, living force in the democracy.

     But those who were outstanding in any way faced envy, an undermining hatred of anyone who was better than the rest,  delighting in their misfortunes, making incessant efforts to thwart and humiliate them at every turn.  Homer depicts the jeering of a victor and the pain it inflicts.


     The problem was that as the polis expanded the more ruthless and unprincipled it became. Greek democracy laid claim to excellence in ethics and morals, but there was little concern about the happiness or suffering of others.  Slaves had no rights, yet they were expected to have morals. Morals were mere tools for subjugation.   

     The polis claimed it was working for the common good, but it had developed in a way that embraced mutual aggression and nasty feuding. Its citizens were easily provoked and led astray by strong passions of the commonplace. Hesiod in his masterpiece “Works and Days” pronounced the Greek democracy “unrighteous.”

The Virtuous Few Depart

    Democracy had a stormy history in Greece. After much quarreling, the Greeks replaced the old constitution, and Greece became a full democracy under Pericles.  The bitterest struggle occurred between the laws and the constitution.

     Before democracy came, Solon, the great lawgiver that Plutarch so much admired, was about to go on a journey. He had just gotten approval for a complex legislative program, and the Athenians were bound by solemn vows to leave it as it was – they were not to change a word. But after democracy came, one prominent and dangerous feature emerged: the polis was obsessed with revision. So much for Solon.

     The letter of the constitution might be loudly praised and honored, while at the same time it was being completely undermined by the endless promotion of popular decrees. In addition, anything in the polis was subject to the most merciless cutthroat competition. In his “Politics,” Aristotle said that it was not the law that ruled – it was the masses that by nature were lawless.

      Even after the introduction of democracy, the fight still raged over the power of the laws versus the popular will. The power of the state was inescapable because the polis was the engine of education for the Greeks, and it always claimed that it was the only true representative of the State.

     The mentally gifted, men of stunning intellect, suffered a bleak fate under this. They found they were outnumbered by the truculent and ignorant, yet even as they strove to gain power in the State, their way was always blocked by some political faction that claimed it represented the whole polis, not just a portion of it, and it would then declare it was justified in exerting the state’s full authority to further its aims. This was entirely dishonest.


     Whatever their toil or danger, the energy of the Greeks was undiminished throughout their lives. But what has been overlooked was a sordid, seamy and corrupt side of their democracy, flaws that led Greece to ruin. The Greeks were a self-comparing, envious people.  I once wrote, “It is a fact that the ordinary Greek was very envious of any individual who was deemed exceptional, hence they invented ostracism to humble the city’s great. They banished Miltiades, the victor of Marathon, Cimon, Themistocles and other heroes.” The intent was ostensibly to forestall tyranny, but in fact it was used to weaken or crush the prominence of a particular citizen.

     If a citizen, usually someone of great excellence of character, got 6,000 votes against him, he was banished from five to ten years, which was a life-threatening sentence.  As Burckhardt says, here was manifest the ingrained hatred, not of the mob – the mob admires the unscrupulous ambitious, unless it is incited against them – but by those who are impotently envious of excellent and unique abilities.

Smear Campaigns

     The conflict over power among the political parties and programs was now carried on with new weapons that were remorseless, brutal, impious, and predatory, especially when compared with the simple honesty of earlier generations.

     These lofty principles of the reign of Pericles disguised a lot of the inner rot in the Greek’s social compact. For example, as democracy became more widespread, it exerted a great deal more influence on the individual Greek life. The masses spent more and more time in public meetings and the courts, and they skipped the calming effect of  steady work. The power wielded formerly by tyrants, aristocrats and kings passed to the mob and ordinary citizens, and they meddled incessantly in everything.

     The Greeks were a supremely gifted people, which can be seen in paintings, art, culture, and its vast literature; but alongside these gifts, the Greeks were prey to  evil passions, and one of these was a greed for pleasures of all sorts. As the lowest among them clamored for more participation, political power began to weigh more heavily on the lives of individuals.  The public, including its worst factions, had to be appeased at all costs. 

     It didn’t take long for the “virtuous few” to be overwhelmed. The noble, free individual was quickly outnumbered by the superior numbers of the masses.  The origin of antagonism within the polis was envy.  Said a Greek historian, “The demos, haughty of spirit and made confident by its victory at Marathon, was envious of anyone of more than common fame and reputation.” 

     Envy had toxic side effects.  The resentment of another’s superiority prompted rivals to smear and defame the person. In the beginning the “virtuous few” earned their sterling reputation by giving, not taking, but as time passed, Greek political life began to resemble ours.

     Over time, the Greeks became completely indifferent to the means they used to obtain success against every type of opponent. The Greeks were very competitive: their chief motive for any action was the hope of success. The Greek orators of the fourth century experienced the wildest personal attacks, and the authorities meekly submitted to these as long as they were not mentioned personally. (So much for moral courage.)

