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November 10, 2012

Essay on Western Civilization


Western Civilization
The works of Thucydides
            The prominent political scientist and proficient on international relations, Thucydides is famously known for the history of the Peloponnesian War in which he has basically accentuated upon the aspects of imperialism and democracy several times while writing the entire event. In the writings that have been written by Thucydides the role of Pericles and the Delian League that came into being after the Persian threat was over and successfully handled by the Greek forces has overwhelmingly been praised as with the help of Pericles, the imperial empire that Greek intended to form came into being and even though the setup or the mechanism of political institutions operating in the empire were founded on the stand stone of imperialism and monarchy. (Conford, 2004)
Despite of this one can find substantial evidence in the writings of Thucydides which comprehensibly manifest the fact that the people of the country were in advocacy of the imperialism that was being carried out in Greece. The expansion of the territory was coupled with the expansion and greater influx of wealth and affluence for Greece. The concentration or the power base of Athens was basically its naval power and many people employed in the navy of the empire were poor citizens. Realizing the profound significance of these people especially during the time when Athens was the bastion of glory in the world they were provided with all the necessities and requirements that they needed for a healthy and affluent livelihood.
As a result of the strategies that were applied during the time of imperialism by radical democrats such as Pericles and Ephialtes were able to gain popular support from the poor faction of the Greek society. Even though one cannot deny the fact that the system of operative government was undoubtedly tyrannical it was able to address the needs of the poor people thus in other words sowing the seeds which later resulted in the creation of a democratic setup.
            The writings of Thucydides especially the Peloponnesian War and the Melian Dialogue in which he has discussed and enlightened the various aspects of political realism and interstate relations, it can be deduced that he is basically an advocate of a concept that people and scholars usually refer to as monarchic democracy. He is an advocate of the fact that ‘might is right’ and that ethics and interests must be kept away from each other. This has also been endorsed by other scholars such as Hans Morghenthau when he says that the mixture of morality and foreign policy can be an extremely dangerous one. (Arnold, 2010)
It is also worth mentioning here that Thucydides was never against the morals that form the visage of the society. This can be supported with the fact that prior to Sicilian expedition he compliments Nicias for his display of moral authority when he says that "[Nicias] had ordered his whole life by high moral standards." Hence in a place where the necessities of the people are being fulfilled, they are being provided with their fundamental requirements it those places the people are rarely concerned regarding the form of government that is present.
Similarly a place which transits from a monarchy to democracy faces a number of challenges in which the position of the rights of people and their respective position in the most crucial. (HRI, 2010)
            To a certain extent it will be appropriate to say that a major limitation that proved to be an adverse repercussion for the future development of pre-industrial societies was the political system that prevailed in such societies. However there are a number of aspects that need to be considered in this context. The first and most important is the aspect of wealth and economic system and functioning that has a symbiotic interaction with the kind of political system that runs the country.
 In pre-industrial societies it was the system of feudalism through which the wealth incoming and out fluxing the state or empire was managed, controlled and distributed. With the advent of the industrial revolution this was replaced by the system of capitalism in which the slogan of freedom was chanted and thus a new cover of an old liquor bottle was use to fool people which indirectly also promoted the degree of inequality that prevailed between the different classes of the society.
Throughout the human history there have been thesis that have been presented by the advocates belonging to a certain school of thought and in counter to those thesis, anti-thesis were produced which ultimately the thesis produced earlier. Hence in every phase of human history one can find the scope and prevalence of limitations, these limitations have further facilitated the growth and development of human beings at different levels. (Kemos, N/A)
Pre-industrial societies and their interaction
            Pre-industrial societies are normally recognized by their agrarian means of earning wealth, a fleetingly existent form of government and further by the domination of people with low- socio-economic value and importance in their lives. In the states situated in the Mediterranean region the relationship between the state, divine and the society or human beings was largely dominated by the overwhelming influence of the religion upon the lives of people. I
t was a time when the church in these places was considered a powerful and authoritative entity that the ruler of the empire since this age was mainly dominated by different empires all over the continent. Since the church and the divine personalities related to it were not only the ultimate rulers but also the teachers and preachers in this age, the teachings disseminated by the church was rarely rejected and even the ruler of the country was bound to obey the orders once issued by the church. In concomitant to this the relation of state with the people was largely governed by the type of government that existed in the place.
In many countries of Europe such as England, France, Germany and Italy were dominated by monarchies in which a small group of elite had the license to exercise power and authority at their maximum. They could make any reforms or policies that they seem were in their interest and the interest of their population. But despite of all such authorities they did not have the authority to challenge or confront the power of the church under any condition.
 It is also important to mention here that the king that was selected in the pre-industrial age was considered a potent link and connection between the people and the divine. Many kings of England during this age repeatedly accentuated upon the fact that they have been made king by the will of the gods and hence it is their divine right to rule the country. During this time monarchies were the hallmark of civilization, stateless societies were dismissed and republicanism was abhorred. Hence in the development of the connection and link with the state to the divine the ruler of the state played an extremely significant and pivotal role during the pre-industrial ages.
Furthermore it is also important to understand that the concept of monarchy was absolute and that the king or the ruler was not accountable to any superior authority, but as it has been emphasized by all religions and theological literature that such rulers must fear the day when their throne will undergo abdication. Many political philosophers during that time such as Machiavelli has stressed upon the fact that when a king begins to lose his control and authority over his territory, the hostile neighbors mobilize to take advantage of these weakness and manifest their influence and assertion over the other.  
With the passage of time it has also been seen that rulers who were provided with the authority of exercising political as well as religious influence was threatened by the group of learned men who tried to challenge the hegemony of both the church and the state. Some of the main stakeholders that can be termed as the contributors of this change were the economic, scientific and philosophical elite that changed these procedures and methodologies. It was basically the age of the enlightenment accompanied with the industrial revolution that turned out to be a key cause for the change in the visage of the society and its subsequent transition from pre-industrial to industrial age.
It was the contribution made by people like Adam Smith that laid down the foundation of the capitalist system of economic running which was further enhanced by scientists like Desecrates and Newton to revolutionize the scientific arena and at the same time confront the educational hegemony and empire that had earlier been established by the church.
 Furthermore philosophers like Locke and Rosseau further accentuated and disseminated the teachings of freedom of expression and tolerance in the society which further illuminated them with the idea and their purpose for being in this world. Even though it would be correct to say that during this time the society began to marginalize itself from the divine circle, but concurrently it facilitated an irrevocable transformation in the society during that time. (Crona, 2003)
Ancient Greek and Egyptian Civilization
Ancient Greek civilization placed great emphasis on getting knowledge about various fields of life including literature and history. In fact the famous Greek scholar Herodotus is regarded as the ‘father of history’. Furthermore we can find various references to Egypt in almost every classical author, but it does not mean that Egypt was "central" to the Greco-Roman world. Indeed, Egypt is mentioned by the classic Greek scholars because of its idiosyncrasies.

