Monday, October 12, 2020

A Unique Classical Event

Only the most highly respected members of society were invited to these parties, called Symposiums, where the best minds met to discuss all manner of things, from the nature of love to the origins of the universe… and some ideas too dangerous to share in the streets!

Scenes like this were common in Ancient Greece, when philosophy, learning, and good conversation were highly respected, and folks were expected to understand and participate fully in their democracy. 

But the tradition has faded away — modern “symposiums” are usually nothing more than glorified trade conferences, with none of the philosophy and mental investigation of a true Symposium. Classical Wisdom aims to bring back this storied ancient tradition!

To do this in our modern world, we have created a two-day online event, consisting of exciting presentations, a wine tasting, followed by a panel discussion. Attendees can join in whenever they like and ask questions. They will also receive full recordings of the event afterwards; in case they miss something or want to re-watch. 

This is a Classics event like no other! While the wine box option will only be available until October 14th, we will be offering a wine tasting with recommendations for those who are interested. But the best thing of all is that we’ve managed to gather some of the greatest thinkers on the classical world for one fantastic weekend. Attendees can listen to them speak Live as well as directly ask questions.

We’d like to think of it as an antidote to 2020 - an opportunity to get perspective and historical viewpoints on current events as well as philosophical insights to thrive in even the most challenging of circumstances.

Choose your ticket (one day or two-day pass) here: 

You can use this Promo code and get 40% OFF: CWW2020


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

What Happens to Democracy?

One of the more intriguing questions about politics today is “What happens after democracy?” Some ask this question out of curiosity; some out of fear. The fearful are concerned that democratic governments have become unstable.

In our 21st Century world, democracies predominate. This is explained by the fact that democracies, and their partner capitalism, have been more efficient at delivering goods and services than other government forms, making them the preferred model in the modern and postmodern world.

Lately, democracy is showing its age, and its governments are less able to “govern.” Tribalism, generated by ideological polarization prevents legislatures from acting for the good of the people. Candidates are selected by the elite class to perpetuate elite control. Lobbyists, under control of the elites, replace the will of the people. The people are less engaged and easily influenced by elite messaging.

How to we fit the current situation into the history of politics? A logical place to start is the work of Polybius.

Polybius was a Greek historian, who lived from 200 BC to 118 BC. He was taken as a hostage by the Romans in 167 BC and was held in Rome for 17 years. Polybius later become an associate of Scipio Aemilius, the Roman general who defeated the Carthaginians in the Third Punic War. As an observer of Rome and Greece, Polybius wrote about political systems: their origin, structure, and stability. He created a cycle of governments to describe the forces that change societies from one form to another.

The cycle is Monarchy – Kingship – Tyranny – Aristocracy – Oligarchy – Democracy.

Monarchies appear by the natural and unaided rise in power of individuals who impress their people with leadership skills. As long as man has lived in groups, they have been led by those who, by intelligence or charisma, rise to the top. Monarchies first appeared after the beginning of agriculture in 3000 BC, because a hierarchical structure was needed to govern large groups of human beings. Monarchies were the government of choice for 4500 years until the Enlightenment. Some monarchies become kingships; a transition that occurred when leaders began to govern by fear rather than the approval of their people.

When kings became tyrants, they fell and were replaced by an aristocracy made up of wealthy and powerful elites, who exerted control to preserve their status. In time, the aristocracy saw its power concentrated in few leaders, and transitioned to an oligarchy (rule of few). The oligarchy fell when the people became tired of unjust rule. To replace the oligarchies, people demanded democracies. Democracies prosper as long as traditions, and commitment to justice, remain strong. When those characteristics die away, the cycle moves back to a monarchy. The people replace an unworkable system with one person they can trust.

If you think these concepts are fanciful and unrealistic, consider the following examples.

In Ancient Greece, the Mycenaean kings were replaced by an aristocracy, which became an oligarchy before it was a democracy. Tyrants popped up a from time to time, during the period of aristocracies, when the aristocracies failed to govern.

Ancient Rome was first ruled by monarchs, who became kings and then tyrants. They were replaced by an aristocracy (the patricians), who transitioned to an oligarchy. Rome never achieved a transition to democracy because dictators took control and created an empire.

The United States, as a child of the Enlightenment, did not have to endure a monarchy. It started as an aristocracy, transitioned to an oligarchy, during the time of the Federalists, and then became a democracy.

Polybius created his theory before the concept of collectivism/socialism developed, so there is no socialist model in the cycle. The most important socialist systems, Russia and China, developed from feudal systems so they don’t fit conveniently there.

Cuba serves as an interesting example. Castro overthrew a dictator (tyrant) to gain power. The step to aristocracy was interrupted by his revolution. At the time, Cuba was weak economically, so one might consider it a feudal state. Castro was propped up by money from the Soviet Union for decades. Without that help, he would not have been able to implement his Communist model.