     The majority stopped respecting oaths. Scrupulousness and truthfulness in speeches was continually weakened. (It was never much respected.) The Greeks, no longer respected truthfulness and sincerity as they once had. They had no respect for facts. A fact, of course, is a statement based on proven evidence.  

    Ordinary people took pride in using rumor or falsehood to inflict damage on rivals. By the fourth century B.C. politics was dominated by contempt, mockery and incessant scandal mongering. Self-seekers used flatterers and sycophants, a whole class of informers, talebearers, slanderers, and servile intriguers; they made their living selling other people out for money.

     The sense of “mean, servile flatterer” is first recorded in English in the 1570s. “Showing the fig” was a vulgar gesture made by sticking the thumb between two fingers, a display which vaguely resembles a fig, which was a symbol of a vagina (sykon). The attacks of these people were so acidic that some of the targets went home to hang themselves.

     The prominent politicians in ancient Greece were aloof from such inflammatory gestures, but privately urged their followers to taunt their opponents with them.

     Many a Greek witness coming forward to speak was animated by malicious intent, and they could care less about what an oath required of them when they spoke. More and more, Greeks manifested deceit and untrustworthiness.

     A speaker’s object was to win, using any dishonorable means he could. Truthfulness became a joke. The historian Polybius described the age as “sadly vicious” in general. One Greek did a treatise on it, “Stratagems of Polyanus.”  

     Over time, a lack of sensitivity became a philosophical virtue. Utter shamelessness reigned. Slurs, ridicule, jeering, insults became a form of argument, and they soon got out of hand. A rival could savage any opponent without a second thought.  Many outstanding men felt they were always under siege. Pericles was constantly dragged down by numerous lawsuits.

     Punishments were directed not only at the Greek exiles, they extended to the exile’s children, and were unleashed on the ancestors, often laying waste family tombs. The Greek rivals wielded a harsh logic: either they will destroy us or we will destroy them. Dog eat dog. They had no alternative.

     A chief feature of this terrorism was its desire for false elevation, a manic desire for honors and prizes that an individual didn’t deserve.  The fact is that tyrannicides, if they survived their deeds, might still receive the highest honors and be commemorated after death with monuments and rites. The consequence was that obscure cutthroats were often renamed as the benefactors of society, granted citizenship, and were publicly crowned at the great Dionysisian festival, etc.

     If the man was later found to be a rogue and a traitor, like Phynihus of 411 B.C, would have his accomplices have their names inscribed on the memorial column and be rewarded in other ways.

     The more corrupt the Greeks became, the more ignorant they became. At one point a group of Greeks denied that there had been a Trojan War, despite incontrovertible evidence that there was, and they fined Homer 50 drachmas because they thought him mad.

    Why bother to write this? Because all empires are mortal. Think of the Hittites; think of the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Greek and Roman Empires. ,They were all mighty yet  they all died. Why? Because the processes of time produce a relentless sifting and testing of anything they achieved. Over time, a seamy side of a political order begins to emerge.  Over time, the faultiness of a system begins to come clear.” He took s big drag on his cigarette “What we really need these days is a deeper kind of self-questioning, but no one is doing it, not in America these days.”


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49 Responses to “A Ramble on the Greeks” By Richard Sale

  1. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Richard Sale:
    I think the English would call it the absence of Judgement.
    I must admit that, overall, the Perfidious Albion seems to have had almost a complete monopoly on that quality for centuries.

  2. Haralambos says:

    Mr. Sale,
    I have just read your post with interest as usual and can agree with much of it, but I find several thoughts and statements to be mistaken or misleading. I hope my reply is not mere pedantry.
    In your fourth paragraph, you write, ‘The best of the Greeks pursued excellence (‘arte’’ [sic]), an honorable existence, but the din of the mob drove the excellent underground.” I believe ‘arte” should read aretē,’ the usual transliteration of αρετή in the Greek, which means virtue in a sense of the term not exactly excellence. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_virtues As this Wiki points out, there are four cardinal virtues identified by the Greeks and adopted or inherited by the Romans. Christian theology added three.
    In your final paragraph, you write, ‘Over time, the faultiness of a system begins to come clear.” He took s [sic] big drag on his cigarette “What we really need these days is a deeper kind of self-questioning, but no one is doing it, not in America these days.”’
    What is your first quote here? You do not indicate where your first quote begins but indicate that it closes after clear. In addition, are we to read your reference to a male taking a drag on a cigarette as a reference to yourself?

