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Perhaps my decision to translate an essay on classical history dating from 1964 requires some "justification," especially in the eyes of scholars in the field. Academics, however, constitute only one important part of the intended audience. For them and for others, Pierre Vidal-Naquet has included a new preface. The present Translator's Foreword has not been written to defend my translation of this classic text on the thirtieth anniversary of its original publication in French--though I obviously believe it fully legitimate and highly worthwhile to make available to an English-reading public the only book-length treatment ever to have examined and reflected upon the political, philosophical, and aesthetic setting, significance, and implications of the reforms of the Athenian political leader Cleisthenes. (1) Rather, my Foreword is intended to highlight for the general reader, as well as for the specialist, some of the ways in which this book may still be approached today and to offer everyone some basic information and observations as to its background and its ramifications.
When I first conceived the project of translating Pierre Lévêque and Pierre Vidal-Naquet's classic text on Cleisthenes as a way of commemorating the 2,500th anniversary of the reforms that led to the birth of democracy, my conviction that the legacy of direct democracy in ancient Greece can still be of relevance for us today (2) was not accompanied by a sanguine expectation that this legacy would soon appear as an issue on the American political agenda. The waning of political and social contestation aimed at radical societal self-transformation, the increasing tendency of the oppressed groups that were in the forefront of the movements of the sixties and early seventies now to look inward and to evolve toward nationalistic, separatist, and eccentrically "-centric" positions, the legacy of the Reagan-Bush years--during which, for the first time in more than a half century, working people passively allowed massive attacks on their wages, incomes, and working conditions--the increasing irrelevancy and downright silliness of much intellectual work in academia (another site of significant contestation in years past), the very tenor of the times--whether characterized by eighties' rapacity and moral indifference or the nineties' alleged return to more frugal and moralistic ways--led me to believe that any contribution a translation of Clisthène l'Athénien might have to offer would have to be intended for the long term. The same for the conference on democracy I organized in March 1992 at the Pompidou Center in Paris with Lévêque, Vidal-Naquet, and Cornelius Castoriadis, which has been translated here as a supplement to Cleisthenes the Athenian.
What a surprise, then, to witness the 1992 American Presidential campaign! Recalling America's home-grown tradition of participatory democracy, candidate William Jefferson Clinton made extensive use of a "town meeting" format--the moment of a limited, electoral form of decision-making still being deferred, however, to the date of state party primaries and the November 3 selection of an electoral college. Going him one better, H. Ross Perot--who mounted the most significant challenge to the country's two-party monopoly system since Abraham Lincoln--asserted that the nation's political gridlock, its endemic corruption, and its overall moral decline could be cured by instituting "electronic town meetings," with voting mechanisms applied on a nationwide basis. The details of this proposed process nevertheless remained quite vague, and suspicions that these televised "town meetings" would resemble more plebiscites in the Napoleonic tradition of popular manipulation by elites and dictators than institutions allowing for responsible self-expression, deliberation, and decision-making were immediately noted by most observers.
Indeed, these politicians' rather shallow invocations of an American heritage of local self-governance offered a broad and easy target for "liberals" and "conservatives" alike. The American constitutional tradition of "representative" government, of a "filtering" of the popular voice, and of a deep distrust of popular participation was invoked by establishment critics to contest once again--and in the absence of explicit popular demands for such participation!--the very idea of direct democracy. Thus, some cynical attempts--by the very persons seeking to grasp the reins of power in the American Republic--to summon up a countertradition of direct action and participation became merely an occasion for one more "refutation" of any form of self-governance extending beyond the exercise of popular sovereignty through so-called representative organs of government. Despite a reawakening of consciousness on the part of that half of the population that has long experienced a second-class status, in political terms the "Year of the Woman" yielded only slight numerical changes within the existing framework of representation. The "Los Angeles Riots" of April 1992 may have served to remind some of the desperate sense of disenfranchisement felt by members of another group whose political majority the Republic recognized only belatedly, but a clear-eyed assessment of their unfolding and their aftermath forces us to recognize, as well, that no new institutional organs resulted from these expressions of outrage; (3) the "multicultural" character of the events in question lead us to note, rather, the ongoing fragmentation of the American polity along ethnic and racial lines. We must conclude that persons and parties seeking power in the political realm are now just as ready to evoke ersatz forms of political involvement in response to the growing sense of depoliticization and discouragement on the part of today's citizenry as postmodern-day managers--whether in aging industries threatened by international competition, such as automobile manufacturing, or in the rising new information industries--are apt to tout "quality circles," a "decentralization" of decision-making authority, and a "flattening" of bureaucratic hierarchies as effective responses to the stagnant productivity, weakened attitudes of company-identification, and increased feelings of alienation now rampant among a work force whose allegiance to impersonal bureaucratic forms of unionization (which formerly served to integrate it into the work place) has also declined. The kind of participation once afforded by Greek direct democracy--or by the New England town meeting--seems as far off as ever. We can, however, still attempt to learn from the past as we look toward the future.
