Private and Public Life

This is the reason that their collective regulations protected individual citizens from violations of their person, property and home, from torture, from execution without trial, that is, from harm that could be inflicted by individual officials who might misuse their office and the collective power of the institutions of the polis and, thereby, violate the laws. It has already been mentioned that at the expiration of their term of office, magistrates were called to account and any citizen could bring a private suit against an official of the polis which would be heard by public arbitrators in the first instance, and in the case of an appeal, by a popular court. Athenians were known to be litigious. They emphasized that citizens were equally protected by the law (isonomia) and this seems to have meant something quite specific: in cases where the law was violated, they blamed magistrates and political individuals. They did not blame the demos or the polis. Individuals rather than collective institutions bore responsibility for violating law. Athenians do not appear to have pitted the individual agent against 'the state'. Instead, the laws bound those in office and protected citizens against their abuse by polis officials.

Athenians lived private lives and exercised private freedoms in the social and economic spheres without necessarily emphasizing those individual aspects of private life that distinguished one person from another. In the private sphere of life, one educated one's children (most Athenians learned to read and write in primary schools, although attendance was not compulsory), regulated family life and its economic survival in trade

78 Proto-humans, as Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness, calls them (p. 90); also see pp. 100-2. Nussbaum argues (p. 103) that Protagoras' speech provides a non-Humean picture of social virtue.

79 Protagoras, 320d-323a.

or agriculture, lived and worked side by side with women and children, slaves and foreigners and work colleagues - some free citizens, others free and Greek but not Athenian and therefore, non-citizens. The public, political sphere of the polis regulated those social activities that were judged to be connected with the city-state: its laws (on marriage, legitimacy, property), its policies of war and peace, its religious rituals and beliefs. Politics was not primarily about the reallocation of private economic resources, despite the considerable state transfers of money to poor citizens to enable them to engage in jury service and Assembly attendance. Politics was about the activities in which citizens participated when they were engaged in ruling and being ruled. Beyond this, the negotiation of economic well-being was a private, familial concern. The polis then, was an exclusive society of citizens whose own political activities were marked off from their activities in other spheres of life in the community and family. Once again, the polis of Athens was the Athenian citizens and not its territory or inhabitants in general. Here, the well-ordered city-state was believed to be realized through the publicly scrutinized behaviour of ambitious men whose ideal was meant to be the overriding of factional interests of rich and poor in the society. They were meant to serve the good life of the whole community in its interests as these were determined by collective public debate and decision.80

The polis was conceived as standing outside all class or factional interests despite their evident presence in society. Indeed, it was a criminal offence to be paid for political activity and there were no parties in the modern sense to which a citizen could be affiliated. The democracy's political goals were meant to transcend faction (stasis) and objectives were meant to express collectively held moral norms as well as to be pragmatic.

One of the most distinctive of the collectively held moral norms in Athens was the expectation of civic courage, for a free man to die on behalf of his polis whereupon his children would be publicly supported by the city until they came of age. This is emphasized in Thucydides' representation of'the quintessential Athenian civic discourse', the funeral oration of Perikles, delivered in 430 bc at a state function to honour Athens' war dead, one year into the Peloponnesian war. Here Perikles expressed the ideals for which they had died. He also pointed to those collectively held moral ideals for which Athenians were meant to live:81

We find it possible for the same people to attend to private affairs and public affairs as well, and notwithstanding our varied occupations to be adequately informed about public affairs. For we are unique in regarding the man who does not participate in these affairs at all not as a man who minds his own business but as useless.

Therefore, the Assembly, that mass meeting on the hillside called the Pnyx, southwest of the Agora, where, in the fifth century bc, a maximum of 6,000 citizens could be seated at any one time, was the heart of the system. At each meeting the composition was

80 See M. Berent, 'Stasis, or the Greek Invention of Polities', History of Political Thought 19 (1998), pp. 331-62, who argues that the Greek polis was what anthropologists call a stateless community', characterized by the absence of public coercive apparatuses. Hence, the Greek concept of politics was very different from the modern concept. Similarly, Max Weber, Economy and Society, p. 1,364.

81 Thucydides, 2.40.2.

different so that policy-makers, concerned to win votes to secure a favoured decision on the day, needed to perfect their oratorical skills to sway the thousands in this outdoor audience. None could be certain that decrees (psephismata) made in a previous Assembly and relating to temporary or specific circumstances would not be reversed by the next.

Some people have found it difficult to imagine ordinary men having been actively engaged in politics and debate to the degree implied by Athenian ideals. There has similarly been much debate over who actually attended the Assembly, perhaps to sit there contributing only to the often raucous crowd response to the powerful rhetoric deployed in the string of speeches heard. In larger democracies like Athens, Aristotle noted that the multitude 'without resources' had sufficient, even too much leisure and were in receipt of state pay which enabled them to participate in the Assembly, perhaps even more regularly than did the rich who either had to pay attention to their private affairs82 or, like Plato, chose to devote their time to philosophy.83 But for the fourth century at least, there is evidence to show that those who were liable to the property tax that paid for wars did attend the Assembly in large numbers. And the payment which induced the poorer citizens to attend the forty or more meetings of the Assembly each year seems to indicate that in this democracy, leisure and its provisions either through private wealth or public subsidy were seen as crucial in involving a cross-section of Athenians in the communal affairs of the polis. Indeed, one of the marks of a developed democracy, according to Aristotle's Politics (1293a 2-7, 1294a 40-1, 1298b, 18), was precisely the provision of public pay to its citizens to sit in the Assembly. As he saw it, since democracies tended to have large populations of the poor, then if the state had no (imperial) revenues to hand out, it would not be feasible to hold many Assembly meetings. Hence, he says that the truly democratic statesman without access to continuous state funds for payments must consider how the poor may be saved from excessive poverty. Otherwise corruption will not be avoided. He suggests (Pol. 1320a 17—b4) that a central fund be set up by the richer (virtuous) citizens from which funds may be given to those in need so that they can buy a small plot or set up in trade. If Aristotle supposes a scenario where state funds are simply not available, or if we read him as criticizing democratic Athens and implying that a society's real virtue can only be exercised by private, voluntary charity to the poor, others would argue even more vigorously that the state, no matter how wealthy, ought not to provide public pay. Indeed, oligarchs repeatedly tried to abolish pay for public officials and to limit political activity to smaller numbers (e.g. in 411 bc). But if it is argued that this must have been an extremely costly system to operate, we need reminding that whenever Athens was on the verge of bankruptcy, this was not because of the democratic public expenditure but because of the high costs of its wars.

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