Thursday, November 01, 2007

The familiar problem

Recently I ran across this passage from Plato (Laws, bk. III). He’s discussing the decline of Persia:

“We find that they degenerated still further. The reason is that excessive curtailment of the liberty of the commons, and improper intensification of autocracy, made an end of their national feeling and public spirit. Since their disappearance, the concern of the authorities is no longer for their subjects, the commonalty, but for their own position; they give over loyal cities and peoples to fire and desolation whenever they think it of the slightest advantage to themselves, and consequently hate and are hated with savage and unrelenting animosity. On the other side, when they need the arms of the common people for their defense, they find no patriotism in them, no loyal readiness to hazard themselves in the field; in theory their forces are reckoned by countless thousands, but all these thousands are worthless for service. Hence they hire mercenaries and aliens, as though they had no troops of their own, and look to them for their salvation. Moreover they are forced to an exhibition of their folly, since their habitual conduct amounts to a proclamation that all that society esteems honorable and of good repute is a toy in comparison with gold and silver.”

Now, with a few little adjustments (the well of patriotic soldiers has not yet run dry, for instance, although one can't help but note the mention of mercenaries), this passage can be applied justly—not to present-day Persia (Iran) of course, but to us, the United States under corporate rule, and to the Bush regime especially. Which demonstrates, as many other documents of our Western heritage could, that the problem we face is neither new nor particularly complicated. The arrogance of technology, and the politics of the image, fool us into thinking that we have advanced beyond the problems of the 4th century B.C.E. But the folly of valuing gold and silver over the good of society as a whole plagues us still, and to this narrow and short-sighted self-interest we can still attribute the majority of our ills. Only now the disease may be fatal, since the end of the human race has become an actual possibility in our time.


Anonymous said...

Very depressing. The more things change the more they remain the same.So much for the idea of progress.

Mauigirl said...

Fascinating that Plato had it all summed up so long ago. Someone else said "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Guess we never learn.