Let us begin with the title of this book. Cleisthenes the Athenian refers to the leading member of the great Alcmaeonid family who is generally credited with introducing and instituting at the end of the sixth century B.C.E. the reforms that led to the birth of democracy. This featuring of a single person in the title might lead some to suspect at the outset that the book suffers from the "great man theory of history" Marx criticized and that, consequently, the anonymous but precious social history of the people, or demos, who became the citizen-subjects of this democracy, has been slighted or obscured. In fact, Lévêque and Vidal-Naquet in no way rule out leading roles for the peasants freed from land bondage many decades earlier under Solon and for the urban artisan class that had gained confidence and grown in numbers, in part as a result of the expansion of Athens's ceramics exports. At one point, the authors even entertain the suggestion of one historian that the people of Attica stood around or on the Pnyx (where meetings of the Assembly were held) to shout "All Power to the Ten Tribes" in a show of support for the specific reforms instituted under Cleisthenes's auspices. Nevertheless, the authors of Cleisthenes the Athenian also make clear that this demos, as it came to be called in the wake of the ten-tribe reform--which made of the ward, or deme, the basic political unit--was not the same demos as the one previously known under the rule of the tyrant Pisistratus and his progeny, the latter demos being principally rural in composition and characterized by its general depoliticization. In short, a social history divorced from the political moment now designated under Cleisthenes's name cannot by itself account for the transformations that took place. Thus, social history is not to be downgraded or ignored but rather integrated into an overall conception of social change that includes the original establishment, or "instauration," of these political reforms.
Within this overall conception, Cleisthenes's role as "intellectual" and as political leader is not automatically to be downplayed, either. What the authors chose to explore is the contribution Cleisthenes, a member of a particular aristocratic family, or genos, made to the birth of democracy. In the absence of clear-cut evidence in this ill-known sequence of events, no a priori conception of the respective roles of the people and of leaders or thinkers can determine for us what those roles should or must have been. We are here at a creative crossroads in history, one of the key founding moments of political democracy.
When, for example, these classical historians come to examine Cleisthenes's possible precursors--especially in the world of colonial settlements, which had witnessed an outpouring of institutional experimentation and organizational innovation--they not only point to the continuities and precedents that made Cleisthenes appear a "law-giver" and a "founder," or oecist, in the archaic and even classical-era Greek tradition; they also take stock of differences that make of his reforms a radical departure with respect to previous instances of "law-giving." Neither a civic arbiter like Solon--who sought a temporary balance between opposing classes, classified by him as "good" (the rich and aristocratic) and "bad" (the poor)--nor an outside reformer like Demonax--who instituted tribal reforms along existing ethnic lines. The specificity of Cleisthenes and his reforms is to be found in the "fusion" or "mixing" of the entire citizenry--now expanded to include some former slaves and foreigners, or "metics," and no longer defined by Solonian moral-hierarchical distinctions--into ten new artificial tribes whose council-members, or bouleutai, chosen by lot and serving in turns, manage the city's affairs when the assembly of (free male) citizens, the ekklesia, was not in session. The distinctiveness of Cleisthenes as homegrown (if half-foreign) "law-giver," our authors argue, is his creation of an egalitarian political framework within which the city, or polis, began to address and resolve its problems for itself through the orderly, concerted, and ongoing action of its members. Surely, it was no longer possible, in light of popular pressures and demands, simply to "give laws" to a city; the role of a politician and political thinker henceforth had to be to propose and to provide new organizational and institutional frameworks within which people's energetic aspirations for greater participation could come to be realized. (4) Social history and the contribution to a political moment of someone very anachronistically labelled an "intellectual" are not necessarily at odds or mutually exclusive. We witness, rather, the historical enactment of a hitherto unprecedented event in which philosophy, politics, social history, and, as we shall see, aesthetic creation, play significant roles that could never have been determined in advance, since these varied influences are, in their plurality, themselves determinative of something new.
