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Are the classics relevant today? - Impressions and Expressions of Ijon
January 24th, 2004
05:31 pm

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Are the classics relevant today?
Reading Aristotle's Athenian Constitution (Athenaiwn politeia), I am struck by this passage:
Pericles was also the first to institute pay for service in the law-courts, as a bid for popular favour to counterbalance the wealth of Cimon. The latter, having private possessions on a regal scale, not only performed the regular public services magnificently, but also maintained a large number of his fellow-demesmen. Any member of the deme of Laciadae could go every day to Cimon's house and there receive a reasonable provision; while his estate was guarded by no fences, so that any one who liked might help himself to the fruit from it. Pericles' private property was quite unequal to this magnificence and accordingly he took the advice of Damonides [...] which was that, as he was beaten in the matter of private possessions, he should make gifts to the people from their own property; and accordingly he instituted pay for the members of the juries.
--The Athenian Constitution, ch. 27, tr. by Sir F. G. Kenyon
Does this have any relevance today? Is it at all like what certain elected officials do today? Surely not.

Current Mood: bitter
Current Music: Wagner -- Die Walküre Act III

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From:ygurvitz
Date:January 24th, 2004 03:02 pm (UTC)

Give me a Pericles every day

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Come on - "bribing the voters out of their own pocket" is such an oligarchic notion. The state needed people to be jurors and the state needed people to row the boats: so Pericles made the state pay for it. Which, incidently, allowed people who were not independently wealthy to serve in the courts. Which lessened the power of the oligarchs a bit. Can't blame them for being all huffy about it, can we?

Used to be, the British parliament did not pay salaries to its members. Members were supposed to be gentlemen, living on their own wealth and not - gasp! - relying on the state for their livelihood.
With the expected and intended outcome that some people - you know, poor people, socialists, and other riffraff - did not join the club, because they had to spend their time actually making a living. Which made them somewhat underrepresented. Which obviously made them less powerful. Can't guess why. Same thing happened with the officer corps: the salary was very, very small, and as a result people who did not come from wealthy families simply could not survive as officers, even if they did get a comission. Excellent way to keep the officer class to high-bred (some would say "inbred") folks.

No, thanks. I want my public servants paid, and paid well.
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From:ijon
Date:January 24th, 2004 03:15 pm (UTC)

Re: Give me a Pericles every day

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Certainly, we want public officials paid, and it is certainly right to cite this as a crucial step towards democracy and one lasting heritage to the European idea of democracy.

But my point was a bit different: the text explicitly explains that Pericles did this not because he felt it would be right for the State, or because he wanted to give more people representation, but because he wanted political clout for himself.

The analogy to the ג'ובים age in a certain Mediterranean republic is what struck me. Not the fact elected officials are paid, but the fact that they then devote their time and their power to perpetuating that power (by giving jobs, i.e. money, to their voters) rather than minding the business of the State. And none of them can hold a candle to Pericles's courage or ability.
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From:ygurvitz
Date:January 24th, 2004 03:47 pm (UTC)

Bear in mind two things

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1. Aristotle is oligarchic in sympathy and hostile to the Athenian democracy (not least because it executed Socrates).
2. He had no way of knowing what Pericles thought. Certainly Pericles didn't write it or made it public, which leaves with either conjecture or hostile political rumors.

Bear in mind that Cimon's pandering to the people out of his own pocket is acceptable to Aristotle. Were it acceptable today, I doubt anyone but Eliezer Fishman or Dudi Apple could play politics. Aristotle sees nothing wrong with people who vote according to their (metaphorical) paychecks - he sees a problem with "not playing by the rules" and using the state's treasury to pay for something else except police and armies. And, as we know, many of the rich people of Athens complained of heavy taxation.
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