Pericles of Athens and the Dangers of Democracy – Loren J. Samons

Pericles of Athens and the Dangers of Democracy – Loren J. Samons


– Good evening and welcome to the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum. My name is Michael Grouskay, and I’m one of the Ath Fellows this year. While the 2016 Presidential election season has provided a glimpse of modern-day populism in the United States, populism has existed for eons, regularly surfacing in democratic societies across the world. From 469 to 421 B.C., Athens was ruled by Pericles, a charismatic and popular leader, who the famous classical historian Thucydides called the first citizen of Athens. Over the decades of his leadership, Pericles left a profound and complex mark on ancient Greek society. On one hand, his leadership brought about an unprecedented period of success and prosperity for ancient Athens, but on the other hand, his populist policies, in the words of one scholar, “transformed Athens into a slothful, garrulous, and avaricious” society. Tonight’s speaker, Loren J. Samons, is a classical scholar, whose research is focused on Pericles’ legacy, and it’s implications for contemporary politics. Dr. Samons has been a professor at Boston University for 25 years, where he has taught ancient history, Greek, Latin, and humanities. Other areas of professor Samons’ expertise include Athenian foreign policy, Herodotus and Thucydides’ histories, the latter Roman Empire, ancient warfare, and the classical tradition. Professor Samons received his Ph.D in ancient history from Brown University in 1991, and according to his Boston University biography, when he’s not teaching or writing, he spends his time harassing North America’s trout population. As always, audio and visual recording is prohibited. Please welcome Dr. Samons to the Athenaeum. (audience applauding) Thank you very much Michael. It took me 25 years to get to Claremont. I was telling the amazing students sitting at the table grilling me here for 45 minutes, it’s really, by the way not appropriate to force the speaker to answer questions under pressure for 45 minutes before he actually speaks, but I understand that. (audience laughing) It’s part of your tradition, so I’ll accept it. The job was open here when I was just finishing my Ph.D, and I remember reading about the school, or schools I should say, and really thinking this would be an ideal place for me. I would love to be here, and I’ve never been able to come until now, and I thank my former student and friend Chris Chen for making it possible for me to come visit you, and I thank the Athenaeum ’cause I wanted to be here for a long time, so I’m happy to be here with you tonight. I wrote a book a few years ago called What’s Wrong With Democracy? And I’ve gone around talking about it for a while, and usually I feel like I have to give some kind of justification for that title. In fact, I’ve been very pointedly told, “You better justify that title.” But somehow in the fall of 2016, as we press on towards November, I feel as if I’m not so responsible anymore. It’s wonderful to have all your theories proved correct before you die. (audience laughing) Which in classics is the very worst thing you can possibly do. The only good thing to do is to have yourself proved right after you’re dead. If you get proved while you’re still alive, people will hate you. But they hated me already, so it doesn’t really matter. (audience laughing) How could anyone write a book called What’s Wrong With Democracy from Athenian practice to American worship? The truth is that around 1993, which was the 2500 year anniversary of the founding of democracy in Athens, 507 B.C., 1993 led to a series of parties all over the Western world, hosted by Greek historians who rarely have any cause to celebrate, as you can imagine. They live sad and pathetic lives. (audience laughing) Lonely lives. But in 1993, there was a party for the celebration of 2500 years of democracy, and I thought this was interesting because the Roman Republic was founded a couple years before the Athenian democracy according to Roman traditions, so 1991 would’ve been the 2500 year anniversary of the foundation of the Roman Republic, but there were no parties that I could remember, none at all. And yet, the American founders were far more interested in the Roman Republic as a model than they were in Athenian democracy. They saw Athenian democracy as a problematic form of government, not as a form of government that ought to be emulated. So where were the parties for the Roman Republic? In fact, the Greek historians who got together and drank heavily, and then celebrated the foundation of democracy ended up producing some books on Athenian democracy. It became an entire industry, the production of books on Athenian democracy by Greek historians who try to tie ancient democracies to the modern world. I participated in it, although on the other side of the industry. Book were written and articles were published about, using Athens as a model for modern democracy. There’s some way we can improve modern democracy by drawing on the model of ancient Athens, which sounds like a wonderful idea. This is a great idea. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could pull those excellent traditions and forms and ideas and practices that Athenian democracy had and improve woeful American democracy here at the end of the 20th century, as it was then. I noticed too that democratic had become a word that we applied to things that we like, and non-democratic a word to things that we don’t like. Governments that we like, we call democratic. Governments that we don’t like, non-democratic, un-democratic, very un-democratic. Democracy seems to have lost it’s meaning in the Athenian form, which was direct democracy, where the citizens actually voted on things like, should we go to war? Yes, no. What are we gonna do with the money? We’re gonna do this, or we’re gonna do that. Democracy had become a word of approbation, where for hundreds of years before the mid 19th century, it had been a word of disapprobation. Historians who wrote about democracy into the middle of the 19th century almost never said anything good about it, including the Athenians themselves, who said almost nothing good whatsoever about their own form of government. And yet, we were holding it up as a model. This seemed problematic to me, and then I started thinking about actual Athenian history. Now this is where it got really tricky. Because when you actually start looking at the history of Athenian democracy, you find all kinds of terrible problems. Athenian democracy didn’t even last for 200 years. And in those 200 years, it suffered two oligarchic revolutions. If you live in a democracy that’s less than 200 years old, you might think okay well great, Athens made it almost 200 years, we can go for that too, but I got bad news for us. We’re past the 200 year mark. We’re in fresh territory when it comes to longevity of democracies. Athenian democracy, in terms of its actual success is a dubious proposition. I remember going to a conference around this time, and a very eminent scholar gave a paper in which he argued that the success of Athens’ military could be explained through Athens’ democratic form of government. It was a very impressive talk, and everyone, you know wonderful. I remember someone in the audience, I don’t remember who it was, but one of the scholars in the audience said, “Well this is an interesting proposition, “I’m willing to accept that Athens’ “democracy is responsible for Athens’ “military success, as long as you “will agree that Romans’ republican “government was responsible for it’s “military success, and Sparta’s “oligarchic government was responsible “for its military success, and that “Macedons’ absolute monarchy was “responsible for its military success.” The really interesting thing I found, did I say I? Someone found about that paper (audience laughing) was the premise that Athens’ military had been a success because in fact, the Athenians lost virtually every major war that they fought. Now they were really good at beating up other little Greek states, very good at that indeed. But when it came to fighting major Greek states, they generally lost those wars. So how do we define success? Apparently we define it by calling yourself democratic. That must make you successful. So I just want to go through some of the other problems I see with Athenian history, sobering lessons from Athenian history. Let’s talk about imperialism first. Athens hadn’t been a democracy more than about 30 years when the Athenians, and the Spartans, and a few other Greek states defeated the Persians. Complete surprise, nobody would’ve put money on the Greeks winning that war, but they did. And the Athenians decided to continue fighting the Persians, forming a league against Persia that modern scholars call the Delian League. The Spartans said, “You Athenians, that’s fine. “You go ahead, keep fighting the Persians, “We’re gonna go back to Sparta, “comb my hair, and you guys are fine, “you like water we don’t like water very much. “You guys continue with your navy “and fighting the Persians.” And the Athenians said, “That’s what we’re going to do.” And they went to the other Greek states that they brought into this League, some of which they brought in by force, and they said “We think you guys should “pay us every year, so we can fight the Persians. “Because they may come back, we don’t know that “this is the end of the Persian Wars,” in 479 B.C. And some of the other Greek states said, “That sounds like a good idea, we’ll pay you.” And the Athenians said “This is how much “you’re gonna pay us every year.” “Oh you’re gonna tell us how much we are?” “You’re gonna pay us this much every year. “Some of you will give us ships, “and we’ll maintain a fleet, and we’ll “use that fleet to protect us from Persians “if the Persians ever come back.” And many of the other Greek states agreed with this. But very quickly after this, the Athenians began using that fleet to remove other Greeks from their homes, and send Athenians to live on those homes. They sent Athenians to colonize, and settle in places formerly owned by the Greeks. Sometimes they had excuses like, the island of Skyros is inhabited by pirates, and we need to stop piracy, so we’ll take the entire island of Skyros, expel the population and send Athenians to live there. Now, that sounds reasonably when you read it in one sentence of an ancient or modern history, but I ask you this, imagine an island that has committed itself 100 percent to piracy. It is the most piratic island that has ever existed. What percentage of the population of that island can be actually engaged in piracy? 