SERF UNDER_GROUND JOURNAL.
FAMOUS SPEECHES AND COMMENTARIES IN HISTORY.
Welcome ter the Sixth Edition of Serf Under_ ground where readers, if there happen ter be any, 🙂 serfs or non_serfs as the case may be, are invited ter contribute, this bein’ an open thread.
What I want ter do here is pick up from me serf conclusion in the Fifth Edition of ‘History’s Chequered History,’ in which I refer ter the famous ‘down the memory hole’ scene in Orwell’s 1984, and some implications of the past effaced, gone, kaputt.
So herewith I’m invitin’ people ter post a speech, a commentary or an extract from history, with their comment regardin’ its context, significance from their POV or what-ever, ter illustrate how human past experience is valuable in itself and can be shared and reviewed by others over time.( By the past I don’t jest mean distant past, could be recent past as well.)
Ter start the thread I am posting extracts from a speech by Pericles, his famous Funeral Oration, that illustrate the transition from closed tribal society ter the open society of Athens in the fifth century BC. Pericles’ speech, (in Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, Bk 2.34-46.) was delivered after the first battles of the Peloponnesian war. Funerals after battle were public rituals and Pericles used this occasion to celebrate the values of Athenian democracy…
‘Our political system does not compete with institutions which are elsewhere in force. We do not copy our neighbours, but try to be an example. Our administration favours the many instead of the few: this is why it is called a democracy. The laws afford equal justice to all alike in their private disputes, but we do not ignore the claims of excellence. When a citizen distinguishes himself, then he will be called to serve the state, in preference to others, not as a matter of privilege, but as a reward for merit; and poverty is no bar …
The freedom we enjoy extends also to ordinary life; we are not suspicious of one another, and do not nag our neighbour if he chooses to go his own way … But this freedom does not make us lawless. We are taught to respect the magistrates and the laws, and never to forget that we must protect the injured. And we are also taught to observe those unwritten laws whose sanction lies only in the universal feeling of what is right …
An Athenian citizen does not neglect public affairs when attending his private business …We consider that a man who takes no interest in the state, not as harmless, but as useless: and although only a few may originate policy, we are all able to judge it. We do not look upon discussion as a stumbling block in the way of political action, but as a preliminary to acting wisely …’
Serfs like the idea of liberty. The Athenian society of Pericles’ Funeral Oration seems ter have been the first ter take the revolutionary step from tribalism ter the open society of western democracy where justice is something particular to persons and not simply fer the collectivist good of the state. It marks a turning point, paraphrasing Popper, (The Open Society and Its Enemies. Ch 10) from a tribal society’s magical attitude towards social customs as indistinguishable from the regularities found in ‘nature,’ to an open society’s belief in human reason.
Seems, it was the Athenian generation that lived just before and during the Peloponnesian war that first recognised that social customs and laws were man-made and therefore open ter criticism and change. It was this generation that propounded the principles of equality before the law and humanitarianism expressed in Pericles’ Funeral Oration.
Some context regardin’ the Oration. The political and spiritual revolution that began with the breakdown of Greek tribal society climaxed in the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war
between the two largest Greek cities, Athens and Sparta. The war also became a violent class war involving the oligarchy party in Athens, an enemy of the democracy.
Thucydides, whose account of the war has become the official judgement of History, was himself a supporter of the oligarchs and judgements he made tended ter be more critical of Athenian imperialism than of Sparta’s despotic acts against its neighbouring states. Thucydides criticizes as exploitative, the taxes Athens imposed on its empire, a measure it adopted in the wider strain of war, ‘a duty of 5 percent
on all things imported and exported by sea.’ ( In Popper.p181) As Popper notes, this tax, in view of the
volume of trade in return that the Athenian fleet protected, does not seem unreasonable.
In his History, Thucydides describes the sense of general social breakdown of the time:
‘Nearly the whole of the Hellenic world was in commotion. In every city, the leaders of the democratic and of the oligarchic parties were trying hard, the one to bring in the Athenians, the other the
Lacedaemonians …The tie of party was stronger than the tie of blood.’ Cited Popper, Ch10.)
In Athens itself, the Athenian oligarchs accepted the help of Sparta in stopping the building of the Long Walls linked to the harbour in an attempt to destroy the naval basis and sea commerce of Athens, developments that had transformed the city from a tribal to an open society. Although favouring the oligarchs, Thucydides’ narrative while emphasising Athens’ unpopularity, reveals that although unpopular with the oligarchs, Athens was popular among democrats and the suppressed. This clash between conflicting views of society, of closed and open governance, has been ongoing throughout western history, the clash between authoritative rule and parliamentary democracy.
From mosomoso herewith an extract from seventeenth century French philosopher and moralist
Jean de la Bruyere. ‘The Characters of Jean de la Bruyere.’ ‘Of Personal Merit.’
‘False grandeur is unsociable and remote: conscious of its own frailty, it hides, or at least averts its face,
and reveals itself only enough to create an illusion and not be recognised as the meanness that it really is. True greatness is free, kind, familiar and popular; it lets itself be touched and handled, it loses nothing by being seen at close quarters; the better one knows it, the more one admires it.’
La Fausse grandeur est farouche et inaccessible; comme elle sent son faible, elle se cache, ou du moins ne se montre pas de front, et ne se fait voir qu’autant qu’il faut pour imposer et ne paraitre point ce qu’elle est, je veux dire une vraie petitesse. Le veritable grandeur est libre, douce, familiere, populaire; elle se laisse toucher et manier; elle ne perd rien a etre vue de pres; plus on la connait, plus on ,l’admire.
mosomoso: ‘La Bruyere is someone I’ve carted through life as a bit of emergency refreshment when I need it. He was like Maupassant, a perfectionist who laboured so his readers didn’t have to. He was perfect not to intimidate or impress, but as a courtesy.