The old delusion of crediting the ancient Greeks for our political liberties is a sad and unfortunate fallacy, one not fitting for the pages of Ideas On Liberty. [See J.Peron article in Aug.2000]
Ancient Greek culture, popularly revered for its glorification of human form and athletic prowess, also should be remembered for its obsession with war. Spartan society willingly offered up its male children at the age of seven when they were given to instructors who taught them athletics and the military arts. He was exposed to privation, to bear physical pain and to live off the land. Nothing was off limits that enabled him to survive. He could marry, but was allowed to visit his wife only infrequently.
Virtue meant being a good citizen. All early training was directed at producing people who would serve the state without question. Under the Ancient Constitution of Athens the people were grouped according to clans, class and common religious ceremonial arrangement, but primarily for military purposes.
Hereditary kingship was abolished and made into an annual office, but this archon basileus was chosen from among the nobles by the Areopagus, a council of nobles. Only the naiveté of twenty-first century liberalism can call this democracy.
In Greek cities, “a girl was not only considered morally and personally an inferior being to a boy, but was often regarded by parents as an expensive luxury, for they had less benefit from her, and later would have to find her a dowry. So, in the dream-books of Artemoris a dream of a daughter is interpreted the same way as a dream of a debtor: both demand money and bring nothing in. Marriage Artemoris regards as a business deal. Good women should be like asses that carry their load willingly and follow their driver. Only boys were to receive any education.”
Aristotle saw woman’s position of serfdom among the barbarians as being in accord with her nature. In his “Laws”, Plato’s Athenian guest regards women not only as the weaker sex, but also as the more wicked and malicious, their nature less capable of virtue than that of men. Plato, in his Republic, book five, states that “all healthy women must be common to all healthy men, and no woman dwell with any man privately.”
Greek Culture and Slavery
Aristocrats held the most and best land and dominated religious and political life. There was no written law, and decisions were rendered by powerful nobles on the basis of tradition and, most likely, self-interest. The state was governed by the council of nobles. It is plain that the aristocratic council was the true master of the state.
There is a sense in which the idea of democracy was born among the Greeks, but this form of rule was allowed only among the wealthy few. Some common men could have a part in the rule of the city-states, but their terms were limited and
the outcome of their votes was controlled.
Not only was political and economic control in the hands of the powerful, but, slaves constituted a very large percentage of the population, especially in the Greek city-states. The belief that Western philosophy had its foundation in Greek culture is, indeed, a blind fallacy. Enlightenment philosophy is, certainly, a reflection of the man-centered humanism of Athens, but it is not the mother of freedom.
The Source of Freedom, Security of Property
The ability to have and hold property, especially land, is one primary foundation for personal liberty. If any human entity deserves credit for establishment of the right to be secure in their property, the ancient Hebrews should be remembered. Their law provided the ideas that produce this aspect of freedom. First on the list is the law that establishes real property. Case law that flows from the eighth commandment instituted the concept of bailment, liability of the parties, levels of restitution and punishment for thieves.
Possession of slaves was not forbidden in the biblical code, but it was regulated for the protection of the enslaved or the indentured person. Jubilee laws limited debt or had the effect of moving slaves in the direction of being freed.
Jesus didn’t command anyone to free slaves. He rather commanded slaves to be obedient and faithful. Owners were ordered to be fair in their treatment.
Jesus Christ summed up His message by saying, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
Liberty is based on spiritual freedom, that state of mind and heart that accurately acknowledges the Creator and correctly evaluates one’s self. When that true spiritual freedom is found, it comes to expression in political and economic terms.
The Reformation concept of representative governance, putting aside the hierarchical rule from Rome, was derived from the rule by elder of ancient Israel. Local representation, trial by one’s peers and other sacred notions that make up true freedom should receive their due recognition in a fair summary.
True Credit, True Freedom
True economic and political freedom would have, indeed, been “greek” to the Greeks. Not one Hellenistic person in ten thousand would know what is meant by modern, egalitarian notions about society. It appears that only an anti-Christian, anti-Hebrew bias can account for the blindness and error that is regularly propagated by pseudo-intellectual students of history.
Every kind of freedom is inexorably tied to spiritual liberty. If a man’s spirit and soul are bound so his mind and heart will be as well.
The modern spin that seeks to attribute great political attainments to the Greeks as the forerunners of our freedoms is a deliberate attack on Christ. The seeds of these blessings lie elsewhere. They come from a much earlier source. That origin is not Mount Olympus, but rather the precepts of God, given on Mount Sinai. These benefits were established by the Lord of Glory who didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill.
Dale K. Dykema