Pericles in defence of democracy, tolerance and enterprise

Pericles 495 – 429 BC was a prominent and influential Greek statesman, orator and general of Athens during the Golden Age. Probably best known for his funeral speech to celebrate the fallen in the war with Sparta.

From the funeral speech reported by Thucydides.

It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few. But while there exists equal justice to all and alike in their private disputes, the claim of excellence is also recognized; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit.

Neither is poverty an obstacle, but a man may benefit his country whatever the obscurity of his condition. There is no exclusiveness in our public life, and in our private business we are not suspicious of one another, nor angry with our neighbor if he does what he likes; we do not put on sour looks at him which, though harmless, are not pleasant.

While we are thus unconstrained in our private business, a spirit of reverence pervades our public acts; we are prevented from doing wrong by respect for the authorities and for the laws, having a particular regard to those which are ordained for the protection of the injured as well as those unwritten laws which bring upon the transgressor of them the reprobation of the general sentiment.

We cultivate refinement without extravagance and knowledge without effeminacy; wealth we employ more for use than for show, and place the real disgrace of poverty not in owning to the fact but in declining the struggle against it.

Our public men have, besides politics, their private affairs to attend to, and our ordinary citizens, though occupied with the pursuits of industry, are still fair judges of public matters; for, unlike any other nation, regarding him who takes no part in these duties not as unambitious but as useless, we Athenians are able to judge at all events if we cannot originate, and, instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling-block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminary to any wise action at all.

Again, in our enterprises we present the singular spectacle of daring and deliberation, each carried to its highest point, and both united in the same persons; although usually decision is the fruit of ignorance, hesitation of reflection. But the palm of courage will surely be adjudged most justly to those, who best know the difference between hardship and pleasure and yet are never tempted to shrink from danger.

In short, I say that as a city we are the school of Hellas, while I doubt if the world can produce a man who, where he has only himself to depend upon, is equal to so many emergencies, and graced by so happy a versatility.

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22 Responses to Pericles in defence of democracy, tolerance and enterprise

  1. None

    Once upon a time that Greeks gave us Pericles and Plato. Now they give us Sinodinos, Koutsantonis, Karvelas, Photios, Megalogenis, Karapanagiotidis (sic) and Con the Builder to name a few. I keep saying it: deport the Greeks.

  2. Singleton Engineer

    Is this the same Athens that allowed only male citizens democratic rights, women were ignored and the remainder of the population were essentially stateless, if not slaves?

  3. At least now I know what Thucydides did (or said). 🙂

  4. At least now I know what Thucydides did (or said).

  5. calli

    Pericles 495 – 429 BC

    That’s a clue, that is.

  6. pbw

    Singleton Engineer,

    Is this the same Athens that allowed only male citizens democratic rights, women were ignored and the remainder of the population were essentially stateless, if not slaves?

    The very one! Worked a treat, for a while. And Athenian democracy fell, not because of giving the vote to women, as is the case in the contemporary West, but because the ekklesia could not resist the blandishments of demagogues.

  7. AussieMAGA

    Their understanding of ‘tolerance’ (the word doesn’t actually feature above) is vastly different to what our society calls ‘tolerance’, especially at the ANU.

    To a comment above: women weren’t ignored; they just didn’t pretend women were the same as men – earth-shattering idea I know. Difference doesn’t imply lower worth, either. Female lives have always been valued more than men – you can find few exceptions throughout history (e.g. China under 1 child policy). Even today this is true. Their ‘slaves’ weren’t what we imagine either, i.e. not like black slaves in the USA that appear in the movies. Finally, their democracy didn’t have the forms of corruption that we have today (mass media bias, lobby groups, political donations – okay, maybe that had this too). Arguably, their democracy was more pure.

  8. Roger

    I smell Western essentialism!

  9. Dr Fred Lenin

    Greece was a true democracy !for a small percentage of the people,the rest were of no consequence a bit like today innit?

  10. pbw

    The excellent Christopher DeGroot has another excellent article in the excellent Taki’s Magazine.

    He quotes Edith Hamilton’s book The Echo of Greece on the decline of Athenian democracy.

    What the people wanted was a government which would provide a comfortable life for them, and with this as the foremost object ideas of freedom and self-reliance and service to the community were obscured to the point of disappearing. Athens was more and more looked on as a co-operative business, possessed of great wealth, in which all citizens had a right to share…. Athens had reached the point of rejecting independence, and the freedom she now wanted was freedom from responsibility. There could be only one result…. If men insisted on being free from the burden of a life that was self-dependent and also responsible for the common good, they would cease to be free at all. Responsibility was the price every man must pay for freedom. It was to be had on no other terms.

    I recommend your reading the whole article.