  3. MRW says:

    Yet it was the Islamists (Babylonians initially) who took over the Greek knowledge in 700 AD, and drove it to heights the Greeks never realized, and moved it westward. [It was not the Romans.] Robert Briffault in his The Making of Humanity, 1919, describes this starting on page 182 (only have to read about 25 pages from there, pgs 182-185 are boring, but then it clips). The book is available on archive.org.
    Briffault draws on the records of Christian monks and Jewish scribes (preserved in churches and synagogues) who made pilgrimages to Cordova starting in 800 AD to learn the tremendous advances in science, mathematics, jurisprudence, astronomy, medicine, botany, architecture, civil engineering, literature, art, and culture in that the Black North Africans and Islamists brought to the European continent, surpassing all knowledge that had been known in Europe before then. Briffault points out that (and I may be paraphrasing him incorrectly, so read it for yourself) that whereas the Greeks had proposed the theorems and ideas, it was Islamic science that did the heavy work proving what the Greeks did not.
    For example, one guy spent 40 years doing the botanical work to prove one botanical claim the Greeks made by doing infinitely detailed that survives to this day. The Greeks didn’t do it. The Islamists were doing eye surgery in Cordova in the 9th C that utilized tools they created still in use today…as are the procedures. Ditto surgical operating tools. Every operating room in the country today still uses the surgical operating tools invented by Islamic Science, like the scalpel and others I forget. We use their pharmacology and diagnoses in western medicine–still. They discovered and initiated cut gut to sew sutures. While Europe, plunged in the Dark Ages, was still scratching its head trying to figure out Euclid’s Fourth Principle, the Black Africans and Islamists were using trigonometry and calculus on the streets of Cordova.
    Another historian, whose name I’ve forgotten, expanded on Briffault’s work in 1936.
    Briffault names the Italian monk who brought back translations of Arabic science from Cordova in the 1400s on man-made flight (which the Islamists invented in the 12th C) and the movement of the planets, made available to Leonardo da Vinci (flight), and Copernicus (heliocentric movement), the Polish monk we credit with discovering it (not). Islamic scientists in Cordova had been sneering at the Roman Catholic Ptolemaic view for over 400 years. Another tidbit: we think Nobel discovered TNT/dynamite. Nope. The Islamists had discovered it and shared its formulation with anyone who asked 800 years before. Of course, Islamic Science probably got it from the Chinese, their allies for centuries, who perfected it around the time they invented the printing press in 200 AD. [No one wanted a 5,000-character printing press in a language they didn’t understand … .;-) … so it didn’t catch on outside China.]

  4. Nice piece. I’m usually a bit slow with these things but it didn’t take me long to realise this wasn’t an essay on Greek history. As for the “deeper kind of self questioning”, I thought that didn’t usually come until after the crash. In any case it would take a religious genius to put this lot back together, in America or in the West generally.
    The last great religious genius, or prophet, was Joseph Smith. Understood myth and knew or intuited enough about the way science and rationalism was going to incorporate that in his vision. The doctrine of continuing revelation should have been the forerunner of a creative traditionalism. I don’t know if Smith’s premature death prevented a fuller development of that but for whatever reason it didn’t become part of mainstream thinking and it’s unlikely to now.
    Now all we have to fall back on is common sense allied to a certain weariness with progressive foolery. That and the core values that are always with us. Scarcely a combination sufficient for that “deeper kind of self-questioning” but it would do for a start, wouldn’t it?
    Oh, and Babak Makkinejad, this “Perfidious Albion” thing. Please don’t think that the English have or ever had much to do with English foreign policy. Chance’d be a fine thing but, as in America, that’s done for us. Though once in a blue moon we get a say.

  5. Godfree Roberts says:

    China’s governance model, designed by Confucius, anticipated and avoided these traps. It’s still working fine after 2,000 years.

  6. Cortes says:

    Nevertheless, as brought up as an RC, I joined the clergy and workers in laughing at the Islamic tourists weeping in the Cathedral of Córdoba when there two years ago. For those unaware, the Cathedral encompasses one of the finest mosques of the Moorish period.
    The Cathedral is pretty poor, Mosque apart.

  7. Cortes says:

    A very interesting article. Thank you.
    The book reviewed in the link following is, for me, very persuasive in its rather offbeat take on Greek life in the Classical period. The review is fair.

  8. paul says:

    pedantic point, but i think its very important to get the fact right in arguments like this
    Copernicus was not plagiarizing moors in spain, but the persians and turks in Samarkand
    “Beg determined the length of the tropical year as 365d 5h 49m 15s, which has an error of +25s, making it more accurate than Nicolaus Copernicus’ estimate which had an error of +30s. Beg also determined the Earth’s axial tilt as 23.52 degrees, which remains the most accurate measurement to date. It was more accurate than later measurements by Copernicus and Tycho Brahe, and it matches the currently accepted value precisely.[10]”
    and i was plagiarized badly.