10 percent? 20 percent? Let’s say 50 percent, including the people who makes hats and eye patches, and raise parrots. But there’s no talk of this in Athenian tradition, they didn’t try to find out who was involved in piracy, and who was just involved in cleaning clothes, or making boots, or ropes, or whatever. No. It was, the whole island has to be taken care of because of piracy, and conveniently enough, this island was situated on Athens’ route to the Hellespont, an area that the Athenians had been trying to dominate for at least 100 years before this, but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence. The Athenians swiftly turned their League into an empire. Historians have spent a lot of time trying to posit a slow revolution, slow change between the Delian League and the Athenian Empire, but it wasn’t very slow at all . It was in the first decade in the 470s when the Athenians were doing things like the piratical action I just described. About 10 years into this League, a big island in the Southern Aegean called Naxos. The island of Naxos, which had already been invaded by the Persians, which was as exposed to Persian invasion as any state in Greece, the Naxians told the Athenians, “Thank you very much, this whole League “thing has been fine, but we’d like out.” “Right after 10 years of a League against Persia, “we haven’t fought the Persians in those 10 years, “we’re not saying anything about that “we’re just saying we’d like out “of the League at this point.” And so, of course, the Athenians said “Well you joined freely, so of course “you can leave freely, it’s no problem. “Leave and go on.” It’s the same way the North reacted to the South in the 19th century. No, that’s not what happened. The Athenians said, “You’re not free to leave. “Just because you were free to join doesn’t mean you can leave.” And the Naxians said, “No we can leave. “We are going to leave.” And the Athenians said, “Well our 200 “warships are around your island, “would you like to rethink that?” And the Naxians, in an amazing act of Greek resilience, one of the things you know about ancient Greeks is that they don’t like to be pushed around by people who are more powerful than they are. And many little islands showed this in the face of Athens. Athens, with 200 or 300 warships, and these little islands say to Athens, “No, we’re “gonna resist you.” The Naxians resisted, and the Athenians took the island, and took over the city, and forced them to pay tribute. So they become a tribute-paying member of the League. Now is that a league, ladies and gentlemen? When you force people to stay in it, and you force them to pay every year? Is that still a league? Or is that an empire? A few other things the Athenians did in this period. They forced some states to swear oaths of loyalty to the Athenians. These oaths of loyalty are quite comical. They start out at things like, we will be loyal to the Athenian people, and we will report anyone who is not loyal. We will report anyone who is attempting to revolt from the Athenian people. It starts out like that. By the last third of the fifth century, the Athenians are forcing other states to swear this oath, “And I will love the people of the Athenians.” “I will love the people of the Athenians.” They imposed democracies on other Greek states, they didn’t like your form of government, it’s a little too dangerous we think. Maybe you’re too friendly with other forms of government, maybe you’re too friendly with the Persians. We’ll just impose a democracy on you. Now, ladies and gentlemen, of course we understand now that democracy is the best form of government. There will never be a better form of government, so it’s perfectly reasonable for one democracy to impose democracy on another. I’m sorry did I say impose? I mean give. (audience laughing) We are giving you democracy, please thank us for it. And they pulled down the walls of some states. They established official friends of Athens in states. If you were declared a friend of Athens in one of these other states, of course it was a great honor, the Athenians are choosing you as one of their friends, and they put up an inscription in your town that says, “Professor Samons “is a friend of the Athenian people, “and a good doer for Athens, and if anyone “kills him, let there be,” what? The next line is “If anyone kills “him,” for a friend of the Athenian people, “If anyone kills him, let him be punished “as if he had killed an Athenian.” Now apparently these official friends of Athens were not loved. They were seen as collaborators of course, and so they had to be protected with this kind of inscription. Another thing the Athenians did is they forced you to bring litigation to Athens. If you’re out in the islands somewhere and you get into a legal dispute with an Athenian, okay it’s fine you have a legal dispute, but guess what, you’re gonna come to Athens to have that court case heard, where it will be heard by a jury of hundreds of Athenians, who are very fair minded. I mean the Athenians are extremely fair minded, Pericles says so in the funeral oration. He says we’re really good judges. We know how to rule in Athens’ favor. And the Athenians actually addressed this point in Thucydides’ history, and they say “Look, “as empires go, we’re pretty damn nice. “We don’t just kill you outright. “We make you come to Athens and we have a court case there. “We find in favor of the Athenians, “but don’t blame us for doing what “any other power would do in our situation.” So everything I just described was voted for by a majority of Athenians in assembly. In every case, that item was put before the majority of Athenians. Should we establish official friends in other states? Should we force Naxos to stay in the alliance? Should we force other Greeks to say they love us? In every case, a majority of Athenians in assembly raised their hands and said “Yes.” It wasn’t a group of representatives up there somewhere doing it, it was the Athenians themselves and not only did they hold their hands up to say “We should do that,” they then went and got on the warships and made it happen. The same people voted that actually were operating, serving in the military. So that’s one problem. And in terms of public finance, this is the way I got interested in Athenian democracy originally, I was studying the money side of Athens, you know, follow the money. Well the Athenians had been building up funds on a little island of Delos in the middle of the Aegean. The money that the other Greeks were paying was sitting there on that island of Delos, until about 454 B.C. And in 454, the Athenians had suffered a setback in Egypt, they lost a bunch of ships, and they probably used that as an excuse, and said “We’re gonna move that “money from the island of Delos, “and we’re gonna bring the money to Athens.” The money that’s been paid by these other Greeks. Now the money had been looked after by a group of Greek treasurers. I know they were Greek treasurers because that’s what they were called, Hellenotamiae, which means Greek treasurers. But they were actually Athenian officials that were elected every year, but we won’t call them Athenian treasurers, they were Greek treasurers. The money was brought to Athens in 454-3 B.C. I’m sure it’s a coincidence, but almost immediately after this, the Athenians begin spending money like drunken sailors. Drunken Athenian sailors. Little things like the Parthenon. Now, the Parthenon is an amazing work of architecture. We’ve all studied it in art history courses, we all know it’s one the cover of every Greek history textbook, fantastic building. It was as expensive a building as you could possibly have made. The Athenians went out of their way to throw money at the Parthenon. So not only is it this huge, amazingly elaborate temple, they put inside of it a gold and ivory statue of Athena. A giant gold and ivory statue of Athena. It’s as if someone sat down and said, “Is there any way we can spend more money on this project? “Can we do it in gold? “Yes, we can do it in gold. “Could we do more with the gold? “Is there platinum,” platinum was not around yet “What about ivory? “Let’s do gold and ivory of Athena. “And how big is the statue gonna be? “Let’s make it giant. “Alright, a giant golden ivory statue. “Is there anything more we can do with this temple?” Yeah, if you had seen the Parthenon in the middle of the fifth century and walked inside, the row of columns that are on the outside of the building, and you would look way up at the top of the outside of the building, as high up as the ceiling here. There was four foot frieze, a sculpture that ran all the way around the building. Extremely elaborate, expensive sculpture that showed the Athenians themselves possessing in their pan-Athenaic festival. Now, Greeks didn’t put themselves on temples. They put gods on temples. But the Athenians put themselves on this temple. (audience laughing) And they put this incredibly elaborate, expensive frieze in a place it could not be seen. You couldn’t even enjoy this. You would have to be told by someone, “What the heck is that up there?” “Oh it’s us man.” (audience laughing) “And we’re just