Thursday, July 9, 2009

Greeks, Americans, and Political Factions

As you’ve noticed I have been reading about ancient Greek drama. I was interested in the transition from serious drama to comedy that occurred in the time of Aristophanes, and the chapter on the subject mentioned Aristophanes political views. The following description comes from H.J. Rose, The Handbook of Greek Literature:

“Aristophanes was a supporter of the old Conservative party in Athens. That is to say he was opposed to extreme democracy and to the Peloponnesian War. Not advocating peace at any price but supporting whatever steps were necessary to avoid war. He took this position as a traditional Athenian who as a member of the land holding class, saw little gain from imperial expansion and overseas trade and much to lose if Attica was invaded by the Spartans. The opposite group, containing those who were more staunchly democratic, were artisans and tradesmen who saw a benefit from the demand for goods that war would bring. Rowers would be needed for the navy, the poor would be absorbed into the service, and be paid.”

So what we see here is a left wing of hawks and a right wing of doves. Interesting to compare it to the United States where the left wing are doves and the right wing hawks. What is the difference?

In our country Democrats favor the people and Republicans favor business. Generally speaking the Democrats worry about what can be done domestically to improve the lives of the public. That focus is more important to them than foreign policy which is complicated and takes money away from domestic needs. The Republicans favor a strong foreign policy because it protects their business interests -- more important to them than the needs of the people.

The key difference between Greece and the United States is that the Greeks, as an agrarian society, could do well producing for domestic consumption. In our world economy that doesn’t work. Wages are highest in the United States, so to be competitive we have to produce goods elsewhere. That production is protected by a strong foreign policy.

Of course the Greeks would laugh at the irony of the recent efforts of the “party of the people” which is moving away from the democracy they espouse to a bureaucratic government of regulation and control. If this goes far enough the we’ll end up less of a democracy than we are today – perhaps an oligarchy of the Congress.

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