A distinct challenge to this point of view may be found in a recent text by Josiah Ober that is likely to become a classic in the literature of Cleisthenes studies: full implementation of Cleisthenes's reforms occurred only after what he terms a "three-day . . . violent, leaderless . . . riot." (5) I admire the forceful argumentation displayed in his paper, of which he kindly sent me a prepublication proof copy. Noting a recent deemphasis on Annales-style social history and a return to event-oriented historiography, Ober argues that "putting Kleisthenes at the center of the revolution as a whole entails slighting significant parts of the source tradition" (p. 215). As far as many traditional readings of Cleisthenes's role are concerned (n. 3), his point is well taken. For my part, I have just striven to show how Cleisthenes can be seen to have played a central role without one falling into the "great man theory of history" Ober explicitly contests (p. 216). Perhaps our views are not too far apart. Nevertheless, I have several friendly reservations:
1. "Leaderless," it turns out, means: "at least none from the ranks of the leading aristocratic families" (whose participation the tradition would have retained in memory, Ober surmises), no "formal leadership" (p. 221), no "formal leaders" (p. 224). Is not Ober buying here into an elitist definition of leadership, which he otherwise wants to contest, when he states his thesis baldly in terms of leaderlessness? (6) Are the masses incapable of having or giving themselves leaders worthy of the name, unless such leaders are "notables"? (7) A hidden--perhaps unconscious--obverse of Michelsianism seems to be at work here.
2. An accompanying "spontaneity" thesis is also open to question. Ober is unclear, because the tradition is unclear, to what extent Cleisthenes had already proposed, enacted, and implemented his reforms when the Spartan King Cleomenes and the Athenian aristocrats' leader, the archon Isagoras, attempted to dissolve the Athenian city council (boule) in a preemptive, or downright counterrevolutionary, coup d'État. To the extent that the ensuing "riot" is described as literally "spontaneous," to that precise extent Cleisthenes's previous proposals and/or instituted reforms would not have actually facilitated the demos's actions (which resulted in the rapid siege of Cleomenes's and Isagoras's forces on the Acropolis and their quick surrender). (8) But might not the incipient organization of Cleisthenes's reforms have made the "riot" possible and perhaps successful, even in the temporary physical absence of the presumed author of these reforms, the leader of the "democratic" faction? Cleisthenes had been ordered out of town at this point by the reactionary forces. His first act upon winning popular support for the ten-tribe reform, however, was to appoint ten "phylarchs"--one commander per new tribe. Might they have been the nontraditional and unmemorable, but still formal leaders of this so-called spontaneous leaderless riot? And if these phylarchs and other pro-reform leaders were among the seven-hundred families deported by order of Cleomenes and Isagoras soon after Cleisthenes went into exile, (9) one has just as much right to assume that the demos, set back by such a blow, was reorganizing its forces as to assume that, dumbfounded, it simply was waiting for a triggering event in order to explode "spontaneously" into "riot."
3. Ober uses elitist terminology against himself. "Riot"--with its definition of "three or more persons, etc." deriving from the 1715 English Riot Act--introduces not only an anachronism but a term that is employed by modern elites in their efforts to circumscribe and suppress violent dissent, certainly not one used to understand and encourage the masses' self-directing capacities (often taken as "disorder" and "tumult" when not viewed as the result of "conspiracy" by "ringleaders"). Ober's descriptions, moreover, are imprecise: a "spontaneous insurrection" (p. 220) again becomes merely a "spontaneous riot" four pages later, before turning into a "rebellion" (p. 225) and a "riotous uprising" (p. 227)--as if all these terms are completely synonymous. He also labels this "riot"-event "the moment of revolution" (p. 216 with italics, p. 219 without)--a phrase that, in introducing one more term, "revolution," seems to offer a somewhat different, broader emphasis. Yet, his event-oriented designation of the "riot" as "the moment" of revolution actually sanctions a narrow reading of the overall revolutionary process--only partially offset, therefore, by his less unilateral initial description of this "riot" as "a key point" in the revolution (p. 216).