like the gods.” And I’ve just described one building in a massive building program that stretched all over Attica, not just in Athens itself. Down at Sounion, at Elefsina, everywhere in Athens, they were building elaborate and expensive temples. They built gates to the Acropolis that weren’t just gates. It’s like a Roman arch. Have you noticed that Romans like to build arches to nowhere? You walk in, “Hey I just went through the arch. “There, it’s great, what was it, “it was an arch, amazing.” The Athenians built a gate to the Acropolis, and they made it as elaborate as they possibly could. They put an art gallery inside the gate. So, they weren’t at all bashful about spending this money in the late 450s and early 440s, and on into the 430s B.C. And around the same time, Pericles himself, got up in front of the Athenians and suggested, “Listen, hundreds of you are serving “on these juries every day in downtown Athens, “and I think we should pay you to serve on these juries.” Now you can imagine the reaction of the Athenian people when they heard this proposal. “I think Pericles just said we should be paid “to serve on the juries. “That’s crazy man, there’s hundreds of us “down here everyday, we couldn’t possibly afford that. “No, I’m pretty sure he said we should be paid “Well if he said that, I’m voting for it. “Yes we should be paid.” Now, how do you argue against that proposition? How do you argue, no you should not be paid? This is the moment, the first moment we know of in democratic politics, when a politician says “I think “you should get money from the public. “You should get public funds. “And if you vote the way I way “I want you to vote, you’ll get them.” But I put it to you that once that idea is out there, it is almost impossible to get it off the table. Someone opposed Pericles. It was a guy named Thucydides, son of Melesias, not Thucydides the historian, but a relative of his. And Thucydides son of Melesias apparently made a speech and opposed Pericles, and he used the building program. He said “Pericles, we’re building “all these crazy expensive buildings. “Really you’re making us look bad in front of the allies.” He doesn’t say we shouldn’t use the money, he says the way we’re using it really makes us look bad. You’re painting us up like we’re some crazy painted woman. Really Pericles, you’re embarrassing us. And the response with the Athenian people was, “That guy who just opposed Pericles “he needs to leave Athens for 10 years.” They ostracized him. They sent him out. It wasn’t enough just to vote against him. Now honestly if I could bring anything back from ancient Athens, it would be ostracism. (audience laughing) I would bring it back immediately. Taylor Swift would be gone. No. Ostracism was a great thing in the Athenian system. See, you had no rights as an Athenian. The demos, the people of the Athenians can do whatever they want to you. All they have to do is vote do it. And they voted to send Thucydides, son of Melesias away for 10 years because we don’t want to hear it from you. And from that point on, Pericles was the leading statesman in Athens, what a shock. The guy who proposed that we should be paid and who proposed that we should spend all this money on buildings, which is enriching the construction industry, et cetera, et cetera. What a surprise that Pericles becomes the leading politician in Athens. Of course, Pericles urges Athens into war with Sparta, and in the course of that war, Athens racked up a debt of 7000 talents, a huge sum of money. The Athenians borrowed money from their gods, very convenient in antiquity, Athena was very willing to lend the money. She started out at seven and a half percent interest, and she came down to about one and a half percent before the war was over. Wasn’t that nice of Athena? Athena was like the Federal Reserve Bank of ancient Athens. (audience laughing) Thousands of talents of debt racked up by the Athenians which they did not pay back after the war. Interestingly, at the beginning of the war Pericles says to the Athenians, “Listen, when we go to war with Sparta, “it may be expensive, but we got “lots of money, so don’t worry about it “there’s 6000 talents up on the Acropolis “and we have all that gold on Athena. “Remember that golden ivory statue? “And it’s removable! “It’s great gold, we can take it right off, “melt it down and use it for the war, “but we have to pay it back afterwards.” A lot of people read that speech as Pericles saying, “We don’t wanna “do anything impious against Athena’s statue.” But that’s not what he’s saying. He’s not worried that the Athenians are going to say, “We shouldn’t “melt down Athena’s statue ’cause that’d be wrong.” He’s worried that the Athenians are not going to pay the money back. That’s why he says, “Don’t forget, “we have to pay it back after the war.” So massive debt is incurred, again, in a modern democracy we’d find this shocking. Modern democracies don’t spend money that they don’t have or put future generations in debt. Because they would see how wrong it is to say, “We should live the way “we wanna live now, and let future generations pay for it.” A modern democracy would see that, but this is ancient people I’m talking about. (audience laughing) By the fourth century B.C., the Athenian democracy, we voted to pay ourselves, and of course once they go to pay themselves to serve as jurors, they go to pay themselves to serve on the council, then they voted to pay themselves as magistrates, then they voted eventually to pay themselves to vote. Pay ourselves to vote, what a great idea! That was even better than the jury thing! (audience laughing) That Pericles guy was a real piker! It looks like Pericles ends up being painted by what you might think of as the progressive faction in Athens, as Pericles was too conservative. He thought you only should get paid two obols a day, but I think you should get paid three. Ha! Top that Pericles. What are you gonna say, four obols? Come on! The Athenians eventually vote to pay themselves to vote. Wonderful! You would think you couldn’t top that. I mean honestly if you were writing this novel, you can’t top paying yourself to vote, but you could because they eventually pay themselves to go to the theater. (audience laughing) So we need to subsidize our theater tickets because, really, some people can’t afford to pay that. Let’s just make sure that everybody can go to the festivals, and so we’ll subsidize those theater payments. Now what effect does this have on, I don’t know, something like national defense? When the Athenians finally confronted an enemy in the fourth century, in the form of the Macedonians, they had other enemies in the fourth century, but I’ll just talk about Macedon. Macedon in Northern Greece was more or less like Saskatchewan. Not seen as a threatening force on the international map. We’re not worried about the Saskatchewan-ese coming down here and taking over the United States. The Athenians and the southern Greeks thought of Macedon as kind of a banana republic with some kind of crazy king, they live in Homeric poetry up there. They don’t even live in pollays. And when Philip of Macedon begins amassing this very large imposing force, there were Athenian politicians that were saying “Ha, Macedon, Schmacedon. “We don’t need to worry about those guys, “what are you talking about?” There was one Athenian, Demosthenes, who was giving speeches saying, “I really think we should be worried about Philip. “He’s got an amazing army. “He’s got catapults and things, it’s crazy. “Really long spears, I think we should be “concerned about Philip of Macedon.” But the problem was that for Demosthenes to win, to convince the Athenians, it would have meant the following, Athenians would have to move money out of their festival treasury, paying themselves to vote, paying themselves to go to the festivals, and move that money to the military treasury. Now that would be an uncomfortable thing to do, we wouldn’t have so much money to spend on things other than the military. In fact, the Athenians had made it illegal to move money from the festival treasury into the military treasury. So Demosthenes has to kind of dance around this issue. But he’s entirely unsuccessful. This was supposedly the greatest orator Athens ever produced. He was entirely unsuccessful convincing the Athenians to take Philip of Macedon seriously. And at one point when a treaty with Philip was on the table, an opponent of this fear Philip position said “Okay, look if we don’t wanna make “the treaty with Philip, then what we should do “is agree that we’re not gonna hire mercenaries anymore, “’cause they’re too expensive. “We’ll have to fight ourselves “We need to stop the festival payments, “and everybody go down to the fleet right now. “Get on the warships and go to war.” That’s what it amassed to. So either vote for peace with Philip, or, vote to end your festival payments, get on the ships yourselves and sail up there and fight him. Now what do you think the Athenians voted for? They voted for peace. Peace. Peace was great because peace was also best-case scenario thinking. I mean peace was based on this idea, Philip’s probably a nice guy. And there was an Athenian actually saying that. His name was Aeschines, and he was like “Oh, Philip’s a pretty nice guy.” “Don’t worry about it.” So best-case scenario thinking, and there’s worst-case scenario thinking. Worst-case scenario thinking is Philip might be a nice guy, but he might be an awful guy. And if he’s an awful guy, we ought to be worried about what’s gonna happen down here in southern Greece. The best-case scenario thinking and worst-case scenario thinking do not exist well together. For example, you could have one person that believes, “There’s probably money “in the bank account, so I should write this check.” Or, there’s probably not money in the bank account, so I should not write the check. Best-case scenario and worst-case scenario