My next bookshelf find is a textbook, Ancient History (Robinson, Macmillan, 2nd ed., 1967), of six parts. A page count:
- Prehistory, 30 pages.
- The Ancient Near East, 72.
- Hellas, 256; the Hellenistic Age, 33.
- The Roman Republic, 102.
- The Roman Empire, 120.
Intending pedagogic balance, Robinson’s book is 37% things Greek, spanning perhaps 900 years. Reasons for this focus: A break with myth as the sole source of explanation, foundations of Western thought, thought for the sake of thought. The sardonic, unappreciative termite adds another view: fun for scholars.
The termite notes that Greek philosophy is the first body of thought that eludes universal comprehension. Myth, manufactured for everybody, had only one level, the flat non-logic of given truth. Though Thales, the first to displace myth, shared this simplicity, a Cambrian Explosion of thought favored complexity (sophistication!) with shrinking accessibility. There had been arcane ritual with mythic pseudo-knowledge. Now, birth in the West of new, intricate modalities of thought, the question replacing the answer, and a new custodial class of scholars.
Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living“, presaging the epiphany of The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. But whose life, examined by who? Not the average Athenians who condemned Socrates to death. Licensed therapists were 2000 years in the future.
The innovation of elite thought condemned the philosophers to long eclipse. The Romans reverted to politically inspired myth; philosophic stasis ensued, followed by a millennium+ of ecclesiastical rule. The advent of Introspection was delayed to the 19th century, competing with the bicameral mind still evident in Freud’s hysterical Vienna.
Shortly after the mind became a thing, groups of minds became a thing. Marx, the first sociologist, authored what is the arguably the first modern, partisan political literature, the Communist Manifesto, swiftly printed on the new steam-powered Koenig press in time for the revolutions of 1848. It has a quality divinity academics ascribe to sacred literature; to the receptive mind, free of competition from other ideas, it is self-revealing. Every partisan author aspires to this.
The self-revealing quality was the unintentional result of Marx’s fervent idealism, advantaged by novel ideas that had not been shown to fail. The next step was to be the same quality achieved with recycled ideas of lesser or doubtful promise. This required a future leap of social technology.
Raucous machine politics of the late 19th century was inspiration for Walter Lippmann, in search of how the democratic process can approach the ideal of the informed decision. In Public Opinion, he asserted that the same is manufactured, which implies manipulation. Controversially, and perhaps darkly, he thought this was a good thing. His reputation survived; see Saving American Democracy, Part 1.
Though political propaganda predates Public Opinion, the book defines the goal and technology in a democratic system. It’s there to use. So is political media all propaganda, as some claim, unless proven otherwise? The massive propaganda organs of undemocratic regimes were uncontested monopolies. Ours are eminently contestable.
In a well-oiled totalitarian state, the citizen has no choice of what to believe. In our society, people believe what they want to hear. Is this enough of a difference?
Next. The influence of Socrates on modern politics.