The most important classical source on Egypt is Herodotus' account found in hi8s discussion the Persian Wars, in which he digresses and talks about Egypt in the entire second book of the Histories. Even though many factual errors have been pointed out in his account but still Herodotus' account of the history carries great importance.

Another scholar A. B. Lloyd (1988) has written a thorough commentary on Herodotus' Egyptian account in which he says that Herodotus "presents a view of Egypt's past which shows no genuine understanding of Egyptian history. Everything has been uncompromisingly customized for Greek consumption and cast unequivocally into a Greek mould." This shows that Herodotus' account in fact focuses on the issues that interested the Greeks the most. 
 
  In addition to that the Greeks saw Egypt as one of many "barbarian" countries whose customs were defined as polar opposite to the Greek customs by the Greek historian Herodotus "The Egyptians seem to have reversed the ordinary practices of mankind." Herodotus not only presents Egyptian customs as an inversion to the Greek customs but also contrasted it in relation to one another.
Herodotus portrayed Egyptians in a negative light from everything Greek as barbarians and everything opposite to from civilized humans. However, some of them become increasingly "Greek-like" when they are contrasted to others, to emphasize their otherness. Another similarity Herodotus pointed out is that both the Greeks and Egyptian share is that both are the pious victims of impious Persians. In fact Herodotus displays a deep ambivalent attitude towards Egypt. For him Egypt was a place that is simultaneously fascinating and repulsive. (Lloyd, 1988)

So for Herodotus, Egypt is a land of enormous antiquity, with a civilization much older than Greek civilization. It is a land of ancient wisdom, from which Greek derived their religion, especially the names of the gods.  For the Greeks Egypt was a land full of wonders which included natural ones like the Nile River, and the man-made pyramids.

But the most interesting aspect for the Greeks in the manmade pyramids for the Greeks was its construction. As Herodotus concluded that the monuments were erected by the use of slave labor which highlighted Egyptian’s dictatorship and tyranny. This slave labor in Egypt immensely contrasted with the Greek practices as Greece emphasized the importance of a democratic state. So while Ancient Egypt revolved around the desires of the king, pharaoh, Greece on the other hand was often more concerned with the opinion of all free, native-born adult males.
  
Another Egyptian element that contrasted with the Greek civilization was that it emphasized the immutability and stativity of its tradition while Greeks believed in continuous progressiveness is frequently contrasted. Herodotus mentions this fact in the histories “The customs which they practice are derived from their fathers and they do not acquire others in addition”.

Apart from the contrast that interested the Greek scholars, the similarities also intrigued them. Like the religious custom of burying the dead without their clothes were also a practice of Orphic and Bacchic and the Pythagoreans, as mentioned by Herodotus in the Histories. (Lloyd, 1988)

Additionally both civilizations were patriarchal and believed in the subjugation of women as no woman could become pharaoh in Egypt and no woman could vote as a free citizen in Greece. Both Greece and Egypt were agriculturally-based civilizations but Greece engaged more in foreign trade than Egypt, which relied mostly in domestic trade. This foreign trade gave Greece the opportunity to acquire new resources, new technology, and new ideas.

             Herodotus also mentions their ‘order of divination’, ‘art of medicine’ and their ‘fashions of mourning and of burial’ as their similarities and differences fascinated him. And it gave them a working model to assess their ways and civilization with one of the oldest civilizations. The burial practice he mentioned included their ritual of embalming or preserving the corpse as a mummy.

This is one of the practices which quintessentially differentiate the Egyptians from Greeks and Romans. Greeks had special interest in Egyptian religion and wisdom which goes as far as the classical period. And therefore, the Greeks visited Egypt for various reasons including trade, as Greeks acted as mercenaries, and for the purposes of learning from Egyptian ‘wisdom’. (Lloyd, 1988)


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