  11. Switzerland only gave the vote to women in 1971. It has not made much difference except for an increased number of citizen initiated referenda by green-socialists which are mostly (over 75% of all referenda) defeated.
    I can not think of one female politician that has made a good contribution to their country beside Margret Thatcher. Here in Australia think of the likes of Carmen Lawrence, Joan Kirner, Julia Gillard, Anna Bligh. What about Indira Ghandi that set India back by at least 20 years. Look at that communist Angela Merkel in Germany.

  12. Leo G

    But the palm of courage will surely be adjudged most justly to those, who best know the difference between hardship and pleasure and yet are never tempted to shrink from danger.

    Thucydides stated that Pericles’ praise of Athens was neither false nor irrelevant.
    The Australian news media on the other hand, appear both false and irrelevant in claiming Australian Defence Force war crimes on the strength of leaked assessments of ADF actions in Afghanistan.

  13. Leo G

    But the palm of courage will surely be adjudged most justly to those, who best know the difference between hardship and pleasure and yet are never tempted to shrink from danger.

    Thucydides stated that Pericles’ praise of Athens was neither false nor irrelevant.
    The Australian news media on the other hand, appear both false and irrelevant in claiming Australian Defence Force war crimes on the strength of leaked assessments of ADF actions in Afghanistan.

  14. Leo G

    But the palm of courage will surely be adjudged most justly to those, who best know the difference between hardship and pleasure and yet are never tempted to shrink from danger.

    Thucydides stated that Pericles’ praise of Athens was neither false nor irrelevant.
    The Australian news media on the other hand, appear both false and irrelevant in claiming Australian Defence Force war crimes on the strength of leaked assessments of ADF actions in Afghanistan.

  15. max

    Pericles and Thucydides

    The West’s political systems have been frauds from the beginning. The increase in fraud is due to democracy. It takes greater skill and more spin to bamboozle the democratic public than it does a public under tyrants. That is Classical Greece’s legacy to the West. Educated men in the West have been asked to read Thucydides’ reconstructed speech by Pericles on Athenian democracy. In the good old days, educated men read the speech in Greek. But their teachers rarely asked them to put two and two together. Pericles had convinced Athens to start a war with Sparta in 431 B.C. In the second year of the war, he gave a funeral oration — a rhetorical justification of his own lack of good judgment. If you want the background, read my 2003 article, “It Usually Begins With Thucydides.” Athens lost the war after 26 years. Five years later, the Athenian government convicted Socrates of corrupting youth by asking politically incorrect questions. Socrates was silly enough to drink the hemlock instead of departing, which was an option granted to him by the assembly. He believed — as they all believed — in salvation through politics. For the Greeks, as for Tip O’Neill, all politics was local. Socrates preferred to die rather than to leave Spin City. Apologists for both Greek democracy and Socrates have been spinning this sequence of events for a millennium. The Western political tradition rests on fraud. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    https://www.garynorth.com/public/15089.cfm

    What were the foundations of classical Greek civilization? I offer you this list.

    1. Pederasty. This is the homosexual union of an older married man with a teenage boy. The men often met the boys on their way to the gymnasium, the building in which the boys danced and played sports naked. The men then became the boys’ lovers and teachers.
    2. Demonism. The Greeks were polytheistic. Greek family life rested on a system of sacrifice to demons that masqueraded as the spirits of dead male relatives. So did clan life, which became political life. These demons also presented themselves as underground gods and spirits, who demanded sacrifices and special rituals to keep from destroying people. On this point, see the works of the early 20th century archaeologist-historian, Jane Ellen Harrison. This never gets into the textbooks, although specialists are well aware of it.
    3. Warfare. At the center of the literature of classical Greece was Homer’s poem, The Iliad. It is the story of how Achilles’ resentment against King Agamemnon raged because the king took his kidnapped concubine for himself. All the other men had concubines for the ten years they were at war. But no children are mentioned by Homer. Now that’s real Greek mythology! Their wives stayed home and kept the ritual home fires burning — to placate the family’s departed male spirits. Athens destroyed itself in Pericles’ needless imperial war against Sparta. Then the Macedonians conquered war-ravaged Greece. But the textbooks praise Pericles as a pillar of wisdom, reprinting Thucydides’ posthumous version of Pericles’ suicidal imperial oration.
    4. Slavery. At least one-third of Athens was enslaved. The figure was as high in Sparta. Every household owned a slave. This provided leisure for their owners, who despised physical labor as beneath them — servile. Slavery was a universal institution in Greece.
    5. Autonomy. Greek philosophy was based on the ideal of man’s mind as completely sovereign — no personal God allowed. Well, not quite. Socrates claimed he was given guidance in his thinking by a demon (daimon). But rationalistic scholars, beginning with Plato, have always downplayed this. They have sometimes said this was just hyperbolic literary language. Socrates could not really have believed in a demon. After all, they don’t.
    6. Welfare State. At least one-third of all male Athenians were on the government’s payroll in the time of Pericles.
    7. Human Sacrifice. This was a basic theme in Greek literature. It was part of Athenian religious liturgy. There was no widespread movement to decry the earlier practice. The great expert here was Lord Acton, who wrote a long-ignored essay, “Human Sacrifice,” in 1864. It is online here. It is included in Volume 3 of Selected Writings of Lord Acton, published by the Liberty Fund. From the day he published it in order to refute the great historian Macaulay, historians have refused to incorporate it in their narratives. It is way too embarrassing.
    8. Cyclical View of Time. The Greeks did not believe in long-term progress or a final judgment — just endless cycles forever: rise and fall, rise and fall. According to the historian of science, Stanley Jaki, this was why the Greeks never developed science, only technologies.
    9. Female Inferiority. Wives were only for procreation. They could not be citizens. They had no legal rights. A man needed a male heir to perform the ritual sacrifices to feed him after he died. Women had no political influence except as prophetesses and mistresses.
    You say that this is not what you had in mind for your child?
    https://www.garynorth.com/public/14403.cfm