thinking don’t exist too well together sometimes. Is voting simply a problem? Well look, you can accept the idea that the majority is likely to make the right decision. But you’ll be on the wrong side of some important thinkers if you take that view. And on the right side of a lot of others. Socrates in the Apology, Plato’s Apology of Socrates says to the Athenians, “Look, the majority “is never gonna make the right decision.” If you want anything done, you go to a majority and ask them to vote on it, if your car breaks down, you call everyone together from Pomona or Claremont, no, Pomona or Claremont, I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Yeah, you’re gonna pull everybody together, and have a vote? Let’s listen to the car and see what’s wrong. Okay, I vote it’s the fuel injector. I vote it’s the carburetor. They don’t even have carburetors anymore you moron. Well, I vote carburetor anyway. Sounds like the CV joint to me. Alright, let’s take the vote and then we’ll fix the car. When you get ready to choose a mate in your life, do you go to all your friends, get them all together. Okay, so we’re gonna vote now. This is important so I need all of your opinions. (audience laughing) The premise is of course that justice as Protagoras apparently argued, has been given to everyone, so we better hope that because human beings are different in every other way, except in the area of justice. They all have justice and they really need to have that if we’re gonna count on voting to lead to good decisions. Another issue of course is that Aristotle suggested, I know this is shocking, that if you have voting, you’ll end up with the rule of the rich. Now in 2016, we can clearly see that is not the case. (audience laughing) Because we have a choice between a fantastically wealthy person, and a disgustingly wealthy person. (audience laughing) So, it’s clearly not the case. And, you know, if you analyze the American Congress, you will see that, the Senate let’s take for example, the vast majority of senators are middle or even lower middle class people who just worked really hard to get into their elected position. I mean if it was a bunch of millionaires up there, we would say to Aristotle, “Aristotle “you’re a blowhard you don’t know what “you’re talking about.” But I just want you to know that’s what he said. Voting will lead to rule of the rich. Now, this picture’s so bad, how did Athens even last for almost 200 years with only two oligarchic elections? That’s a perfectly fair question to ask, and what I would say is that Athens had the benefit of some non-democratic or pre-democratic features that limited the negative effects of democracy in Athens. And one of them was that the Athenians had values that sat above democracy. Above democratia. Things that were more important to the Athenians than democracy. The thing about the way moderns study Athens is we think they thought democracy was really important in the fifth century B.C., but they didn’t. They wrote very little about it, and when they wrote about it, they treated it largely as a comedy, something hilarious. You know what we have? Democracy, can you believe it? It was a subject for the comic stage. But there were things that all Athenians thought were important and you can see them spelled out for you. When an Athenian was chosen by lottery for the council of 500, he had to go through a vetting process called the Dokimasia. And at the Dokimasia, you would be brought in front of a jury of other Athenians, and you would be asked the following questions. Do you worship the gods, and where are the altars that you worship? Do you take care of your parents? Did you serve on the military when you were called upon, and do you pay your taxes? Now, when you’re asked those questions, any Athenian in that room could stand up and say, “He didn’t go to war last year when he was called upon. “He didn’t take care of his mother, “and she died of infirmity. “I know he didn’t pay his taxes last year.” You could be objected to on any of those grounds. But those questions set a very clear standard about what Athenians thought were important for citizenship. If you’re gonna rule in this society, if you’re gonna hold office, you have to be able to answer these standards. Notice they’re not questions about your capabilities, your college education, your ability to read and write. They’re questions about your character. They’re character issues. And those are the things that Athenians wanted to know about before you held office. Pericles in the funeral oration, when he’s praising how free the Athenian life is, he compares, contrasts Athens with Sparta and he says “We don’t live the same “kind of life those Spartans do. “Pressuring everybody all the time. “We live the way we want. “We don’t cast sidelong glances at people, “we don’t like the way they’re living.” He says, and that’s the part everybody quotes but he goes on to say “But we also don’t “break those unwritten laws that are shameful to break.” Unwritten laws that are shameful to break, things that aren’t even on the book. And this is a place where Western democracy, and in particular, American democracy has gone in a very very un-Athenian direction. Because the watch word now in our world is, don’t judge me. Right? Don’t judge me. You’re judging me! (laughs) Yes I am because the truth is we’re all judging each other all the time. Some of us just have the good sense not to say it and pretend like we’re not doing it. But we are doing it, you’re all judging me right now. You’re wondering, how could anything have produced this guy? (audience laughing) His parents must be horrible. And they are angels, I will tell you that. No, no don’t judge me. There’s only three things in American society you can actually judge people for now. This is a striking statement about what our society is like. Smoking, right? Smokers, we hate them! Smokers are bad! If I walk out the door and I see somebody smoking outside, I can say, really, really you know how close you are to this door? Do you realize that second hand smoke could be wafting into that door. There are people in there right now! Smokers. SUV drivers. Filling the air with (laughs) all kinds of noxious fumes. Polar bears are drowning in the North or in the South, maybe not in the South, I don’t know where polar bears are, in the North! (audience laughing) Because you’re driving that SUV, and you got a cigarette in your hand too, which is disgusting. And, not voting. Not voting, really? Not voting. Have you noticed that when people go to vote now they get that little sticker, you know that says “I voted.” And they walk around, ah I voted, oh (audience laughing) So proud of myself. I fulfilled my duties as a citizen. I walked three blocks to the fire station, and stood in line for over 40 minutes! To cast my ballot for people I did not know anything about! (audience laughing) And I got a sticker! ‘Cause I’m an American! (audience laughing) So, not voting. (laughs) In polite company, you can say anything. You can bring almost any kind of perversion you can imagine up in polite company, and people will just go, “Oh well, I’m not judging him.” But let that be ended with a, “And I don’t believe in voting.” And then see what reaction you’re gonna get. Not voting? Well, then you have no right to criticize. Nope, if you don’t vote, you’ve got no right to criticize, whatsoever. That’s why over 50 percent of us go to the polls every four years in national elections. 50 sometimes 60 percent of us, six in 10. That intense social pressure that we put on ourselves. And it’s the same thing that’s happened with smoking. You see that as soon as we put that social pressure on, people stop smoking. All we had to do was tell people that smoking would kill them. We started to put that little message on there. Because Protagoras was right about another thing, you can educate people. People can be taught to be good, obviously. And that’s why no one smokes anymore. You probably don’t even know what I’m talking about. We used to take weeds and we would dry them out and wrap them in paper, and then we would take these fire sticks, and put them in our mouths, and then we’d take a living flame and hold it close to our face and suck the smoke from the fire stick deep into our lungs. And it felt good! (audience laughing) And then we’d blow the smoke out, and you looked cool! I mean the best thing about it was, people were like, “Yeah that guy’s smoking man. “He must be cool!” You don’t believe this happened, but it did. But then we taught people. Because I’ve seen it on a sign in Boston, education is the glue of democracy. You can educate people into being good, and that’s why we have such good government today. (audience laughing) So, what’s the conclusion? (laughs) What’s the solution here Professor Samons? Simply to vote better? Look, I wrote a piece for a blog a while back and it got picked up by one of the big magazines online, and it was about demagogues. The thesis of the piece was, if you have democracy, you’re going to have demagogues. You can’t not have them, they come with democracy. It’s part of the set. And it got picked up, and the headline it ran under, I didn’t write this headline, it was What Does History Teach Us About Demagogues Like Trump? Yeah, that was the headline. I wasn’t writing about Trump. Or rather, I was writing about Trump and about Clinton. Because we can’t confuse style with substance. Trump has the style of a demagogue, but we have demagogues across the board. By my definition of a demagogue, is someone who says “To solve the problems “that you have and the world has, “all you need to do is give me your vote. “Just give me your vote. “You don’t have to do anything else, “I wanna make that clear. “You don’t have to do anything else.” How much else are our politicians asking from us, other than to vote? But folks, in my opinion, big problems don’t get solved by votes. We’re not gonna vote our way