  9. trinlae says:

    I concur w Haralombos that this portrayal mistakes and confounds a base conventional personal morality for higher virtue ethics of the kind expounded not only by Christianity but through thousands of years in Confucianism, Daoism, Vedic, and Buddhist traditions. Some of the best work on this was done last century by L Kohlberg in empirically establishing moral theory as an evolutionary stage process, which was picked up and developed in theology by Fowler and developmental psychology by Kolhberg’s protege Kegan. (For a very brief overview of Kohlberg’s moral stages, see intro pages of article http://blogs.dickinson.edu/buddhistethics/2010/12/22/restoring-mulasarvastivada-bhikṣuṇi-ordination/)
    Social scientists Clare Graves and Don Beck showed w empirical studies the very key finding that any given group will not advance to more than 1.5 stages of moral and social evolution through the Kohlberg-like stages at any one time, and has to proceed through the intermediate stages. This explains phenomena like climate change deniers etc. Just shaming or promoting Green philosophy is insufficient. (See Beck’s text Spiral Dynamics or Wilber’s integral psychology).
    The evolution also has to be integral. I.e., even though, as MRW points out, Arabs and the Vedic philosophers preceding Islam had advanced indigenous calculus and constructivist philosophy millennia before Europe, because the advance was constrained to elite intellectuals and not integral with a wider social evolution in governance (stuck in utilitarian moral conventions), it didn’t translate into explicit social culture evolution in terms of self governance, democratic jurisprudence, and so forth.
    Similarly, we see lack of integration of the latter in Western so-called post-modern culture, as evidenced in apparent present social regression in Western social culture. It is an apparent regression and not true because the evolution never took hold sustainably in the first place. Likewise, the past 25 years of obsession in West with utilitarian morality of economics and finance and funding valuation of only quantitative STEM professions (and their lawyers) betrays failed integration of moral and ethics advances in the public culture. We can code up a storm to go with our manufactured widgets and gadgets, but don’t ask techies to explain, finance, or exemplify social etiquette, or fund humanities education where such things have been taught historically outside of religious institutions. Look to the Chinese not the West for 20 year plans for national development and humanities education funding!

  10. BabelFish says:

    Bravo, Richard! Well done. Part of my reflection went back to the old New England practice of “Leveling”. I recall reading that it caused havoc with trying to organize coherent military organization in the Continental Army and had to be dealt with in organizing Maine units during the WBS.

  11. Richard Sale says:

    Correcting a mistake is not pedantry. I mauled that word, savaged it. I had difficulty inserting accent aigu. (French – for (acute accent.) I typed it five times and still got it wrong. I should have gone to Wikipedia as you did instead of making an ass of myself.
    Thank you for the correction

  12. Richard Sale says:

    wonderful post. I have the flu but which get back to you.
    The Arabs were vital in preserving Greek knowledge.

  13. turcopolier says:

    Richard Sale
    Let us not confuse “Arabs” with “Muslims.” the preservation of classical Hellenistic knowledge in the early centuries of Islamic rule in Syria, Iraq and Egypt was largely the work of convert communities among populations who had earlier been Greek speaking and largely Christian. pl

  14. Richard Sale says:

    Pat is right. I should have said Muslims

  15. Babak Makkinejad says:

    A thousand apologies English Outsider; only wrote that in an ironic manner.

  16. Babak Makkinejad says:

    And yet no one mentions the contributions of that beautiful but extinct civilization; Byzantium to both the Diocletian West and the nascent Muslim civilization.
    Likely because the Muslim and the Diocletian civilizations extinguished Byzantium.

  17. Cold War Zoomie says:

    “What we really need these days is a deeper kind of self-questioning, but no one is doing it, not in America these days.” Have we ever? I’m being serious. We have been arguing over the role of government since day one, and some of those early elections were even more brutal than this last one. Plus, we as a people tend not to look back and re-evaluate what we’re doing. One of my coworkers is almost 60 years old and has no clue how our government works. He believed it was a pyramid, with the President on top “running the country.” He is too ignorant (literally) to question or re-evaluate. And he is not alone.
    The ancient Greece you describe was the example the Founders used for *not* expanding the franchise. As the franchise expanded, the pendulum has swung from elite rule closer towards mob rule. One article I read says that only 10-15% of the population could vote after the Constitution was ratified due to the franchise restrictions established in each state. And that would only be for their local legislature and House of Representatives since Senators were appointed. That was a mechanism to thwart mob rule.
    But can we go back to the old ways? Not in my lifetime. Taxpayers should be allowed to vote based on the arguments of the early Republic, and the income tax meets that requirement. Human nature has remained constant since our founding but our society is very different from then – restricting the franchise based on race, religion and sex is unacceptable (as I believe it should be). Somehow we need to allow the pendulum to swing back towards elite rule. But first those elite need to be competent and trustworthy. And I’m not confident they are.

