Friday, June 29, 2012

The Strain of Civilization II

"In order to understand Plato we must visualize the whole contemporary situation. After the Peloponnesian war, the strain of civilization was felt as strongly as ever. The old oligarchic hopes were still alive, and the defeat of Athens had even tended to encourage them. The class struggle continued. Yet Critias’ attempt to destroy democracy by carrying out the programme of the Old Oligarch had failed. It had not failed through lack of determination; the most ruthless use of violence had been unsuccessful, in spite of favourable circumstances in the shape of powerful support from victorious Sparta. Plato felt that a complete reconstruction of the programme was needed. The Thirty had been beaten in the realm of power politics largely because they had offended the citizens’ sense of justice. The defeat had been largely a moral defeat. The faith of the Great Generation had proved its strength. The Thirty had nothing of this kind to offer; they were moral nihilists. The programme of the Old Oligarch, Plato felt, could not be revived without basing it upon another faith, upon a persuasion which re-affirmed the old values of tribalism, opposing them to the faith of the open society. Men must be taught that justice is inequality, and that the tribe, the collective, stands higher than the individual." Karl Popper [1945], Ch. 10, Section IV

"This dream of unity and beauty and perfection, this aestheticism and holism and collectivism, is the product as well as the symptom of the lost group spirit of tribalism. It is the expression of, and an ardent appeal to, the sentiments of those who suffer from the strain of civilization. (It is part of the strain that we are becoming more and more painfully aware of the gross imperfections in our life, of personal as well as of institutional imperfection; of avoidable suffering, of waste and of unnecessary ugliness; and at the same time of the fact that it is not impossible for us to do something about all this, but that such improvements would be just as hard to achieve as they are important. This awareness increases the strain of personal responsibility, of carrying the cross of being human.)" Karl Popper [1945], Chapter 10, Section IV

"I suppose that what I call the ‘strain of civilization’ is similar to the phenomenon which Freud had in mind when writing Civilization and its Discontents. Toynbee speaks of a Sense of Drift (A Study of History, V, 412 ff.), but he confines it to ‘ages of disintegration’, while I find my strain very clearly expressed in Heraclitus (in fact, traces can be found in Hesiod)—long before the time when, according to Toynbee, his ‘Hellenic society’ begins to ‘disintegrate’. Meyer speaks of the disappearance of ‘The status of birth, which had determined every man’s place in life, his civil and social rights and duties, together with the security of earning his living’ (Geschichte des Altertums, III, 542). This gives an apt description of the strain in Greek society of the fifth century B.C." Karl Popper, [1945], footnote 8 to Chapter 10.


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