into good government by just giving our vote to which of our bad choices? (audience laughing) Yes, that’s the answer? To vote better? The greatest lesson that I think Greek government teaches us is not about voting. It’s about citizenship. And that is a word that means, I mean I think of the word citizenship, and I see my third grade report card. That’s what they called it deportment, and then it became citizenship. It was always my lowest grade. Very much so. J won’t stop talking. You see, it’s still true. (audience laughing) Citizenship, but it doesn’t mean just how you carry yourselves. The Greeks believed citizenship was something you earned. It was a privilege you earned by performing duties. You had to do something. You had to do something to earn the privilege of ruling other people. Because that’s what we do when we vote, on whom we’re electing to office. We are ruling other people. We’re making decisions that are gonna send some of them to war, and some of them are going to die. That’s what we’re actually doing when we cast a vote. The Greeks thought, you probably ought to have done something to earn the privilege of casting that vote. And why do we rate citizenship so slightly in the modern West? Because it doesn’t cost us anything. It doesn’t cost us anything. But it did cost our ancestors something. There’s only one monetary unit in which liberty can be purchased that I can see historically, and it is human life. That’s the cost of freedom. That may have been paid by our ancestors, it may have been paid by our descendants, but it’s going to be paid eventually by somebody. We have to be better citizens. That means we have to require more of ourselves and more of each other. Require more of ourselves first because it can’t just be everybody else’s problem. It can’t just be that the government is gonna take care of it. It can’t just be that if I elect the right person, they’ll take care of it, it’ll be their problem, it won’t be my problem. It’s gotta be our problem, and that means we’re gonna have to be a lot more honest about how we judge each other, and about when we think you’re being a good citizen and when you’re not. Our character, ladies and gentlemen, is what makes the character of the government. I’m sorry to tell you this, maybe I’m wrong about it. I hope I am, but I don’t think I am. We’re the problem in the end, not the leaders. We better hold them to higher standards, and we start out by holding ourselves to a higher standard. I saw a banner just west of Boston the other day. It scares me, I said Boston like I’ve been living there for 30 years. (laughs) I have, but I am from Arkansas. But anyway, the banner said this, democracy is not a spectator sport. Does it make you go? Democracy is not a spectator sport. Now you know what that banner meant. The banner meant you have to get involved. You have to get your sticker! It’s not a spectator sport, get your sticker and be part of democracy, but the problem I have with that banner is it does suggest democracy is a sport. And it’s way way way too like a sport today. And we are rooting for one team or the other. And we don’t wanna just see one team win, we wanna see them embarrassed. We want a blowout. We wanna make it impossible for that team to come back in the same conference next year. The news channel, the pundits, blah blah blah and everything is talked about in terms of the sporting quality. Who’s ahead, who’s gonna win. Oh, it’s looking close! Oh, it’s stretching out, the lead’s big, the lead’s small! There’s more talk about the lead, then there is about any substantive issue because it’s a sport. And the greatest speech in Thucydides’ history is not given by Pericles in my mind. It’s given by the great demagogue of the word, a guy named Cleon. And Cleon, who Thucydides hated gives this amazing speech in which he says to the Athenians, “You know what the truth is? “You guys treat politics like it’s a sport. “You go to these games, you’re excited about it. “It’s all like a party to you. “That’s the way you are, Athenians. “You treat ruling an empire, or ruling the state, “or ruling yourselves like it’s a sport. “You ask for something different “than the world you live in, and you “don’t even understand that very world. “You want a new healthcare system, “and you didn’t understand the old one. “Truth is, you don’t understand the new one either. “You want it because it’s new and different. “And it makes you feel good to “root on this side versus rooting on that side.” So, I hope democracy is not just a sport, but I fear that it has become one. And I’ll just end with this thought. This isn’t about the form of government. I’m not suggesting that there’s another form of government that’s better than democracy. Although I think there will be. And I think it’s a shame that you can’t go to a political science department in the world today, and find a department, or even a scholar who’s dedicated to finding the next best form of government. Apparently, we’ve figured it out all out. It’s about making democracy more democratic. Wow, that’s a brilliant piece of logic right there! We just judge it against itself, and that’ll make it better yeah? No, it’s not about finding a new form of government, but it is about finding better citizens in ourselves, and in our fellows. Thank you. (audience applauding) – [Voiceover] We now have time for questions and answers. If you’d like to ask a question please raise your hand, and Sarah or I will come to you. – [Voiceover] Thank you very much for coming. I wanted to ask about, you told us to find better citizens in ourselves and in others, but you also seem to comment on our ability to educate people and make them better people by educating them. It seems to be hedged between those two beliefs because if we can make people better how could we make ourselves better citizens? – Yeah, that’s an excellent question. When I was an administrator for a while, and the first time I gave a speech to the parents of the incoming students, a very smart aleck father in the back row stood up and said, “What is your goal for our children?” And I thought, dammit I gotta get that question the very first day of this? And I blurted out without thinking about it, to make them better people. So at some level deep down in my little soul I obviously believe that education can make you better. But I don’t think that your level of education is what determines whether you’re a good person, or a better person, or even a better voter. If I had the choice between turning voting in America over to all the Ph.Ds in America or everyone who hadn’t gone to college, I would choose everyone who hadn’t gone to college in a second. I would not hesitate at all. So, I don’t have faith in education, per say, making better citizens. I think you train better citizens. And I think we train each other by telling each other when we think, “That really wasn’t a good choice.” And I’m not sure I wanna hang around with somebody who’s gonna act that way. I think it takes that kind of action. So, again I don’t deny that there’s some part of me that wants to believe that education is really important for making better people, but I think there are many, many, many other ways and even more effective ways for making better people. – [Voiceover] Hi, I was just wondering what, if anything, was redeemable about Athenian democracy? – Many things. Sorry if I gave the impression that nothing was redeemable (laughs). I get a little excited sometimes. Yeah, another scholar commented on that book once and said “It’s amazing that Samons “has these nice things to say about Athens “when he so clearly hates Athenian democracy.” But in fact, Athenian democracy was set into this environment in which the Athenians were quite clear about what they expected of one another. I think that prevented the democracy from rushing headlong into bigger problems sooner than it did, although it rushed pretty quickly. So, the questions that I mentioned the Athenians asked, this vetting process, where you had to essentially testify to the fact that you took care of your parents, et cetera. The Athenians didn’t kid themselves that they could live any way they wanted, and have a successful society. Even Pericles, in that very passage, where he says “We live the way we want, “but we don’t break those laws that are shameful to break.” Unwritten laws. So, one of the things that’s admirable about Athens is it was a society that had a basic agreement about their goals. That’s what a society is, the Latin word societas is about socii, allies who are working towards some end together. And one of the things about democracy is it tends to breed this idea that democracy is itself is the end. Democracy itself is the goal. But democracy is not a goal. It’s a means. And we have to define what we’re trying to reach with that means. If we don’t know what we’re trying to reach, the means itself becomes irrelevant. And this is something I’ve come to believe, democracy is not a goal itself. We can’t judge democracy by the standards of democracy. We have to ask ourselves, what are we looking for? Are we looking for justice? Are we looking for equality? Are we looking for goodness? Are we looking for niceness? What are the things we’re looking for? So, the Athenians I think were admirable in the way they agreed about certain goals of their society, and I’ll just say as homogenous as Athenian society was by modern standards, and it was, in it they had slaves, they didn’t treat women well, and did all kinds of bad things that all Greeks did. They produced an amazing amount of intellectual diversity within that society. Everybody didn’t agree about intellectual matters. Everybody didn’t agree about political matters. But what they did agree about is what we’re doing together as a people, as a society. So yeah I think that’s admirable about Athens. – [Voiceover] Hi. – Hi. – [Voiceover] Thank you for speaking tonight, I really enjoyed your talk.