4. Ober's comparison of this "riot" to "food riots in eighteenth-century England" described by E. P. Thompson also leaves one dissatisfied, for no specific content is attributed to this Athenian act of "self-definition" (p. 227)--which, moreover, differs wildly in its outcome from mere food riots. (10) Herodotus's report that "the rest of the Athenians [became] united in their view" (p. 221) soon after the boule dissolution order (11) was given unfortunately omits what that view was, beyond violent mass opposition, siege of the occupying forces, and a subsequent slaughter of the local--shall we say, "Tory"?--leadership. Did the "revolution," to extend a comparison Ober does not make, occur in people's minds beforehand, as John Adams said of the American Revolution, so that the violence was at most a crystallizing event of confirmation, or were the real battles yet to come, when the question of "Home rule, or rule at home?" came to be posed, (12) especially following the defeat and departure of the occupying forces? We have incomparably more evidence in the American case, yet historians still debate the matter endlessly.
5. Ober nevertheless wants to treat this "riot" as "the definitive moment," for the demos carried out therein "a collective act of political self-definition" (p. 227). This, even though he grants that "Herodotus' language (. . . 'all of one mind') supports the idea of a generalized and quite highly developed civic consciousness among the Athenian masses--an ability to form and act on strong communal views on political affairs" (pp. 222-23)--which again argues against events surrounding a "riot" having "started" (p. 228) a revolution. He privileges this "riot"-event, however, by recourse to another doubtful comparison.
Employing the historian Sandy Petrey's use of the philosopher J. L. Austin's concept of "speech acts," Ober finds a parallel between the boule's resistance to Cleomenes's dissolution order and the French National Assembly's resistance to Louis XVI's order for the Assembly to disperse. In both cases, it is hypothesized, a conflict developed over who could make a legitimate and effective political "speech act"--in the French case: the National Assembly's declaring itself to be a "national assembly" on June 17, 1789, vs. Louis XVI's June 23 dispersal order. But we do not even know, Ober admits, whether the council in question was the traditional Areopagus, an established Council of 400, or a new, perhaps "pro-tem" Cleisthenean Council of 500, Ober regarding this last option as yielding the "closest . . . parallel to the National Assembly" (p. 226), even though it is doubtful that such a proto-Cleisthenean boule would have been self-declared vis-à-vis an Athenian Assembly (ekklesia) that is itself without parallel in French history. To designate the "riot" as analogous to the July 14, 1789, Bastille uprising is also questionable. The demos rallied immediately in defense of what it apparently considered its leadership. No intervening weeks of deal-making and compromises between the boule and King Cleomenes, as occurred between the National Assembly and King Louis (June 27 to July 9). No evidence of a bourgeois municipal militia being eclipsed by the people in arms, if the demos was "all of one mind." (13) And are not the previous attempts at violent suppression of the reform agitation--Cleisthenes's forced exile, mass deportations, probably the dissolution order, certainly the attempted transfer of power to an Isagorean Council of 300 (a stratagem Louis XVI never employed)--unmistakable indications that something more was already afoot that is of at least equal political significance for an overall understanding of the form, content, and unfolding of these revolutionary events? (14) If so, the "riot" appears all the less "spontaneous" and all the less likely to be "the moment of revolution"--unless one has decided in advance that "revolution" equals spasmodic reactive violence, and not, e.g., a change in consciousness, institutional creativity, etc. Moving from the historiographical level to the educational, let us also note that such a view misleads people as to the scope and character of the crucial activities involved in and required for their own revolutionary self-transformation.
But why conjecture that the "Athenian masses" in action--or any other grass-roots movements--neither have leaders ("leaderless") nor organize deliberately ("spontaneous") (15) but just "riot"? Ober's unilaterality is puzzling, as he entertains the view that their boule was proto-Cleisthenean in character. He effectively undercuts the impact of this "attractive speculation," however, when he develops his parallel with the French Revolution: like the National Assembly, whose actions would have been independently reinforced by the popular resistance of July 14, 1789--the boule was not said to be involved explicitly and actively in the mass action. Here he translates Aristotle to say: "The Boule resisted and the mob gathered itself together" (p. 227), taking the "and" to be both temporally and physically separative, at best externally causative (if the boule's resistance is said to "precipitate the revolution" [p. 224], that resistance is still defined as anterior and external to "the revolution" proper). This doubtful reading of Aristotle stems, I believe, from Ober's previous translation of Herodotus. He takes "the rest of the Athenians" to mean those who are not council-members, whereas textually the most proximate group of Athenians to be contrasted with "the rest" is not their bouleutai but . . . "Isagoras and his supporters," who, Herodotus had just said, were occupying the Acropolis. A proto-Cleisthenean boule worthy of the name would have been a direct emanation of its citizens--who may also have voted policy, including the creation of this boule, in a popular assembly and who may still have had phylarchs in place--not estate members, called by a king to debate tax policy, who got out of hand when they declared themselves to be a National Assembly. Lacking a sensitivity to historical differences between direct and "representative" democracy, Ober anachronistically assumes, rather than proves, a mutual externality between boule and demos.
