Tuesday, February 24, 2004

More Meier idiocy

So, I am continuing to read Athens: A Portrait of a City in its Golden Age by Christian Meier. Unfortunately I am now into Chapter 4 and it is still failing to live up to its early promise. Indeed, my disillusionment has reached new heights. Take this paragraph, which I quote in full. Christian Meier is discussing the reforms of Cleisthenes towards the end of the 6th century BC that gave Athens a limited form of democracy.

We have no reason to assume that the Greeks experienced the kind of major generational conflicts we have witnessed in recent years. History was not moving fast enough at that time, and too few issues might have rallied the young against their elders. There was no philosophy of history, not were there outmoded ethical commands to rebel against. The adults did not know what the young had yet to learn, nor did the young think they knew what their elders would never be capable of discovering. At least this was not the case on a major scale. Old and young were too concretely involved with each other.

Now, I have some fairly major issues with the above paragraph. I make two major contentions. The idea that the pace of history is somehow faster today in our rather sedate western democracies would astound anyone who lived through the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the period of Jacksonian democracy, the period in the lead up to the American Civil war. For slightly older periods, how about the Reformation? Sixteenth century Europe was a tumultuous place. So was 12th century Europe, so was the early Rennaisance. So was 4th century AD when some of the great debates about Chrsitianity took place. So was the first century BC and the final paroxysms of the Roman Republic. It is a bankrupt idea, and I do not know why it persists, save from the collective arrogance of all to many of the 60s generation that seem to think that they are somehow more important than the rest of humanity.

But Christian Meier continues in the very next paragraph:

But we may assume that it was primarily the younger men, filled with enthusiasm and courage, unencumbered by doubt and caution, who embraced the new, supported reform, and threw their energies into Attic politics. Among the youngest to reach the age of full citizen's rights when the granting of such rights began to mean something completely new were Themistocles and Aeschylus.

So there was no generational conflict, "too few issues might have rallied the young against their elders", and yet Mr Meier thinks that the new reforms supporters could have been broadly defined by age and, as he makes clear, what was going on was absolutely revolutionary. How on earth he expects anyone with a modicum of intelligence to read these two paragraphs - the second right after the first, I have not cut out a single word - and not raise their eyes in question I do not know.

But let us remember that this was hardly political revolution, as perhaps best shown by the reference to Themistocles, Athens was undergoing a cultural explosion the likes of which has quite possibly never occurred anywhere else. From those years so much of modern culture is descended. There are possible comparisons - the Italian Rennaisance or Elizabethan England - but both of those ultimately are grounded by what occued in Athens 1500-2000 years previously. And this is represented by the mention of Aeschylus. I almost wonder if Meier properly read Agamemmnon by that great playwright. I studied it an A-Level. It looks like a masterful rendition of the death of Agamemnon. Woven into though it is one of the most realistic portrayals of the horror of war ever to be done in literature. These days it would be called anti-war (and I have heard it described as such, though I dislike the term because of modern and current political meanings).

All I can say is that Meier really needs to work out his own logic, look properly at his subject matter, and divest himself of the idea that history or time somehow moves faster today than it did in yesteryear. I expect such trash the most populist historians, but not from someone as respected as this, who in the first chapter clearly demonstrated that his work can be to such a high level. I will persevere however, and continue. If nothing else it will give me things to blog about.

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