– Thank you. – [Voiceover] Going back to your point about the Athenians having the decision to keep the money in the festival funds, or bring it over to spend it on military. So you also talked about their high moral standards, values of religion and such. Isn’t it pretty unsurprising then, that they would want to keep the money in the festival funds, considering that these festivals were entirely religious. This was after a time that Pericles did institute these allotments of money for people who were in Athens to go to these festivals, who previously couldn’t afford it anymore. It got too expensive, they were leasing out theaters, it became necessary, and then these people wouldn’t have been able to participate in these religious festivals if they moved it to military funds. – Yeah, there’s a lot in that question. If I left the impression that the Athenians had high moral standards, I think that was unfortunate. I would say high social standards. I think their moral standards were high by their own estimation, but they might not have been by our estimation. The relationship between men and women, and the way men acted outside of marriage and everything. This was very outside of contemporary West’s ideas of moral society. Their social lives, they had high standards there, and they had high standards by their own definition of morals. And also religion was not a moral issue for the Athenians. It had really nothing whatsoever to do with morals. This is hard for us to understand brought up in the Western tradition where morality and religion go hand in hand, but the ancient Greeks saw philosophy as the place where you learned about morality, not in religion. So, what I would say is that it’s not that surprising that the Athenians kept that money in the festival fund instead of moving it in the military fund because they had leaders telling them “You don’t need to worry about it.” And I’m not saying they weren’t responsible for knowing we ought to worry about it, they were. But they had responsible leaders saying “It doesn’t matter, Philip is not a big threat. “We don’t need to fight ourselves. “We don’t need to move that money into the festival fund. “We don’t need to take those steps “because it will probably be okay.” And people want to believe it will be okay. They wanna believe it now, and they wanna believe it then. A message that says, “We don’t have to do X “because it’s really nasty to do X, “and it’ll be easier to do Y.” That message is always gonna win out, I fear, in a democracy over a message that says, “Y is really really really really hard, “but we better do it because bad “things are coming down the pike.” Yeah we don’t wanna accept those bad things coming down the pike. It takes a lot of character in a society to say something like this, “We cannot spend “anymore of our children’s money. “Yes it’s making our lives easier right now, “but it is utterly immoral to saddle them “with a huge debt for things they “are never going to enjoy.” So it’s about, in the end, that kind of decision making is about character. The character of the people as much or more than the character of the leaders. I’m not sure I answered your question, but I tried anyway. (laughs) – [Voiceover] Thank you so much for coming. – Thank you. – [Voiceover] So you raised a very thought-provoking question towards the end, which is what is a better form of government than democracy. So I’m kind of curious about whether you’ve started that project yourself – (laughs) – [Voiceover] And if not, how would you suggest that somebody go about starting that. – Yes, we’re starting it now, and let’s all (laughs) I hope I can have your support, no. I told this story earlier that when I wrote What’s Wrong With Democracy, I started to write an appendix and the appendix was proposed reforms for modern governments based on ancient models, where I was gonna look at Roman government and Greek government and list things that I think we should do. And then you know how you write a paper sometimes, and you realize that the paper is really about something else than you thought you had written, and you go oh man, my thesis is really this. Yeah, but that’s when I realized that I had fallen into my own trap, the democracy trap, which is that we can fix this by tweaking the Constitution, or voting better, or making this little structural change, or this little structural change. I do not want to leave the impression that I believe that. I absolutely don’t believe it. Yes, I think there’s some changes that would be nice in the short term, they would make things better. The economy might get stronger, the things with the military might be better, all kinds of things might be better in the short term. But I absolutely don’t believe that the form of government is the key to having a successful society. So, I’m not advocating for any particular form of government, but I will say this, I am advocating for citizenship. And I think that whether you have a limited monarchy, a constitutional monarchy, whether you have some kind of citizenship or voting rights based on some kind of duties that people have to perform, I would be all for that. I think that’s a great idea. But it would still be the character of the citizens that make the state good or not. It wouldn’t be that form of government. So it’s really about us, and not about the form of government. It’s perfectly reasonable question. Yeah. – [Voiceover] You said that democracy inevitably leads to the rich being in control. – Aristotle said that. He said a lot of things, I mean it goes on and on. (audience laughing) – [Voiceover] Can you just elaborate on that? I’m just curious as to why. – Yeah, well one thing is that poor people, as hard as this is to believe, tend to look up to rich people, and think they know more things than they do. Rich people have a lot more leisure time for doing things like devoting themselves to politics. Rich people, probably the most important thing rich people are able to do is to buy friends. That’s what they do, right? That’s what rich people do, they buy friends. That’s what banks do now and they buy friends in government. They buy friends and those people follow them. So the rich have all kinds of advantages, and they used those advantages in a democratic environment. They use those advantages to get votes, and to get quote unquote friends. Of all the things that Aristotle said, he said some brilliant things, he said some not so brilliant things I think too. But I think in this case, you’d have to say he was spot on. That we’ve proved it. I mean if any society has ever proved it, we’ve proved it spectacularly this year. But even without 2016, we’ve proved it over and over again. That why the lottery system in Athens, they had this Council of 500 where, common Athenians were chosen by lot to serve on the council. Now if you could just imagine, again, see I’m slipping back into the democracy trap. What if we had this? If you just imagine a Congress where we didn’t elect 545 people, but we sent a 100 to the Senate and 445 into the House of Representatives every year, but we chose them by lottery from a group of citizens who had done X, Y, or Z to earn that privilege. It doesn’t have to be, own property or something like that, it could be anything. You know, take care of your children. Not go into debt. We can set very low standards for it, but we can set some standards. Now we choose by lot those people and send them, that would be more representative of that part of the Athenian government. So Athens had this other thing that pulled against the electoral process of voting for wealthy people. But we don’t have anything like that. Again, see I’m falling in the trap I can’t get out of it. It’s not about government, he keeps saying it. (laughs) Thank you. – [Voiceover] Hi, thank you so much for your talk. I really, really enjoyed it. – Thank you. – [Voiceover] My question is about selfishness. It seems that selfishness is something that you highlight. You highlighted multiple points throughout your speech in response to student questions, and I would agree that selfishness is something that we’re seeing in modern politics this year and in America’s history, I would say. And I’m wondering, you’re calling these values, characteristics that you can either foster or train in citizens. But how do you reconcile that with human nature? And is selflessness something that you can truly foster in citizenry or is it about selecting people who are selfless to governance positions? – Yeah, that’s a great point. Look, I believe human nature exists. I don’t think you could have a culture without human nature. Human nature is that thing on which culture, works and produces similar results. Why do Americans tend to act like Americans? Because they have a nature, and when it’s acted upon by American stiumli, it tends