In addition to offering a false dichotomy, this strange insistence on separating the people from its possibly proto-Cleisthenean leadership is quite unfortunate, since Ober's purpose was to establish that the demos could act independently of pre-Cleisthenean military leaders (p. 222). Previous mass deportations of leading families may have given the siege by the demos a less traditional, less organized military appearance (ibid.), and perhaps even have disrupted the new phylarch system. It does not follow that this demos was "leaderless"--especially if its bouleutic leadership not only remained intact but resisted and if this leadership immediately won mass armed support for its resistance. In attempting to credit the demos with a capacity for independent action, Ober unjustifiably reduces the Athenian masses, already engaged in a process of political/military change, to the zero degree of political and military organization. We must therefore reject--even if Ober carefully notes that such "parallels . . . are certainly not exact" (p. 225) and are presented as "supplementary" (p. 224) to the historical analysis of events--his comparison between a "boule," which was either unrelated to the Cleisthenean reforms or already a partial realization thereof, and a self-declared National Assembly that would soon become mired in questions of what this "Nation" is that it "represents" and what, indeed, "representation" means and entails, questions that remain unresolved two hundred years later. (16)
6. "In sum," Ober concludes, "Kleisthenes was not so much the authoritative leader of the revolution as he was a highly skilled interpreter of statements made in a revolutionary context and of revolutionary action itself." Ober thus makes of Cleisthenes a hermeneutician--an "interpreter" of (speech-act) "statements," the "read[er]" of "the text of Athenian discourse in a revolutionary age" (p. 228). (17) In seeking to downplay, or to circumscribe, Cleisthenes's role, Ober ends up obscuring the creativity of Cleisthenes's own reformist or revolutionary thought and action--the subject of Cleisthenes the Athenian--for interpreters work only with preexisting material. Highly indicative of Ober's skewed conceptualization of events is his description of Cleisthenes at one point as "an Areopagite and a leading member of a fine old family" (p. 220)--as if Cleisthenes's accursed Alcmaeonid ancestry posed no problems for archaic Athens! Indeed, Cleisthenes was expelled by Cleomenes before the attempted coup precisely on the pretext of Cleisthenes's "old Kylonian curse," as Ober himself recalls (p. 219) before omitting this crucial revelatory (18) event from his schematic summary of what he considers the key features of Herodotus's account (p. 222), i.e., the "riot" itself. This curse, and the partially secular nature of Cleisthenes's reforms--key points to which we shall return at length below--are just as important for a full understanding of what was instituted as the popular "riot" that ensued in the aftermath of the enforced exile of the demos's popular leader and of the occupier's attempted dissolution of its city council. The end of archaic Athens came about not only through an armed resistance that occurred outside the bounds of elite leaders calling up their clients for military service; it was already taking place when this accursed Cleisthenes and the Athenian people embarked together, before the onset of reaction and "riot," upon a nontraditional reorganization of civic life. Ober's reading ultimately is blind, or rather deaf, to the possibility and the reality of a multi-voiced series of events: "Kleisthenes himself did not so much absorb the demos into his hetaireia, as he himself was absorbed by an evolving, and no doubt inchoate, demotic vision of a new society" (pp. 227-28). In presenting us with this false choice, Ober's unilateral, antipluralistic conclusion drowns out the polyphony of the revolutionary process.