  18. Lars says:

    “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
    ― H.L. Mencken, On Politics: A Carnival of Buncombe

  19. Richard Sale says:

    Digging through my notes.
    Arête was a prize a reward for warlike valor, heroic strength, courage, intellectual ability, and later, a sense of duty. The origins of Greek culture were based on an aristocracy who admired superiority and outstanding ability. Surpassing strength and prowess in war were the basis of leadership of the Greek nobles.
    A slave had half the arête of a nobleman. The ordinary man had no arête.

  20. Cold War Zoomie says:

    “Likewise, the past 25 years of obsession in West with … funding valuation of only quantitative STEM professions (and their lawyers)…” This is a pet peeve of mine although I have made a fairly good living in high tech.
    Our society has morphed into the view that a “higher education” means getting a degree that will make you money. They Liberal Arts are viewed as some inferior and colossal waste of time, effort and money. Universities are now viewed by many as trade schools. It is very difficult to argue with engineers and computer scientists that the arts matter. I feel it in my bones, but am no good arguing the point.

  21. jld says:

    There some unnoticed “double entendre” in this:
    – Shall we understand that the White House is now adorned by a downright moron.
    – And… that this is the normal result of “perfect democracy”?

  22. Dr. Puck says:

    Forgive me in advance for deliberately entering a kind of sophistry, in compressing the implications of both Sales’ and the committee’s musings to bare minimums. (Thank you Richard, and also, thanks for the surprising entry of Graves and Beck!)
    Still, in the background for me is the situation of over-generalizing, for example in describing the totality of the disagreeable opposition as constituting some utopian “ism.”
    Where there is an argument on behalf of self-questioning, in practice there come to rise an exemplification and estimation of superior and inferior.
    Where there arises the superior and inferior there comes to rise an elite of the superior.
    Where there arises an elite of the superior there comes to rise a utopian goal, a goal implicit in the aspirations of the superior.
    Where there arises an elite utopia there soon arises an opposing–an equal opposite–estimation of the superior.
    This opposition comes to constitute a utopian anti-utopia. And, soon enough its exemplars constitute a new utopian aspiration, and followed back down to sources, we find the ratification of self-questioning, and exemplars.
    Missing in this is a bunch, yet I’ll highlight the implicit requirement for compliance, thus the deplorables on both sides (are said to) need to yield to the superior prior self-questioning of some elite.
    Pick your utopia. Guenon, (as against the ‘reign of quantity,’) Nishida, Habermas, Augustine, (immortality,) many many other self-questioning persons. (Men, verticality.)

  23. Fred says:

    Byzantium was rebuilt as Constantinople by the Emperor Constantine. I suppose we can use the modern pc language and say Mehmed II was just an immigrant.

  24. Jack says:

    “Somehow we need to allow the pendulum to swing back towards elite rule. But first those elite need to be competent and trustworthy.”
    Or, reduce the scope and role of the federal government to the intent of the Constitution. There has been much abuse of the “interstate commerce” clause.

  25. turcopolier says:

    I guess I am sorry for having been ill and not posting your comment immediately. pl

  26. Haralambos says:

    Thank you for your kind reply. I imagined the spelling might have been due to some keyboard limitations. I have been using MS for almost 30 years and have added the character sets for a number of languages. That allows me to insert the letters I need from foreign languages to refer to foreign words. I usually know how to spell the word with the correct accents, but the Microsoft makes it easy for me to get the spelling correct with the proper accents for many European languages even though I rarely write in more than two or three others aside from English, and, in those, what I write is very rudimentary.

  27. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I agree, the Patricians have their Utopia and the Plebs theirs.
    Both have been quite willing to beat men into line in achieving their respective Utopias.

  28. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Sultan Mohammad II only extinguished the last flame of that civilization; he did not destroy it.

  29. trinlae says:

