Francisco Metapolis
Jun 15 · 4 min read

May I inform you about a reality classics mention but very little? Democracy Athenian style was NOT at all government of the people by the people for the people, neither was is a régime extolling freedom, equality, brotherhood in the modern sense of the ideal. The stark truth is that Athens had always been more totalitarian and more attached to mind control and group conformity than Sparta. Athens was more refined as an artistic and religious civilization, like for instance Venice used to be relatively to other Italian port cities like Genoa or Naples, but artistic refinement is not synonymous with respect for human values. The Greek word demos in classical and Hellenistic era Athens did not mean the people, it meant the party, the select ones, the ones above : the word could also mean the class. You first had to be born into that class to inherit from it quite like a share in a condominium board (though later on past the heydays that citizenry so to speak became purchasable) and you had to submit to an initiation process of seven years which comprised a sexual aspect which was there to guarantee that your whole mind would be aligned with the common opinion of the group before being entrusted with any right to discussion or voting. Freedom of opinion in the modern Western liberal sense was the thing most contrary to the very essence of Athenian polity. The main difference between Athens and Sparta was that in Sparta you had to be faithful to the city through your conduct, through your actions, through your bravery and austerity of life, otherwise you were entitled to perfect freedom of thought and expression; in Athens, though the city was as militaristic as Athens and the time devoted to military training at least as long, the greatest fault you could be punished for was mental dissidence, hence the punishment given to Socrates and quite a few others. Athens was a democracy is the Eastern European sense of the Cold War era, minus the socialistic ideal and with an only party comprising far less people in percentage than Eastern bloc communist parties used to. As a result there were quite a few and even sometimes many dissident Athenian intellectuals knocking at Sparta’s door for political refuge and practically never the reverse case : the only reason motivating people to move to Athens was economic, never political or philosophical. Quite a few could move from Athens to Sparta to escape the Athenian spying system which was then legendary, as it was the city’s main economic arm, whereas one moved from Peloponese to Athens for the same reason as one moves to the Gulf countries. It is to be noted that even no single Spartan helot ever asked for refuge in Athens as an Athenian servant’s lot of about the same trade was far, far worse. Later on in history, under Roman tutelage Athens had dwindled to the status of a rich Roman patricians’ boy loving resort, and that is the reason why the Western culture that was to develop later on had such a fascination for Athens rather than for other Greek speaking cities. Quite like with what Venice was to become once it had lost its empire and had to survive catering for English tourists’ whims and needs : it had never been an artistic city before but a hub of intrigue and espionage of the most sordid kind. Another good point of comparison would be comparing Fez in Morocco to Marrakech as a tourist destination. When as a tourist you go to Fez you are sternly reminded it is a traditional Islamic city where beer drinking at terraces is forbidden, among others, and where women even western have to cover their hair somewhat. In Marrakech the tourist is king and he can lead any lifestyle provided he has the money justifying it. Most superficial minds think that Marrakech is the open-minded city relatively to Fez which is the fundamentalist and militaristic one. Actually Marrakech grew by Saharan slave trading and under the French regime managed to sell the favors of boys to the Parisian garment elite which decided to consecrate that city as a winter resort for their refined pleasures. A few self styled philosophers such as Bernard Henry Levy live there. But the fact is that Marrakech thrives thanks to paedophilia not philosophy. Fez on the other hand is a city of authentic Moroccan intellectuals where you can have an enriching discussion, and where most common people are high quality artisans, not small would-be hucksters and traders in flesh. If you want to understand why Socrates was put to death by Athenian public opinion, not by Spartan oligarchs, try to figure why a real free thinking intellectual would have far more problems having a free discussion in Marrakech (especially if he is not so rich) than in Fez.