Friend and poet, to where have you disappeared?
Please rise from wherever you are. We the Greeks, and the whole of Europe, are at a crossroads; we so desperately need you to listen and translate messages from the Oracle.
Is there no pupil of yours capable of immediate travel to Delphi? This is of utmost urgency.
We need you to write us a new poem.
Please can you help us to better understand what you meant when you asked us Athenians to “take the mid-seat, and be the vessel’s guide”?
Because things have come full cycle you see, once again the cycles of economic and political deadlock weigh heavily upon us all.
And it is for Greece as it is for the whole of Europe. Perhaps the whole of the West.
We are once again questioning our ideals around economic growth and prosperity. Questioning whether democracy may constrain and destabilise our national–our continental, our global–stability.
Is it true that the original meaning of the word demokratia was coined by aristocratic members of the Greek public – the rich elite who did not like being outvoted by the common people? Did demokratia originally mean ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’? I do remember that Plato warned us about the economic consequences of democracy–that “democratic leaders would rob the rich, keep as much of the proceeds for themselves and then distribute the rest to the people.”
Although we celebrate democracy today, and over half the world’s population live in a democracy, our modern governments continue to maintain complete control of our economy. The political elite, despite being elected by the masses, remains dominated by an aristocracy of birth. Even in America, we bear witness to political positions of the highest offices, kept within family blood lines, even shared among spouses.
Do you recon John Adams was right when he told us to remember that “democracy never lasts long”? “It soon wastes,” he said “exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation.”
You may be surprised, but Greece today is not so radically different from your time. There is a loss of confidence in all our institutions–the rich, the poor, the middle, have all lost confidence in the formal structures that are meant to sustain us. The eupatridae (some are simply disguised as others) continue to monopolize government and own the best land; poor farmers continue living in debt; the middle classes of middling farmers, merchants and artists remain excluded and resentful of government. The lack of trust in our political leaders has cast a terrible spell of doubt that leaves us unable to depend upon the institutions we once so desperately believed in. This lack of trust means that despite the passing of so much time, we never corrected our tax-collection system.
What is worse, and most pressing at this precise moment, is that our relations with neighbouring countries are growing sour. As it was in the past, the major neighbouring powers continued to have a strategic interest in ensuring Greece’s stability. Although we have continued to be capital-poor and import-dependent, although we have been unable to rid ourselves of a political culture of patronage, our neighbours have insisted in helping us build up our economy. Build up to what? you might wonder. I too wonder. You would be shocked to learn that we have long since forfeited our fiscal sovereignty to external creditors. Our monetary policy is in the hands of the Germans not the Greeks. At least at the moment.
debt. or to use your words: disburdenment.
i so often wonder how much ideas are worth.
the value of ideas and ideals
monarchy, tyranny, oligarchy democracy:
all borrowed from the Greeks.
Perhaps you would not be surprised, but creating and collecting debt remains good business the world over. Oh, I do remember dear Solon, your first public measure–the enactment for existing debts to be remitted. This act of humanity, and to the augmentation of measures and the purchasing power of money, relieved the poor not by a cancelling of debts, but by a reduction of the interest upon them.
Currency. Do you remember how you made the mina to consist of a hundred drachmas, which before had contained only seventy-three? I wonder if something like that is possible today. The Euro is our modern-day, shared currency, used as mechanism to maintain “stable” economic unity across Europe and grow (“together”). Member states (there are 19 of us) are allowed to issue euro coins, but the amount must be authorised by what we call the ECB beforehand.
Along with a number of other nation states, our most recent debt crisis began in 2009. We Greeks stopped hiding it and came clean about the extent of our indebtedness and openly communicated the imminent danger of a Greek sovereign default.
The future of Greece now rests in the hands in democracy–demokratia.
Dear poet, please shine your wisdom upon us, help us be the vessels guide.
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