    I think we are beginning to turn the corner (as a physicist I am also partial to the quantitative and material worlds too), thanks to two factors:
    1. monetization of social media is slowly yielding a more honored place for empirical qualitative research methods with lal of its messy real-life complexities compared to the past stances of disdain and mockery of social sciences and humanities.
    2. growing distrust of politicized main stream media narratives and dog whistle reactions seems to be inspiring a more sophisticated skepticism among more and more of the regular joe and jane public not so formally schooled in analytic philosophy. I don’t have the data to prove it, but one reason HRC lost and DT won the Potus seat was the absolute refusal of vast swathes of tea partiers, alt rights, alt lefts, left and right libertarians, and bernie bros to givr their votes away ont he basis of dog whistle superficialities while watching msm shun bernie and anyone else who wanted to talk about actual policy and structural economics. The crowds of 10-20 thousand that came out to hear Bernie and Trump evidenced a burning passion by vast swathes of the working public to talk and hear about policy issues and rational discourse. Even in recent days, Bernie bros refuse to give Pelosi and Schumer and other fake left Wall St fronts the time of day, even to denounce the worst dirty laundry held up in public about Donald Trump. They aren’t buying it, and even Bernie himself seems to be starting to realize those formerly sympathetic to the democrats are not coming back any time soon, and certainly not before dnc undergoes a regime change of its own.
    So, although i am by nature more of a pessimist, in this case I think there are signs of a healthy and growing critical appreciation for humanities and the qualitative values of living “a life worth living.” Provided violent outbursts can be contained, channeled into safer venting, and prevented, things could turn out okay.
    On this last point, I think it could help a lot if the Veterans could take on another thankless task to step forward with grass roots leadership at local community levels via VFW chapters, volunteer fire depts, KofC, zoning boards, and similar such civic organizations, including the CERT community emergency response team trainings that train civilians as low level first responders in order to free up professionals for the more serious tasks in emergency situations, as well as holding electeds accountable for overseeing reconstruction of material infrastructure. If the fabric of civil society can be made more robust and sustainable, it will be less vulnerable to political winds and more worth handing over to future generations along with a healthy culture for taking care of it.

  30. turcopolier says:

    you did not answer my question. pl

  31. trinlae says:

    Hope the Colonel PL feels better soon!

  32. trinlae says:

    Sorry, sir, I am not seeing the said question.

  33. trinlae says:

    On diacritics and keyboards, this issue is the main reason for why i switched over to iphone and ipad for non-work related social media writing (one should not read this to mean paid work, however, but labor it is). One can load a large number of keyboards almost effortlessly, which all sit happily on call under the globe icon near the shift key no matter which language is loaded. (I presently have 7 keyboards installed and ready to go at the fingertips).
    I also feel more comfortable keeping my work related files almost always offline out of harms way on the pc, so there is also that added benefit. (A used older model iphone or ipad can be had for half the cost of new ones too, or even gifted for free from generous relatives or friends who have upgraded.)

  34. trinlae says:

    Re “‘What we really need these days is a deeper kind of self-questioning, but no one is doing it, not in America these days.’ Have we ever? I’m being serious.”
    Respectfully I think we have, although perhaps never willfully at first and perhaps often with a steep cost. The transcendentalists that gave us the New England-style Congregationalists, Methodists, Unitarians as a reflective alternative to the “elect” variety spirituaity of the Calvinists etc., who in turn were seeking alternatives to the status quo of their own days, and the Thomas Paines and abolitionists were largely protected by the transcendentalist spiritual communities, not to mention the French republican movement. (One can argue the growth of alternative RC denominations in the earlier Roman govrtnance eras, the Martin Buber and the Hassidic movements, Muslim denominations, and ditto in Hindu and Buddhist societies in pre-modern eras)
    Thereafter, from movements to overturn the fugitive slave laws, suffragettes, organized labor movements and the Upton Sinclairs and George Orwells, even Rod Serlings, civil rights movements, cold war disarmament movements, up to more recent grass roots movements in farmers markets, organic foods, off grid living/energy/prepper movements, occupy and bitcoin economic/finance movements. It actually seems like a lot imo, considering how very little of these were ever handed down through the public education systems!

  35. turcopolier says:

    You asked if there should be a philosophy blog focused on epistemology rather than substance. pl

  36. Thanks, but wasn’t objecting, merely advancing the age old excuse that few citizens know what their governments are getting up to abroad or why. It’s the sort of excuse that serves for my few surviving German friends who were around before the war and it’ll have to serve for us now.
    No one could be proud of UK policy in Syria, to take just one example, but for the most of us that’s an information problem, not a moral failure. I meet very few indeed who know what we’re doing in Syria. I meet none who wouldn’t condemn it if they did.

  37. Fred says:

    Perhaps its time to rekindle that which the Sultan extinguished.

  38. sid_finster says:

    The irony is that the Athenians were despised by the other Greek city-states, and were imperialists in the neocon mold to boot.
    Look up the history of the Delian League. The Athenian allies ditched Athens as quickly as they could.

  39. scott s. says:

    The “university as trade school” had its beginnings with the Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1862, firmly in step with republican philosophy of the time that the state was about economic empowerment of the individual. My native state (Wisconsin) for good or ill decided to combine the land-grant trade school aspects with the existing liberal arts model state university (UW at Madison). Later on the concept of what a university should be morphed again, as the progressives promoted what was (and is) called the “Wisconsin Idea”, mainly that the university is part of the political arm of the state (or at least those with political power in the state).
    An interesting alternative is NY State, where the land grant college sits side-by-side with the liberal arts Ivy.
    You also might consider the history of the “normal” school system as a teacher indoctrination system, and its bureaucratic empire building in most states into “state teacher colleges” and then “state universities”.

