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Isokrates and Greece

The fourth century B.C. is filled with the feverish struggle of the Greek States for two objects, one of which was no sooner partly gained than it seemed
Conflict of tendencies in the 4th century B.C.
to conflict with the other;—the unity of Greece, and the freedom of the individual Greek state. Athens is the centre of this struggle. The sentiment of Greek unity created by the Persian Wars revived after the exhausting struggle of the Peloponnesian War. For the next twenty years, however, it was kept down by the oppressive dominion of Sparta. In 378 it received a partial expression in the new Naval Confederacy of which Athens was the head, just as, in 478, it had been more completely expressed by the Confederacy of Delos. But the second hegemony, like the first, gradually passed into an empire irksome to the allies. At the end of twenty years it was broken up by the Social War. Unity was overthrown in favour of freedom. Two speeches of Isokrates mark the two crises. The Panegyrikos (381) is a call to the unity partly realised just afterwards: the speech On the Peace
The Panegyrikos and the De Pace.
(355) foreshadows the victory soon to be gained by the rival principle of separate autonomy1.

Under this struggle, as the cause of its feverishness and its futility, lay the mortal disease which

Gradual separation of Society from the State.
had already stricken Greek civilisation. From the close of the colonizing period that civilisation had been almost stationary; for it was not so highly or so flexibly organized that it could go on developing itself greatly on a limited area or continue to advance otherwise than by self-diffusion2. And now the arrest of development had given place to the beginning of dissolution. The process of this dissolution might be defined as the gradual divorce of Society from the State. In the normal Greek conception Society and the State were one. The man had no existence apart from the citizen; morality was inseparable from civic virtue3. But meanwhile new intellectual and moral needs had come into being, to which the limited elasticity of the state-life could no longer respond; and on the other hand Greek democracy had passed the point up to which, organized as it was, it was capable of a healthy growth. The individual had begun to draw more and more away from the State. Instead of the citizen's duty being the standard of spiritual life, the needs of individual development became the measure of what could reasonably be expected from the citizen. The most striking proof of this is the decay—almost the disappearance—of a virtue which has its root in the idea of the State—readiness for personal self-sacrifice. Active love of one's own city—the central instinct of healthy Greek life—begins to merge in contemplative citizenship of the world4.

1 The general relation of Isokrates to the Greek and Athenian politics of his day is well sketched in Oncken's Isokrates und Athen (Heidelberg, 1862). In his introduction (pp. v. vi) he has brought out this contrasted significance of the Panegyrikos and the De Pace.

2 The edition of the Orations of Demosthenes and Aeschines On the Crown, by Mr G. A. Simcox and Mr W. H. Simcox (Oxford, 1872) contains an excellent Essay by Mr G. A. Simcox, On the Practical Politics of the Age of Demosthenes (pp. lxvii—xcii), to which I shall have occasion to refer again. See § 3, ‘Arrest of the Material Development of Greece.’

3 Oncken (Isokr. u. Athen, p. 2) points out how,—even when society was most overpowering and breaking up the State,—the theory of this identity was kept up.

4 See especially Curtius, V. 116 and 204 (Ward).

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