Freedom

In general, Greek freedom (eleutheria) meant (1) not to be enslaved, not to serve another man.62 It describes the autonomy of the self-sufficient peasant-farmer citizen. But it has been noted that the emergence of this concept of an autonomous individual, free from servitude, allows for and perhaps depends on its clearly defined opposite: the legal slave who, as an individual, was deprived of all rights to autonomy.63

The ancient world in general was comprised of slave-owning cultures and here the Greeks were no exception, embarrassing as this fact may have been to some modern scholars who could hardly believe that so extraordinary a culture, concerned as it was with justice, equality and freedom, could adhere to so evident an abuse.64 But classical Greece would have been very different in many ways if it had not had slavery. Unfree peoples were part of its history (e.g. the helots in Sparta) and hence seen as somehow natural, even though at crucial moments slaves were offered freedom (although not citizenship)if they participated in battle. From the time of the defeat of the Persians (480/79) the Greeks became increasingly disdainful of non-Greeks in general, whom they called barbarians from their evaluation of the sounds foreigners made ('bar-bar') when they spoke their own language, to say nothing of their inferiorly developed political systems. Slaves were overwhelmingly, though not exclusively 'barbarian' non-Greeks, for the most part war captives, and often associated with Thrace and Thracians to the north.66 As we have seen, it is not simply that slaves were expedient for the classical Greek economy; they seem to have been necessary as an intellectual category by which a Greek could determine his own identity as 'free' and as autonomous within the limits, of course, of natural dependencies which, none the less, must never completely take him over. A Greek man defeated in battle was ideally never to allow himself to be captured and enslaved by the victors; he would prefer to die even at his own hands because life was not worth living at all costs, or at least, this is the way the ideal was represented by Aristotle in Book I of the Politics.67 In contrast, those who allowed themselves to be enslaved after battle, like women and children, displayed a slavish mentality. But even here the issue was not so simple and Aristotle tells us that in his own day there was much

62 See M. I. Finley, Hie Ancient Economy (London, 1973), p. 28; also see R. G. Mulgan, 'Liberty in Ancient Greece', in Z. Pelczynski and J. Gray, eds, Conceptions of Liberty in Political Philosophy (Oxford. 1984), pp. 7—26, contrasted with M. H. Hansen, 'Was Athens a Democracy?', especially pp. 8-17.

63 See the discussions in J.-P. Vernant, Myth and Society in Ancient Greece, trans. J. Lloyd (London, 1980), pp. 81-2; Cartledge, The Greeks, ch. 6; Bryant, Moral Codes, pp. 136-7.

64 On the anachronistic intrusion of modern moralistic bias into this debate see M. I. Finley, Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology (New York, 1980).

65 But see Rhodes, The Greek City-States, p. 107; near the end of the Peloponnesian war, at the battle of Arginusae (406 bc), Athenians offered freedom and citizenship to slaves willing to row in an emergency fleet.

66 Today this is modern Bulgaria; see Cartledge, The Greeks, p. 138.

67 See chapter 4.

discussion about whether enslavement could ever be justified on any grounds other than force and expediency.

In Athens, it may not have been possible to distinguish a slave from a citizen by his dress or bearing, and citizens and slaves worked alongside one another in a range of activities.68 But a slave-owning citizen was able to treat slaves as items of property and were a slave to be mistreated, he had no recourse to legal action himself. The slave was entirely dependent on his master's good will and if the slave committed a wrong, he was punished bodily, whereas a citizen who broke the law had his goods confiscated, paid fines and appeared in court.69 Demosthenes in the fourth century bc saw this as the real difference between a slave and a free man.70

Greek freedom also meant (2) that the community was not to be dominated by another, a freedom of the polis, whatever its constitution (be it democracy or oligarchy), to be autonomous in its self-rule and therefore to make its own laws and administer justice as it saw fit. The preservation of one's own state's autonomy was not seen as inconsistent, however, with depriving another state of its.

Added to this, however, was (3) a distinctive democratic understanding of freedom which, as a constitutional concept, was associated not only with freedom from factionalism but also with freedom of political participation in the public sphere where the laws, rather than an individual or factional group, were sovereign. This freedom was realized, in part, as a consequence of public pay for jurors, instituted by Perikles to counteract poorer citizens' dependency on the magnanimity of virtuous, landowning aristocratic patrons.71 The polis also came to provide other forms of public pay, for holding public office, attending the Assembly, and rowing in the fleet. Indeed, for poorer citizens there were state stipends and maintenance grants for the disabled. Eventually, there was even a fund to enable poor citizens to attend major festivals. Linked to the democratic understanding of freedom was an expectation of personal freedom in the private spheres of life. This kind of democratic, constitutional freedom was not valued by oligarchies or monarchies, nor by political philosophers whose sympathies often attached them to these regimes. Disparagingly, they called this democratic freedom an anarchic, lawless, liberty 'to do what one likes', subsidized through public funds.