to produce people that are like Americans. So, the culture exists, so does nature. But look, selflessness is not something human beings naturally possess, I believe. They’re naturally selfish. We train them to be selfless. You’re in the nursery school and the kid’s going “Mine, mine, mine” and you say “No, you have to let Joey play with that now.” Right? We have to do that. And we do that through the rest of our lives. So if your question is, basically, how do we encourage acts of selflessness. We reward them in our personal lives, and we punish acts of selfishness. And you know when somebody’s being selfish. And you can decide whether you wanna be around that person or not, or whether you wanna make that person the head of your club, or whether you wanna make that person the leader of your organization, or what have you. So everybody’s making those decisions all the time. We’re making them constantly, but I think the surface culture that we’re in right now, this don’t judge me culture, or using, you can shame someone X or Y way, this shaming, that shaming, whatever kind of shaming. What bothers me about that approach is that we are now shame shaming. That’s what we’re really doing. The use of shame is the thing that we will shame you about. You’ve been shame shamed now. So, I think that we have to be honest about choosing the kind of people we wanna spend our time around, rewarding the people who commit acts of selflessness, and telling people who commit acts of selfishness, “That was selfish.” Yeah, you really don’t have to say anything more than that, do you? (laughs) – [Voiceover] Just continuing that, on the selfishness. I think one point is maybe the smallest group where we maybe try not to be selfish might be a family, and there’s this nice story about the Donner Pass, which I think made it into American history, where families had a better chance to survive than individuals because they were not selfish. And now the question would be, in terms of democracy, to put society or maybe to judge a society, how good it is about sharing and about respecting each other, is this how we deal with opponents? How we talk to each other? I’m not American and the point which I once in a while miss in the American society and especially in politics that you talk to each other and how you respect the other person? – So I’m gonna say, and this is gonna sound like I’m contradicting myself here. So you have to file this under now he wanted to say something outrageous, so that’s what I intend to do. I think we are completely backwards on this subject. We complain about our politicians speaking meanly to each other. And all kinds of acts of real violence are going on under our noses that we’re not paying any attention to. It does not bother me in the least that two presidential candidates are saying horrible things about each other. In fact, it’s entirely within the American tradition. We’ve had this bred out of us, maybe since the television era. But anybody who’s studied 19th century American politics will tell you that they said horrible things about each other, the worst kinds of political cartoons you can imagine, where political speech was nasty speech. In Athens in the fourth century, I mean Aeschines and Demosthenes got to the point of talking about each others’ mothers. So we haven’t fallen quite to that level yet. We’re doing spouses, but not mothers yet. (audience laughing) But I think that something is very backward, where we are demanding from our quote unquote leaders that they deport themselves in some particular way, I guess that will make us feel better, and I’m not saying I wouldn’t like that better too, but there’s so many things that are going on in our actual lives with the people that we know that are horrible, that I think our opprobrium would be better aimed at those things than worrying about two political candidates saying bad things about each other. After all, we got actual control over that. We can vote for one or the other. We can punish one and reward the other if we want to. But I think we’ve become very odd as a people in that we have this delicacy about the public discourse which we claim to not have in our lives. Don’t judge me is something we’ll say to our best friend, but then we’ll turn around to the political candidates, and say we are judging the hell out of you. Something has been reversed here. (laughs) And in the history of democracy, we have not experienced anything yet in terms of public campaigning that is outside of even the mainstream of democratic campaigning, ancient or modern. – [Voiceover] So, first of all, thank you for coming. This was an awesome talk. But one of the things I noticed when you were talking about both our modern society and also this ancient Athenian society is you seem to bring up a theme of arrogance in a way. You bring up a feeling that people who operate under this sort of democratic system seem to be sort of arrogant in a way. That they put so much value in their system of democracy that they think nothing else can even compare to it. Correct me if I’m misinterpreting what you’re saying, but is there some part of what you looked at that started to point to the fact that maybe democracy breeds this type of arrogance? – I mean I love this question in so many ways. I’m sure that that’s the way I sound, and it’s probably what I believe. (audience laughing) I’m not sure I could adduce the historical evidence to prove it, but the thing about the Athenians is, they were incredibly arrogant, but not about democracy. The Athenians were arrogant about everything but democracy, and that arrogance stemmed, I think in part from the fact that up until the fifth century B.C., Athens wasn’t the Athens that we think of. We read Athens backwards, through their great history, but in the fifth century, Athens had only just become a first-tier power. Athens’ history before that had been very much of a second-tier power trying to get to the level of the other first-tier Greek powers. And when the Athenians got to that level, oh did the arrogance come out, absolutely. The Athenians could tell you many ways that they were superior to other Greeks. And for Pericles to single out democracy as one of those ways is almost humorous. Because the other Athenians never mention it until the fourth century, when they do start to mention it. But what I find humorous about it is that what you say is so true about Americans. I mean it’s absolutely without a doubt true about us. And that we will cite democracy as something that makes us better than everyone else. And at the same time, we will deny, you know in Athens you’ve got democracy and empire running together, one feeding the other. The democrats voting for empire, and the empire providing the money for the democracy. But what’s funny to me is in modern America, we will deny until the cows come home that we have an empire, or ever sought an empire, or in any way manipulate an empire. And we have troops spread across this planet. But we don’t have an empire, and we hate the very word. We got out of that thing in the 18th century. We have the kind of arrogance. Pericles says in that same speech, “The people we beat should be happy “to be beaten by us because we’re so awesome.” That’s how awesome we are, that people who are beaten by us would go, “Man we got beaten by the Athenians! “And they are great!” But isn’t that almost the way we look at the world? We are giving them American-ness. And they should be happy about it. They should be thanking us for it. They’re gonna have iPhones and Nikes, and democracy and the NBA, and it’s gonna be great for them! So I think you sensed the truth, but what I’m really thinking about is more us in terms of pride in that democracy than it is the Athenians. – [Voiceover] Hi, thank you very much for your speech, thoroughly enjoyed it. You talked at the end about how a society is a group of people uniting towards a common goal, and how you see us viewing democracy as an end opposed to a means, so my question is in such a diverse society like the United States, where everyone has a different ideal of what their end is, do you think there will ever be a common end that we could unite around? – You want me to prophesy? (laughs) Yes? I will prophesy for you, I don’t know if I can make that prophecy, but I will tell you that within my life, if I live a normal, typical American life, we’re going to get paid to vote. I think that the first thing we’ll do is we’ll make election day a national holiday, and then we’ll say, some people can’t get to the polls, it’s really an imposition to them, we need to find a way to subsidize them to get to voting, and then maybe we’ll just make it an outright payment. Because democracy needs a certain percentage of the population to participate in order to justify itself. That’s the chief