  16. max

    Pericles and Thucydides

    The West’s political systems have been frauds from the beginning. The increase in fraud is due to democracy. It takes greater skill and more spin to bamboozle the democratic public than it does a public under tyrants. That is Classical Greece’s legacy to the West. Educated men in the West have been asked to read Thucydides’ reconstructed speech by Pericles on Athenian democracy. In the good old days, educated men read the speech in Greek. But their teachers rarely asked them to put two and two together. Pericles had convinced Athens to start a war with Sparta in 431 B.C. In the second year of the war, he gave a funeral oration — a rhetorical justification of his own lack of good judgment. If you want the background, read my 2003 article, “It Usually Begins With Thucydides.” Athens lost the war after 26 years. Five years later, the Athenian government convicted Socrates of corrupting youth by asking politically incorrect questions. Socrates was silly enough to drink the hemlock instead of departing, which was an option granted to him by the assembly. He believed — as they all believed — in salvation through politics. For the Greeks, as for Tip O’Neill, all politics was local. Socrates preferred to die rather than to leave Spin City. Apologists for both Greek democracy and Socrates have been spinning this sequence of events for a millennium. The Western political tradition rests on fraud. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    https://www.garynorth.com/public/15089.cfm

    What were the foundations of classical Greek civilization? I offer you this list.

    1. P ederasty. This is the homosexual union of an older married man with a teenage boy. The men often met the boys on their way to the gymnasium, the building in which the boys danced and played sports naked. The men then became the boys’ lovers and teachers.
    2. D emonism. The Greeks were polytheistic. Greek family life rested on a system of sacrifice to demons that masqueraded as the spirits of dead male relatives. So did clan life, which became political life. These demons also presented themselves as underground gods and spirits, who demanded sacrifices and special rituals to keep from destroying people. On this point, see the works of the early 20th century archaeologist-historian, Jane Ellen Harrison. This never gets into the textbooks, although specialists are well aware of it.
    3. Warfare. At the center of the literature of classical Greece was Homer’s poem, The Iliad. It is the story of how Achilles’ resentment against King Agamemnon raged because the king took his kidnapped concubine for himself. All the other men had concubines for the ten years they were at war. But no children are mentioned by Homer. Now that’s real Greek mythology! Their wives stayed home and kept the ritual home fires burning — to placate the family’s departed male spirits. Athens destroyed itself in Pericles’ needless imperial war against Sparta. Then the Macedonians conquered war-ravaged Greece. But the textbooks praise Pericles as a pillar of wisdom, reprinting Thucydides’ posthumous version of Pericles’ suicidal imperial oration.
    4. S lavery. At least one-third of Athens was enslaved. The figure was as high in Sparta. Every household owned a slave. This provided leisure for their owners, who despised physical labor as beneath them — servile. Slavery was a universal institution in Greece.
    5. Autonomy. Greek philosophy was based on the ideal of man’s mind as completely sovereign — no personal God allowed. Well, not quite. Socrates claimed he was given guidance in his thinking by a demon (daimon). But rationalistic scholars, beginning with Plato, have always downplayed this. They have sometimes said this was just hyperbolic literary language. Socrates could not really have believed in a demon. After all, they don’t.
    6. Welfare State. At least one-third of all male Athenians were on the government’s payroll in the time of Pericles.
    7. Human Sacrifice. This was a basic theme in Greek literature. It was part of Athenian religious liturgy. There was no widespread movement to decry the earlier practice. The great expert here was Lord Acton, who wrote a long-ignored essay, “Human Sacrifice,” in 1864. It is online here. It is included in Volume 3 of Selected Writings of Lord Acton, published by the Liberty Fund. From the day he published it in order to refute the great historian Macaulay, historians have refused to incorporate it in their narratives. It is way too embarrassing.
    8. Cyclical View of Time. The Greeks did not believe in long-term progress or a final judgment — just endless cycles forever: rise and fall, rise and fall. According to the historian of science, Stanley Jaki, this was why the Greeks never developed science, only technologies.
    9. Female Inferiority. Wives were only for procreation. They could not be citizens. They had no legal rights. A man needed a male heir to perform the ritual sacrifices to feed him after he died. Women had no political influence except as prophetesses and mistresses.
    You say that this is not what you had in mind for your child?
    https://www.garynorth.com/public/14403.cfm