The notion of an Athenian citizen's freedom was both a privilege and a claim, reinforced by the myth that Athenians were autochthonous, that is, born of the soil and so unlike the descendants of ancestors who came from other lands. The Athenian citizen was also free from a regular direct tax and had a right to own land. But his right to attend the Assembly was not conditioned by his ownership of land. In the sphere of law, he enjoyed 'unrestricted capacity': at eighteen he was enrolled in the deme register, at twenty he could attend all meetings of the Assembly and participate in discussions and voting, from twenty to twenty-nine he gained military experience and at thirty he was entitled to offer himself for selection to the Council of 500 (Boule) or to other offices of state and

68 Xenophon, Athenian Constitution, i.10 deplored the fact that Athenians could not be distinguished from slaves and metics by dress.

69 T. Wiedemann, Greek and Roman Slavery (Baltimore, 1981).

71 Aristotle, AP, 4.

serve on juries. Athenian freedom was therefore, both a negative and a positive concept, a freedom from certain impositions or limitations and a freedom to engage in certain activities.72

Behind all three notions of freedom was the idea of self-determination both at the individual and collective levels. But what was not emphasized in any of these ideas of freedom is the modern liberal democratic notion that the individual lives of citizens, determined by uniquely personal preferences, however acquired, were to be protected or enhanced by setting limits to collective, community control. The citizen's individual 'rights' were not spoken of as protected 'private possessions' nor was the preservation of these individual 'rights' understood as the reason for the subsequent foundation of political communities.73 For Greeks, the political man lived not only for himself but, in the first instance, for his family and friends. The polis was not usually seen to be merely a utilitarian construction for the individual, autonomous self. Humans were thought to be, from the beginning, social.74 Politics, thereafter, emerged from 'the social' as a consequence of both necessary and voluntary allegiances to others. Some Greeks appear to have floated the hypothesis that the state and its laws (as opposed to earlier forms of natural human associations, or natural societies) came into being as a contract between individuals for the mutual self-preservation of the contractees,75 so that the political realm of the city-state was nothing more than a product of convention. Indeed, Plato has one of his main characters in the Republic, Glaucon, argue that this conventionalism is the common opinion on the nature and origin of justice in the polis.76 But traditionally, Athenians seemed to prefer the notion that the polis with its laws and institutions, no less than society as its necessary precursor with its natural division of tasks, was natural to humankind. Politics was the natural outcome of human nature and its activity. Was Plato implying that this traditional view was no longer widely held or was Glaucon meant to reflect a minority view which not only misunderstood public sentiment but was, according to Plato himself, untrue?77

In another dialogue, set in the proud times before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war, Plato has the Sophist Protagoras provide what looks like the traditional view when he has him tell the 'creation' story of how mortal creatures were created by the gods from a mixture of earth and fire. The gods Prometheus and Epimetheus were then charged with ensuring that no species should be destroyed. Epimetheus, however, foolishly distributed all the survival powers to the brute beasts, leaving none for the human race who remained naked, unshod and unarmed. Therefore, Prometheus stole from the gods Hephaestus and Athena the two gifts of skill in the arts and fire, and gave them to

72 This contrasts with Isaiah Berlin's discussion of ancient Greek liberty in his 'Two Concepts of Liberty' in I. Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty (Oxford, 1969), pp. 118-72.

73 But see later Hellenistic views on the state of nature as the war of all against all, in A. A.Long and D. N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers (Cambridge, 1987), vol. 1, translation 22 R, pp. 133-4 - but this is Plutarch.

74 But see G. B. Kerferd's interpretation of the Protagorean myth - in the beginning men were isolates - in 'Protagoras' Doctrine ofjustice and Virtue in the Protagoras of Plato', Journal of Hellenic Studies 73 (1953), pp. 42-5, countered by P. Nicholson in P. Nicholson and G. B. Kerferd, 'Protagoras on Pre-political Man: an exchange', Polis 4 (1982), pp. 18-28 and M. Nussbauin, The Fragility of Goodness, Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (Cambridge, 1986), pp. 101-2.

75 See Plato, Republic II, 359 below.

77 See chapter 3.

humankind so that the species could survive.78 With these skills men then discovered speech and constructed houses, made clothes and got food from the earth. Thus provided for, they lived at first in scattered groups (societies). But to save themselves from the ravages of stronger, wild beasts, they then came together to found fortified cities. Not being as yet endowed with political wisdom they fought with one another until Zeus got Hermes to impart to all men alike a share in the qualities of respect for others and a sense of justice. In this way order was brought into cities and a bond of friendship and union was created. Thereafter, humankind as a species with a final, determined nature which now includes a moral sense, naturally lives in law-governed poleis.79 A 'person' who does not share in these moral, social excellences is not human and 'should not be among human beings at all'.

In this setting then, freedom did not mean independence in the sense of not having to depend on others. It was not simply that the Greeks observed that some of the best pleasures may come from dependencies. It was also that they thought dependencies were natural to men and not forced upon them by a state which had to be kept within a limited sphere of its own activities. Athenian social relations were founded on a system of reciprocal obligations between relations, neighbours and friends (philoi).The maximization of overall social objectives was not considered to be the job of the state, seen as an instrumental construction, but rather, it was the job of free, naturally dependent men who were the state.

0 0

Post a comment