  40. mike says:

    Trinlae –
    Thanks for that.
    Regarding Rod Serling, I guess I never knew of his activism or perhaps I had forgotten it. I was aware of his service in the Philippines and in the Battle of Manila. That was a horrendous example of urban combat. Some claim there was as much or more death and destruction there than the London blitz or Hiroshima. When I first visited Manila in 1961 there were still signs of the rebuilding effort in the devastated Old City. I have to wonder if the destruction Serling saw there shaped some of his Twilight Zone TV episodes, or even if it led to his activism, or sharpened it?

  41. Babak Makkinejad says:

    The world has changed.
    The two highest exponents of Byzantine inheritance are Iran and Russia – enemies of the Western Fortress.
    Somethings do persist…

  42. Haralambos says:

    Thank you for these thoughts. I can understand the appeal and your reasoning. We are content with our use of the MS language applications with various keyboards and languages available. Although my better half uses an iPad (a gift from my brother with the thought that it would change our lives), we are not active on social networks; we are from the Jurassic Park period, having started with manual typewriters, then electric ones, and onto the IBM Selectric with the golf ball options before moving to word-processing programs.
    We run a heavy anti-virus program and firewall. Our work involves academic editing for clients from a number of countries and preparing students for undergraduate and post-graduate education. Much of this involves a great deal of back-and-forth on-line, and some of which we do in-person and from home. Thanks again for the suggestion.

  43. Jack Nix says:

    Thank you, Mr. Sale. It is with anticipation I wait for one of your rambles. I believe I read you once lived in Iran and converted to Islam to marry your wife.
    Like many I am ignorant of that religion, and would look forward in great anticipation to a ramble on that.
    Thanks again,

  44. YT says:

    Mr. Mark Safranski recently held a “Thucydides Roundtable.”
    Week-end reading pleasure p’raps?

  45. To Babak Makkinejad – you write “The two highest exponents of Byzantine inheritance are Iran and Russia – enemies of the Western Fortress.” Could I ask a couple of questions arising from a long ago reading of Gibbon – read it for fun rather than instruction and didn’t get much of either.
    I can’t imagine, incidentally, why Gibbon spent so much effort on Byzantium when he disliked it so much. He must have had a Dawkinite passion against Christianity to work so hard on his round-the-corner attack on it. In particular it’s to Gibbon’s sour debunking of Byzantium that I think we owe the earlier Western dismissive attitude to all things Byzantine, and therefore to Orthodoxy itself (not “real” Christians). That dismissive attitude carried through for a long time, to be replaced, I think, not by a more accurate assessment but by blank incomprehension for most.
    Here’s Gibbon looking at Byzantine Court ceremonial (Ch 54) and I extract a couple of lines that illustrate how he thought about what came from where:-
    “… The mode of adoration, .. of falling prostrate on the ground, and kissing the feet of the emperor, was borrowed by Diocletian from Persian servitude.” Then Gibbon refers to “.. (the) ceremonies of the Byzantine court, which are still practised in the Sublime Porte, and which were preserved in the last age by the dukes of Muscovy or Russia.”
    Transmission to Russia – he of course got that right. Did he get right the assertion that Byzantine ceremonial was derived from the Iranian? If so, would that imply that the transmission in that case was the other way round to that implied in your comment? Did he get that wrong?
    Then there’s the implication that the Ottomans took over court ceremonial from the Byzantines. Gibbon’s cavalier with his generalisations sometimes and in any case didn’t have the range of sources available now, so did he get that wrong too?

