Friday, March 23, 2012

Ostracism Reconsidered - Founding Fathers Should Have Included it

Ostracism has come to have connotations that are purely social in nature. Its actual practice, origin, and ideas behind it are truly fascinating and telling for our times. In the ancient Athenian Democracy, this was a procedure by which individuals who either posed, or were suspected of possibly becoming, a threat to the state could be temporarily exiled from the city.

In the Fourth Century BC, Athens had ended a Tyranny. Like the subject of this post (And also like the Roman Term "Dictator"), it also originally had different meaning:

"Tyrant (Greek τύραννος, tyrannos) was originally one who illegally seized and controlled a governmental power in a polis. Tyrants were a group of individuals who took over many Greek poleis during the uprising of the middle classes in the sixth and seventh centuries BC, ousting the aristocratic governments."

Today we view a Tyrant as someone who rules cruelly in addition to arbitrarily. Although some Greek Tyrants were in fact cruel in nature and practice, others were not. Nevertheless, the Athenians recognized that their city-state had to have some law and order and a means to prevent another individual from seizing power.

Cleisthenes is generally credited with initiating several reforms at the close of the Sixth Century BC that resulted in the creation of Athenian Democracy. His solution to the threat of another Tyranny was Ostracism; a procedure by which the citizens* of the state could vote to have a person removed from the city for a period of ten years. The Ostracized individual was not truly exiled (Actual exile was a different procedure) as he had every right to return at the end of the ten years, his property was not forfeited, and no other penalties were imposed. Although the state could and did on occasion vote to allow someone back early, if he tried to return on his own, he faced the death penalty.

On an annual basis, the citizens were asked if they had any intention of Ostracizing one of their own. If not, then the issue was laid to rest until the following year. If there was a a vote in favor of it, a two-month period was required prior to actual procedure, both to guard against any angry knee-jerk reactions of the body politic and to allow for discussion on the possible need for such a decision. Names were not presented as a sort of candidate(s). The intention was to remove from political influence anyone who seemed to be courting the favor of too much of the citizenry, was deemed too charismatic and thus likely to attempt a takeover, or had been believed or rumored to be plotting in such a manner. An example of the latter would be if one was believed to have accepted bribes from the Persian King or one of his Satraps.

With papyrus, the normal medium for writing being a valuable product, shards of broken pottery (Ostraka), which were plentiful, were used. Each voter would write the name of the person that he felt should be sent away for a while on the shard. We appear to have two versions of what constituted a quorum, or sufficient number of votes, for an ostracism; one held that six thousand votes for that particular individual was needed, another seems to be  that as long as there were six thousand total votes cast, the one with the majority of shards containing the inscription of his name had to go.

There was no appeal and he had ten days to settle his affairs and leave the city. Since the Ostracised could still earn an income from his property, this method of temporarily removing a potential threat to the state was, although effective, far from harsh. It was also not done every year - I can only come up with thirteen known individuals who were in fact Ostracized. In fact, if we consider that Athens had at times around 50,000 citizens, the removal of 13 or so guys over a period of 90 years does not sound so bad to me.

The Greeks were known for being honorable guys and, like others of Indo-European cultures, willing to let even the regular guy have his say. As I have noted in previous posts, higher-ranking members could not only speak their peace to leaders and Kings but would even would speak quite boldly to them - witness the dialogues between Alexander the Great and his soldiers and army officers. Also pertinent is the soldier in Clovis' army who had no fear in expressing his disagreement when the Frankish King was going to take a larger share of spoils from a battle than the rest of the soldiers. Clovis, bound by protocol, was forced to let this go and was not able to exact any retribution until he (Dishonorably) killed the soldier later on under the pretense of having found his weapons dirty during an inspection.

The story of Aristedes' Ostracism illustrates the fairness inherent among the Greeks. Although some historians dismiss the following account (They like to, with a wave of the hand, casually ignore a lot of good stuff), many see no reason to hold that it did not happen.

During the period of the voting for Ostracism for Aristides (c. 485BC), he was approached by an illiterate citizen who, not knowing what Aristides looked like, asked him to write a name on his pottery shard for him. Upon asking what name the man wanted, he was told "Aristides". Naturally, Aristides asked why he wanted that guy (Aristides) gone. The common-sense illiterate Greek responded that he was sick and tired of hearing Aristides always being referred to as "the Just". Aristides, without revealing himself, dutifully inscribed his name and, although we don't know if the one vote made a difference, he was in fact Ostracised.

The idea behind this account was that even a lowly, illiterate citizen could recognize that constantly adding such designations to a person's name was a bad precedent and made him stand out a little too much among other Athenians.

Although I am not a math guy, I figured that, over a ninety-year period, Athens Ostracised a mere 0.14 of its citizens per year. If we in the US, with our 313,000,000-plus people, were to go with that modest amount, we could send two people a year away without going over the Athenian average. I welcome corrections from  people who are good at math.

Where to start? Well, since this nation was founded on the principles of freedom, private property, the absence of oppressive taxation, etc., I would hold that the best candidates for productive Ostracisms would be those who are the chief advocates of Marxist doctrines or those who do their darnedest to stir up one "class" of Americans against the other. Note that for personal/private property (including money) in particular, our Founding Fathers, those who actually created our system of government, were heavily influenced by John Locke, who was emphatic that one of the main reasons for government in the first place was to protect people's property. The concept of utilizing governmental power to take away and redistribute property is a modern aberration of the concept of government.

Although we are in fact not a Democracy but a Constitutional Representative Republic (Marxists like to pretend that we have a Democracy and then pretend that Democracy is about "spreading around the wealth*), we do have what I would call Democratic elements in our political system. Universal suffrage, the concept of extending the franchise to anyone who reaches a certain age (A horrifyingly low one on our case) regardless of payment (Or lack thereof) of property or income taxes, proof that one is not receiving government assistance or proof of military service, or any other reasonable requirements that would at least indicate that one has a true stake in the good of the nation, does in fact leave us open to all sorts of Demagoguery. The subjection and virtual restriction of large portions of our electorate to generations of dependency on Welfare, the continued importation of vast numbers of unskilled immigrants (Many of which are illegal, but who cares about that?) while severely restricting the same from developed nations, and the destruction of our educational system, have come together to create a massive base of voters who are easily misled and used as a permanent bloc of votes that can be pointed like a dagger at the throat of our prospect of continued prosperity.

The Founding Fathers, while their work is repeatedly attacked by the Left, did in fact do a great job (Thank Heaven for that) of setting up barriers to Tyranny. I do, though,  hold that they did drop the ball in one case - they left out any means by which the people could remove potential Tyrants or Demagogues, even if for a temporary period. In fairness, they probably did not have a crystal ball to see what we have facing us today.
If we did in fact have such machinery in place, not only would we be able to encourage staunch Marxists/Classists to go to nations that actually are Marxist, those who wanted to stay would be far less likely to blatantly brainwash our youth for fear of being tossed.Consequently, we have to work all the harder for out rights, our way of life, and the legacy that was bequeathed to us.

*The subject of who actually was a citizen (And could vote) in Athens and the redefining of Democracy to mean spreading around the wealth can be seen in this post:

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