Notes for Second IDS 6937 Class (May 20, 2004)

Copyright © 2004 Bruce W. Hauptli

I. Sagan On Civilization and Paranoia:

The paranoid position and the question of control [p. 16].

The paranoid position can’t abide tolerance [p. 20].

Paranoid mechanisms are implemented “ obtain control over some force or some person who threatens psychic existence” [p. 26].

II. Sagan On Democracy: [“the people reign but do not rule”]

Even in the most radical democracy, the people reign, but they do not rule.  Elites rule.  Elites of birth, money, brains, or ability.  Supreme sovereignty may lie with the demos, who hold the ultimate power to choose those who lead society, but the actual running of the state and the making of crucial decisions lies with a group of elite rulers.  In most democracies, the people’s main role is to decide which group of elites should rule [p. 108].

Democracies tolerate the concept of a “loyal opposition” [p. 23].

Democracies are committed to the ideal of equality [p. 64]:

-equality before the law,

-political equality, and

-and “equal” economic rights.

-To this list John Dewey adds “...cultural equality of opportunity—the opportunity of every individual to develop his full capacity.”1

In addition to equality, democracies are committed to freedom and justice [78].

III. Is a Democratic Leader An Oxymoron?
No!  But such leadership cannot rely upon fear, and it is tied to values in a unique way.  The democratic leader must value equality, freedom, and justice:
Solon helped transform Athens at this time of social crisis by insisting that virtue, rather than force, would have the most prominent part in social cohesion.”  Sagan cites Solon: “...obedience to the law shows forth all things in order and harmony and at the same time sets shackles on the unjust...” [p. 55].

Despite the temporary failure of his compromise, Solon bequeathed to Athens a remarkably precious gift: the ideal conception and sometime reality that the state could be one polity, one community wherein people rationally and peacefully settle their conflicts.  Far different was the conception of Plato, who, deliberately ignoring the whole history of Athens, commented on the situation of all city states in the fourth century: “For each of them is very many cities but not a city....There are two, in any case, warring with each other, one of the poor, the other of the rich.”   This might be true of almost all, if not all, other Greek cities, but Athens was the great exception.  Democracy and only democracy made it whole [p. 70-71].

IV. What is Sagan’s evidence or case for the claims which he makes?

A. A Brief Historical Overview of Ancient Athens through Sagan’s eyes:

600-561 B.C.E.: in Athens, independent farmers were losing control of their property to creditors [debt-bondage].  Note that archaic Rome presents the same sort of picture, but a democracy does not arise there.  Sagan is concerned to explain why this is the case!  "Unlike Athens, however, where Solon put an end to the practice in one stroke, debt bondage was not abolished in Rome until 326 or 313" [p. 40].  In neither Athens nor Rome did the peasant citizens accept the condition, but only in Athens did a democracy come about [cf., 38 ff.].

594 B.C.E.: Solon is elected Archon (the head of state) to reform the laws.  He is given extraordinary powers, and he engineered a crucial social compromise.  He canceled debts, ended the Athenian version of tenant farming [hektemoroi], distributed civic offices to various classes (defined economically), broadened the legal rights of the poorest classes, and brought back exiled and enslaved Athenians.

-Nothing illustrates more sharply the distinction between Athens and Rome than the aftermath of these crises in regard to the land policy for the small citizen-farmer.  After the compromise settlement achieved by Solon, who did not redistribute the land, the cry was never again raised in Athens.  Perhaps the problem of the individual peasant was permanently solved, or commercial and industrial interests and the needs of the large naval force ultimately provided urban jobs for displaced peasants, or the radical democracy gave the lower classes a sense of political empowerment and, therefore, the capacity to pursue economic goals through political means—about the true cause we can only speculate.  In Rome, on the other hand, problems of land-poor citizens continued to plague its history [p. 45].

561-510 B.C.E.: the "Tyranny" of Pisistraidae and Hippias: during this period political unrest continued, but it was also a period of growing economic prosperity across the social and economic spectrum.  The tyranny was not a tyranny in our sense—the period decreased the power of the traditional hereditary aristocracy and encouraged more upward social mobility. The "tyrants" relied, partially upon the demos to control the aristocracy.