  46. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I think Gibbon’s writings has had very much a malignant influence on the thinking of the English-speaking people’s view of that beautiful civilization called Byzantium.
    But I think he was partly right in that the Byzantine Emperors modeled themselves on the Sassanian Kings – who themselves were trying to emulate the legendary court of the Great King. There was a King of Kings in the East and there was a King of Kings in the West – and when the Arab Muslims destroyed the Eastern King, only one King of Kings remained standing; the Byzantine Emperor.
    But I also think that Gibbon was being dismissive of the development of the idea of Principe that the Octavian Revolution had introduced – the Divine Principe of post-Republican Rome. That was the legal basis of the Byzantine ideas of Ruler-ship and not their emulation of the Persians court ceremonies – themselves designed to awe the barbaric people around the Byzantine Lands and make them friends of the Empire
    I know that ideas went East – when the funding for the Philosophers at the University of Athens was terminated they moved East into the Sassanian Lands. The famous Gundi Shapur Medical College comes to mind as well.
    The Ottoman emperors titled themselves “Padeshah” – a Persian word for King and modeled themselves after both the Caesar and the Great King; the educated Ottomans knew Persian and had memorized thousands of lines of Persian poetry, specially the epic poetry of Ferdowsi of the Book of Kings fame.
    The deep piety of Byzantines, their (Christian) mysticism, their attitudes towards Law, their Doctrines of Ruler-ship (partly adopted from Sassanian Kingship but also including the subsequent developments of the Octavian Revolution in the ideas of Principe), their ideal of the King as being the First Magistrate and the First Pontiff and of having “Humanitas”, deeply affected the world of Islam. Not to mention the refugee scholars that gave Islamic Civilization its initial intellectual brilliance. Which, unfortunately, followed the same Byzantine pattern of Faith over Reason and Stability over Innovation in later centuries.
    The same over-all understanding informs Muslims as did the Byzantines: “The State must Survive.” – i.e. the same principle as the pagan (Western) Roman Empire. The Byzantines never tried to convert anybody. The Orthodox Church does NOT have missionary work. It is similar to Sufi’s in spirit.
    Looking at Lorenzo de Medici and his role in the Renaissance one notes that his teacher Gemistos Plethon was a philosopher from Constantinopole) , and the Byzantine diaspora spread all over Italy’s myriad little kingdoms after the Fall of Constantinopole and brought lots of knowledge with them, books, science,….
    Among other things, the West learned about classical Greece and Gnosticism from them. Gemistos was a very interesting character having a personal syncretic theology from Zoroastrianism + Plato
    Gibbon, I suspect, was inspired in his views of Byzantium by his opposition to both Catholic and Orthodox Christianity and his devotion to the tradition of Liberty among the English people. That a civilization could endure for centuries under hostile conditions, while being stabbed in the back by her Sister Civilization numerous times, did not seem to have altered his views of Byzantium as being in permanent state of decline (some decline, over a thousand years).
    I owe much of what I know to a “Home University Library” book, all of 250 pages, first published in 1925, by one Norman H Baynes, titled: “The Byzantine Empire”. The rest I filled in from readings and listening and speaking to others more knowledgeable than I.

  47. To – Babak Makinnejad.
    Thank you for that beautiful summary. Ties a lot of things together.
    English Outsider

  48. Dean Farris says:

    Mr. sale:
    I agree with much of your ramble, but much of what we know about ancient Athens comes from disgruntled aristocrats, as the hoi polloi were pre-literate.
    The Politics is the only book I’ve read by a resident (but not a citizen) of ancient Athens. Aristotle ,IMO, is one of your “unscrupulous” as he informed his students how to make an aristocracy look like a democracy.
    For the ancient Greeks virtue was a military attribute rather than a moral attribute. It is difficult to understand the ancients if their notion of virtue is misunderstood. The citizens were virtuous, as military service was one of the requirements for citizenship.
    Jealousy, envy, and ignorance were the standard epitaphs of the few against the many. Maybe a few blowhards bragged to much about Marathon. Had it not been won the integrate you quote would have been sidestepping Persian soldiers. When the few voted their interests it was politics. When the demos voted their interests it was envy, jealousy, and ignorance.
    Every Athenian who ever pulled an oar understood Themistocles strategy at Salamis. Those oarsmen were the lowest class in Athens. On that day they were among the most virtuous (read courageous) men in Athens. Their reward was citizenship. That is how real democracy advanced at Athens, the carping of envious aristocrats and oligarchs aside.
    It has been 39 years since I read about ancient Greece. I don’t remember whether Themistocles and others got too big for their political britches or were unhorsed by the scheming of political rivals. The vote of Ostracism was as necessary to democracy at Athens as a vote of no confidence is to parliamentary systems.
    The existence of the Tenth Amendment acknowledges that Recalling federal politicians from office is one of the reserved powers of the people. Don’t hold your breath till Congress makes it explicit.

  49. mike says:

    I agree with Dean Farris comment above. Note that it was the Athenian oarsmen who won the battle of Salamis and freedom for the Greeks. It was not the aristocrats who could afford armor and shields that stood in phalanx but lost the battle at Thermopylae.
    There were about 200 Athenian triremes at Salamis and the earlier sea battle of Artesium. That adds up to over 30,000 rowers, all from the lowest class of freemen in Athens. That is where Greek democracy was born and nurture, and NOT in the assembly areas of Athens where they did the black-and-white bead mumbo jumbo. It was because of the legacy of those 30,000 oarsmen that Greek democracy survived the rule of the Four Hundred oligarchs and later the Thirty Tyrants.
    As for exile and ostracism, there is a lot that we in the 21st century could learn from that. Miltiades and Cimon were a lot better off in exile than Irish kings and noblemen of the same era who were murdered by their own people. They were held responsible for the fertility and productivity of the land, and the health of the livestock and the people. So when those failed, they were renounced and ritually sacrificed to plead a kinder fate for the people.

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