Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization

By Bruce Thornton | Go to book overview

Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either a bad man or above humanity; he is like the "Tribeless, lawless, hearthless one," whom Homer denounces—the natural outcast is forthwith a lover of war; he may be compared to an isolated piece at draughts.

—Aristotle1


FIVE
The Birth of Political Man

FOR THE PAST TWO CENTURIES, after every presidential election in the United States a political miracle has taken place: A man who has commanded the nation's military force—in recent times the most deadly and destructive in the history of the planet—obeys both the will of the voters and constitutional statute by handing over all that power to a successor formally chosen by the electorate rather than by himself. We so take for granted that this transference not only will take place but will do so without violence or public disorder, that we forget how historically atypical such a peaceful surrender of power is.

That continuing miracle is the fruition of twenty-five centuries of political development that began with the Greeks. Consensual government—the idea that men should govern themselves according to laws, statutes, offices, and institutions, all belonging to the collective citizenry rather than to any individual or elite group— was rare, if not unknown, elsewhere in the ancient Mediterranean. Despite attempts to posit a primitive democracy among the third‐ millennium city-states of Sumer or those of the Phoenicians, only in the some thousand Greek city-states (the polis) do we find

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Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Greek Ways - How the Greeks Created Western Civilization *
  • Contents *
  • Introduction - Seeing with Greek Eyes i
  • One - Eros the Killer 15
  • Two - The Best and Worst Thing 37
  • Three - The Roots of Emancipation 61
  • Four - The Father of All 84
  • Five - The Birth of Political Man 109
  • Six - The Birth of Rational Man 139
  • Seven - The Birth of Freedom 162
  • Conclusion - The Critical Spirit 188
  • Acknowledgments *
  • Notes 200
  • Bibliography 226
  • Index 234
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