  17. max

    The West’s political systems have been frauds from the beginning. The increase in fraud is due to democracy. It takes greater skill and more spin to bamboozle the democratic public than it does a public under tyrants. That is Classical Greece’s legacy to the West. Educated men in the West have been asked to read Thucydides’ reconstructed speech by Pericles on Athenian democracy. In the good old days, educated men read the speech in Greek. But their teachers rarely asked them to put two and two together. Pericles had convinced Athens to start a war with Sparta in 431 B.C. In the second year of the war, he gave a funeral oration — a rhetorical justification of his own lack of good judgment. If you want the background, read my 2003 article, “It Usually Begins With Thucydides.” Athens lost the war after 26 years. Five years later, the Athenian government convicted Socrates of corrupting youth by asking politically incorrect questions. Socrates was silly enough to drink the hemlock instead of departing, which was an option granted to him by the assembly. He believed — as they all believed — in salvation through politics. For the Greeks, as for Tip O’Neill, all politics was local. Socrates preferred to die rather than to leave Spin City. Apologists for both Greek democracy and Socrates have been spinning this sequence of events for a millennium. The Western political tradition rests on fraud. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    https://www.garynorth.com/public/15089.cfm

  18. max

    “The West’s political systems have been frauds from the beginning. The increase in fraud is due to democracy. It takes greater skill and more spin to bamboozle the democratic public than it does a public under tyrants. That is Classical Greece’s legacy to the West. Educated men in the West have been asked to read Thucydides’ reconstructed speech by Pericles on Athenian democracy. In the good old days, educated men read the speech in Greek. But their teachers rarely asked them to put two and two together. Pericles had convinced Athens to start a war with Sparta in 431 B.C. In the second year of the war, he gave a funeral oration — a rhetorical justification of his own lack of good judgment. If you want the background, read my 2003 article, “It Usually Begins With Thucydides.” Athens lost the war after 26 years. Five years later, the Athenian government convicted Socrates of corrupting youth by asking politically incorrect questions. Socrates was silly enough to drink the hemlock instead of departing, which was an option granted to him by the assembly. He believed — as they all believed — in salvation through politics. For the Greeks, as for Tip O’Neill, all politics was local. Socrates preferred to die rather than to leave Spin City. Apologists for both Greek democracy and Socrates have been spinning this sequence of events for a millennium. The Western political tradition rests on fraud. The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
    Gary North

  19. None

    Cementafriend I am a woman and I concur. In recent years I have said that women should be banned from all of our parliaments local state and federal. They are all useless every one of them. I’m open to be corrected but I just cannot think of one female politician that has a brain or any ability. Gillard? Atrocious. Julie Bishop? Vacuous twat. I’m watching for example Gladys B totally destroyed New South Wales she’s not a liberal, she’s not a conservative – definitely not – she’s just another stupid illiberal lefty that has risen above her pay grade.

  20. max

    Pericles and Thucydides

    The West’s political systems have been frauds from the beginning. The increase in fraud is due to democracy. It takes greater skill and more spin to bamboozle the democratic public than it does a public under tyrants. That is Classical Greece’s legacy to the West. Educated men in the West have been asked to read Thucydides’ reconstructed speech by Pericles on Athenian democracy. In the good old days, educated men read the speech in Greek. But their teachers rarely asked them to put two and two together. Pericles had convinced Athens to start a war with Sparta in 431 B.C. In the second year of the war, he gave a funeral oration — a rhetorical justification of his own lack of good judgment. If you want the background, read my 2003 article, “It Usually Begins With Thucydides.” Athens lost the war after 26 years. Five years later, the Athenian government convicted Socrates of corrupting youth by asking politically incorrect questions. Socrates was silly enough to drink the hemlock instead of departing, which was an option granted to him by the assembly. He believed — as they all believed — in salvation through politics. For the Greeks, as for Tip O’Neill, all politics was local. Socrates preferred to die rather than to leave Spin City. Apologists for both Greek democracy and Socrates have been spinning this sequence of events for a millennium. The Western political tradition rests on fraud. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    https://www.garynorth.com/public/15089.cfm

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