If we trust Polybius and imagine what would happen if some democracies fail over the next decades, their replacement will feature concentrated power, because concentrated power can govern more efficiently than a democracy. The replacements will authoritarian leaders or dictators.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Ancient History Hall of Fame

Its fun and interesting to speculate about who would be in the Ancient History Hall of Fame if there were such a place, and I admit that building a list like this is subjective. Fame plays a significant role here, making it difficult to include those who are generally unknown to the public. My sense of antiquity is that individuals whose fame has endured over the millennia were the most important. My list omits the infamous whose misdeeds are their claim to fame.

To invoke a baseball analogy, there are a group of ancients that I will label first ballot hall of famers. That is individuals who would be on everyone’s list and would never have their selection questioned. That list includes,

Alexander the Great, Aristotle, Caesar Augustus, Cleopatra, Confucius, Constantine the Great, Hannibal, Herodotus, Homer, Jesus, Julius Caesar, Moses, Saul (Paul) of Tarsus, Pericles, Plato, Siddhartha Gautama, Socrates, Solon, and Thucydides. That’s nineteen.

In the second tier I would place Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Attila the Hun, St. Augustine, Demosthenes, Euclid, Euripides, Hammurabi, Hippocrates, Nebuchadnezzar II, Pindar, Sappho, Scipio Africanus, Sophocles, Thales, Virgil, Xerxes, and Zoroaster. Another eighteen.

My third tier would contain Archimedes, Cato, Empedocles, Galen, Justinian I Mithridates VI, Ovid, Plutarch, Ramses II, and Spartacus, making the list total 47.

Do we add more and, if so, by what criteria? A structured approach would dictate selection by category of accomplishment. For example, the Greeks made significant contributions in philosophy, science, drama, and poetry, so we should choose one or more from each of these. Right? But, trying to build a list like this, and limiting its size, gets one into trouble quickly.

It is generally thought that the four greatest dramatists of all time were Shakespeare, Aristophanes, Aeschylus, and Euripides. If all three Greeks are in a class with the Bard, shouldn’t that make them hall of famers?

Philosophy is tougher still. You start with Plato and Aristotle and then it makes sense to add Socrates and Thales. Who else? There are so many candidates – Zeno, Epicurus, Anaximander, Heraclitus, etc.

There are two groups I have not selected from: those too obscure to be eligible and those who didn’t quite make the grade for a short list. In the first group I include Ashkoka (Indian emperor of the Maurya Dynasty), Hashesput (fifth Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt), Inhotep (a Polymath circa 2650 B.C.), and Sargon the Great (Akkadian king of 2300 B.C.).

The second group contains Agrippa (important as Augustus right hand man) but not quite good enough, Thermistocles (admiral of the Athenian Navy), Anaximander, Anaximenes, and Tacitus.

Now let’s move on to a few more who are worthy. There are seven in this group: Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Livy, Leonidas, Lysander, Isocrates, and Cicero. The Golden Age of the empire is an important period and Trajan and Marcus are its bookends. Trajan reigned from 98-117 A.D, stabilizing the empire and initiating a period of calm lasting 82 years. Marcus Aurelius was the last of the dynasty and is important for his reflective personality and stoic philosophy. It was a sad irony that Marcus hated wars and yet was fated to fight in them for almost his entire reign.

If you have Herodotus and Thucydides on the list you have to have Livy -- Rome’s greatest historian. We are all the poorer because so many of his books were lost.

In my view, you can’t construct an Ancient’s Hall of Fame without Spartans, so I have included two: Leonidas and Lysander. Leonidas is famous for one single event, his defense at Thermopylae. That story has resonated around the world ever since as an example of courage, honor, and devotion to the cause. Leonidas has a unique place on the list because his contribution occurred during a single event that cost him his life, rather than contributions over a lifetime. Lysander was Sparta’s greatest admiral, largely responsible for ending the Peloponnesean War in Sparta’s favor.

I thought of including Lycurgus, architect of the Spartan political system, but we’re not sure a single person with that name existed.

I include Isocrates, at risk, because some would call him obscure. He labored under the shadow of Plato but his contribution to the development of educational systems that followed him is unequalled. He was Athens’ greatest orator and had a great influence over the politics of is day.

So now we reach the end with Cicero, who as a philosopher, orator, statesman, lawyer, and political theorist had a significant impact on late Republican Rome. Cicero’s Latin prose was unequalled as he built a Latin philosophical vocabulary by translating the Greek. His letters, when discovered during the 14th century, helped launch the renaissance, through an emerging interest in the writings of antiquity. Cicero’s humanist philosophy influenced the renaissance, while his republicanism influenced the founders of the United States.

We could add more women and make the list longer. Perhaps someone will want to provide some names. We have Cleopatra and Sappho on the list. Others, including Augustus’ wife Luvilla And Leonidas’ wife Gorgo come to mind. Unfortunately, women didn’t receive the publicity in the ancient world that men did and their lack of access to power and status made it much harder for them to become famous.

Now we have a complete list of 54 – an odd number and no more than an arbitrary stopping point based on subjective criteria. It’s too bad we have so few Hall of Famers like them today. In this modern age, power and money have subverted wisdom and knowledge.