510-462 B.C.E.: Cleisthenes and Moderate Democracy: in the continuing "battle" between the different classes, the demos played a most important role, and eventually, it came to have power. In addition to becoming a moderate democracy, Athens became the dominant naval power, and the Persians were defeated.  People in the lower classes "...increasingly had the capacity to make political decisions and to attain political office" [p. 100].  "When Cleisthenes instituted the democracy, he abolished the old tribal system of four kinship tribes and substituted a purely political system of ten "tribes" based on residence, not birth.  Any dissolution of kinship forms of social coherence will provoke an anxiety of separation.  The total paranoid control promised by all schemes of social engineering and by totalitarian societies are attempts to heal the terrible wounds caused by the destruction of kinship forms of social solidarity" [p. 146].

462-431 B.C.E.: Pericles and Radical Democracy: freedom at home and domination abroad became the clear pattern for Athens.

431-403 B.C.E.: period of Oligarchic Counterrevolutions and Military Defeat.  "The decline of aristocratic values inevitably produced intense resentment in those still committed to them" [p. 109]—oligarchic secret societies committed to use assassination and force to restore their political power.

-411 B.C.E.: Coup of the Four Hundred which lasted for only four months.

-405 B.C.E.: Athenian fleet annihilated, and Sparta rules Greek world.

-404 B.C.E.: The Thirty Tyrants: "to consolidate their rule and prepare themselves for any action, the Thirty established a corps of 300 floggers—an organized punishment and death squad..." [p. 128] and had the Spartans garrison a squad in the city.

-In the eight months they held power, the oligarchs executed about 1,500 citizens and banished an additional 5,000. All this in a polis of only about 25,000 free men [p. 128].

-The psychopathology of the oligarchs detracted very little from their cleverness.  Their method was to involve as many ordinary citizens as possible in their illegal acts.  An arrest and execution having been decided on, the Thirty would direct some simple citizens to carry out the deed, thereby involving as many as possible in the political holocaust.  Socrates, in Plato's dialogue Apology tells the tale [pp. 131-132].

-Alcibiades: a great hero and antihero: said to the Athenian Assembly: "we have reached a position in which we must not be content with retaining but must scheme to extend it, for if we cease to rule others, we are in danger of being ruled ourselves" [p. 128].  In 414 B.C.E.: he flees Athens because of likely prosecution for extreme sacrilege (his oligarchic secret society’s [such societies were called hetairiai] mutilation of statues of Hermes and mock performances of Eleusian mysteries in the context of difficult military campaigns).  Works with Spartans to undercut Athens and appeals to Persians to help Spartans.

403-322 B.C.E.: Golden Age of Greek Radical Democracy.

322-102 B.C.E.: Alternating Periods of Democracy and either Macedonian or Roman Domination.

B. Anti-Democratic Thought In Ancient Athens: [Alcibiades]

Three fundamental aspects of anti-democratic thought [pp. 150 ff.]:

fear and contempt:  
--...there is always a strong undercurrent of anxiety on the part of any person or any group that dominates over another person or group, especially if the latter shows sighs of overthrowing that domination. [p. 151].

passionate quest for almost total control:

-all psychological systems of dominance aim, ultimately, at absolute control. First, to be dependent on no one but oneself for one’s existence, and second, to recognize no other independent being [p. 154].

-Total domination is necessary, first, because of the pervasive anxiety that the roles of master and slave will be reversed....second, the overwhelming necessity to prove that one has absolutely no need of anyone else [p. 154].

-Absolute control postulates absolute distrust of the world [p. 155].

inordinate amount of unrepressed primitive aggressive impulses.

Anti-populous prejudice [disbelief in equality] [p. 137].

All prejudice originates with fear of the stranger [p. 139].

Anti-democratic fear of economic equality. [p. 142]

Plato's Republic: allegedly just without any freedom or equality [p. 145].


1 John Dewey, “The Challenge of Democracy to Education,” in John Dewey: The Later Works v. 2, ed. JoAnn Boydston (Carbondale: SIU Press, 1987), pp. 181-190, p. 187.   Back

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