purpose of voting is to justify it’s existence. I mean that’s what I think. Whether we ever will agree on some kind of general goal, I can’t say. My wonderful table here I was sitting with, they led me to think that maybe I’m too dark of a person inside, I got this feeling I’m surrounded by all these nice, optimistic people, and I’m so dark and black inside. But I will say this, the historian Thucydides, who’s considered one of the darkest of all ancient thinkers, he wrote his work, which clearly shows man to be a nasty critter. But he wrote this work of history, and he said “This thing will be a possession for all time. “If you wanna know the kind of things that are “gonna happen in the future, read my work “and you’ll find them.” He didn’t say that because he thought there was no hope. Now Thucydides treats hope as a dangerous thing. So, he doesn’t say, and look, hope is a dangerous thing. Thucydides has the Athenians say at one point to an island that they’re about to take over, and they say “We have hope that the gods will protect us, “and that the Spartans will protect us.” And the Athenians say “Hope, really? “Hope is danger’s comforter. “Hope is the teddy bear that you grab onto “when the boogeyman is coming for you, “you hope that that teddy bear will protect you, “but when it turns out the boogeyman “is carrying a Glock 9mm, it’s not gonna matter.” “Hope can be indulged in by people that have nuclear weapons,” Thucydides says. Hope can be indulged by people that have all kinds of money and power, but if you don’t have those things and you think hope is gonna save you, you’re wrong about that. So Thucydides, it’s not about hope. But what he does believe is, there’s a chance. But it’s not about hope, it’s about work. Nobody would’ve written that work, that great work he wrote, without believing there was a chance for human beings to affect the future. So I do believe we have a chance to affect the future. I’m not saying I would put my money on it, but I do believe there’s a chance, and that little optimistic thing inside of me is probably the thing that gets me up in the morning. So, I will say yes it’s possible, but until we do that, we don’t really have a society. You can’t have a society based around the principles that we don’t have to agree on anything. That in the end, I think, is not a workable solution. It may work for a short period of time, but it won’t work forever. – [Voiceover] We’ll have time for two more questions, but also, just a heads up, Professor Samons will be giving a talk tomorrow at Pomona, Pearsons Hall 101 at 4:15, and you all are welcome to attend. – Thanks. – [Voiceover] Thank you for your talk. It’s been 30 years since I read Thucydides, so I don’t have a good recollection at all. But I couldn’t help but to think, when you were talking about the importance of citizenship, I’ve always thought that citizens were made better by good leaders, and so there’s a bit of a chicken and the egg because you get good leaders from having good citizens, but good citizens can also be spurred on to good citizenship by a common goal that comes from good leadership. Pericles was certainly an example of a capable leader who made citizens better, I think. From my dim recollection, more dim than recall, but I wonder if you can comment on that because I think, particularly since the mission of Claremont is leadership, that leadership and service seems to be, I think an important issue there. – I think that good citizens generate good leaders far more than the leaders themselves generate good citizens. Trying to change a whole mass of citizens from bad citizens to good, or worse citizens to better citizens seems almost a hopeless task to me. That’s why I think all this has to happen from the grassroots. It has to happen from people at a table who say, “I’m gonna be different with my friends tomorrow. “I’m gonna require more of myself first, and then of them.” That’s the kind of movement, if you wanna talk about a movement, that I would like to see. You know what, Plato says on this very question, he says “So Pericles was supposed to be a great leader “who improved the citizens, right?” This is in his dialogue, Gorgias. And Socrates is talking to one of the other interlocutors and he says, “Pericles was supposed to be a good leader right? “And he made the Athenian citizens better, “isn’t that right?” And everybody says to Socrates, “Yes, Socrates. “Yes you’re right Socrates. “Whatever you say Socrates, entirely so Socrates.” So the guy goes, “Yes Socrates.” And Socrates says, “So Pericles over the 20 or 30 years “he was leading Athens, at the end of that period “the Athenians were better than they were beforehand? “Yes, that’s right Socrates. “Well then why did the Athenians “vote to find Pericles and throw him “out of office at the end of his life?” Was it these better Athenians who chose to throw Pericles out of office at the end of his life? So you have to come one side or the other there. Either the Athenians got better, and they realized that Pericles was a louse, and they threw him out. Or Pericles actually made the citizens worse, so that they attacked their greatest leader. Those are the only two possibilities Socrates suggests in that dialogue. So, not that I agree with Plato all the time, but I think it’s highly unlikely for even the best leader to really make a significance difference in the citizens that he’s leading. Those citizens need to produce a good leader, and then respond because they are good citizens, to his kind of leadership. There is a chicken and egg thing, I’ll grant you, but I’d rather put my money on the citizens themselves. – [Voiceover] Thank you so much for your talk, it was fantastic. – Thank you. – [Voiceover] You mentioned that if you could choose who would vote in American democracy, you’d pick all those who don’t have a college education. – I was comparing them only with Ph.Ds. Draw the line somewhere else, and I’ll give you a different answer. I see some Ph.Ds in this room, so believe me, I know what I’m talking about. (audience laughing) Look at these three over here, you’re gonna let them run the country? (audience laughing) (laughs) – [Voiceover] But how is that not at least a little contrary to the metaphor that you made, that who are you gonna ask to fix your car? Are you gonna ask the people who have Ph.Ds in government, economics, international relations to define the government, or are you gonna ask the people who don’t? I recognize I also have inherent bias, but could you elaborate on that point? – Yeah, this is a great question because I mean I sense the ex parte nature of it, that if you’re studying government and leadership, then yeah in principle, it would be that you need people that know about these things to be able to govern. Certainly Plato believed that without a doubt. You train people to govern, and they are able to govern. I would differ with Plato on that subject to this extent, I don’t think teaching people to govern is necessarily the best way to have them govern well. You gotta teach them other things. Yes you need to know about government, absolutely. Look, I argued with the president of Boston University a while back, and told him we should make everybody take a course in the Constitution because they were talking about civic values all the time, and I thought well okay let’s just do something simple. Maybe not our Constitution, choose another constitution. Just a constitution. Wouldn’t it be nice if everybody had a course on a constitution? I don’t know how that’s relevant, I just felt like saying it. (audience laughing) So, you are absolutely right to put your finger on this and to sense a contradiction in my own thought because it’s there. Because I personally have a great distrust of specialists. I do. The smartest guy at Boston University is a literary critic named Christopher Ricks. And he always says about a great work of literature like Milton or Shakespeare. Milton is too important to be left to the specialists. Shakespeare is too important to be left to the specialists. Plato is too important to be left to the specialists. Government, maybe is too important to be left to the specialists at times. Maybe there’s character, who perhaps didn’t study government but studied other things, and is able to analogize those other things to government. That a good decision in this area would be like a good decision in that area. So, again I would say character is the most important thing, not knowledge of government. Character is really about the knowledge of yourself. Which the Greeks thought was very important. And the knowledge of what other people are like. And I think that knowledge is the most important knowledge to have as a citizen and as a leader. Thank you. Thank y’all. (audience applauding)

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