Notwithstanding these reservations and questions, let me express my strong admiration for Mr. Ober's work, including his role in the organization of the another conference on Cleisthenes, which is mentioned again below in my Acknowledgements. (19)
With these considerations in mind, let us turn to the subtitle of Lévêque and Vidal-Naquet's book: An Essay on the Representation of Space and Time in Greek Political Thought from the End of the Sixth Century to the Death of Plato. As an "essay," Cleisthenes the Athenian makes no claim to an exhaustive treatment of its subject. Indeed, in contrast to a full-blown treatise, this little book has the virtue of bringing together a wide variety of topics into a succinct new synthesis, arguing about and examining some historiographical issues in detail and opening new horizons of research for others. The rich insights of this short essay in Greek "intellectual" history have made it the classic text on Cleisthenes's reforms for thirty years, an indispensable reference work by the account of a great many French-speaking social thinkers, even if its importance in the English-speaking world has until this time remained rather limited--a situation the present translation is, in part, intended to rectify.
The creation of an egalitarian and secular civic space and time stands at the forefront of this essay. In their use of "representation" in the subtitle to describe this creation, the authors suffer none of the embarrassment many writers now feel in employing this term. Here "representation" does not imply a "re-presentation" of some preexisting situation, scene, idea, etc., against which it is judged merely mimetic, deficient, or otherwise beholden to an inexplicable "metaphysics of presence." Quite to the contrary, Lévêque and Vidal-Naquet demonstrate the fundamentally inaugural character of Cleisthenes's reforms for subsequent Greek history, the creation of something new and unprecedentedly fecund with respect to what went before, even as they search for and consider possible "models" and potential "precedents" for this work. Nor does the term itself suffer here the incredible dilation it has undergone in more recent times, where such terms as "representational politics" come to cover anything, everything, and ultimately nothing.
"Representation," moreover, is not opposed to "reality" in some external way, but seems, rather, to designate an aspect of what Cornelius Castoriadis will come to call "the imaginary institution of society." New images, new values, new ways of organizing and of living space and time arose ex nihilo--which obviously does not imply cum nihilo (without any means) or in nihilo (without any context), as one will discover in reading in this book what the authors regard as historical antecedents to Cleisthenes's reforms. (20) These new image-forms, or representations, of civic life are--they are collectively posited as--a new reality, the one that the Athenians--and, to a great extent, other Greeks--will live and will live with for more than a century and a half after their inception.
While Vidal-Naquet was coauthoring this work, he was also participating with Socialisme ou Barbarie's Cornelius Castoriadis, ex-S. ou B. cofounder Claude Lefort, the classicists Jean-Pierre Vernant and François Châtelet, and others in a group initially called the "Cercle Saint-Just" and later renamed the "Centre de Recherches et d'Études Sociales et Politiques" (CRESP). (21) A main topic of discussion was the legacy of ancient Greek democracy. Without attempting to isolate mechanically any "influences" proceeding in either direction (Lévêque's and Vidal-Naquet's book was already reaching completion), it is worth noting that as Castoriadis was working out, in "Marxism and Revolutionary Theory," a non-materialist, non-idealistic account of the process of social institutionalization, critical of both structuralism and Marxism, Vidal-Naquet was laboring with Lévêque to provide a concrete historical study of an aspect of this process at a pivotal moment in ancient Greek history. (22) Vidal-Naquet credits himself, moreover, with focusing Castoriadis's attention on the connection between the modern forms of direct democracy Castoriadis was (and still is) championing--the Paris Commune, soviets in their original form, factory councils, the Hungarian Workers' Councils of 1956--and ancient Athenian institutions of participatory democracy, (23) a comparison the philosopher Hannah Arendt also enthusiastically made at the time of the Hungarian Revolution. In the other direction, Vidal-Naquet now often cites approvingly Castoriadis's magnum opus, The Imaginary Institution of Society (1975), (24) which grew out of "Marxism and Revolutionary Theory," his final S. ou B. essay (1964-65). The various points of contention, dissension, and agreement raised by the two during the Pompidou Center colloquium illustrate the exemplary character of their ongoing dialogue.
Clisthène l'Athénien posed only minor translation difficulties, easily resolved by direct questioning of the authors. Nevertheless, two terms should be noted for the particular light they shed on the authors' work.
The first term is oeuvre, which I have translated as "work." In itself, "oeuvre" presents no major difficulty, it being a French word often used in English. Lévêque and Vidal-Naquet employ "oeuvre" repeatedly to describe Cleisthenes's reforms as a whole. It would seem that they are likening the spatial and temporal "representation" of the city Cleisthenes inaugurated to a work of art. In fact, to the extent that one accepts the idea that a work of art is not mere imitation, but rather the positing of new aesthetic forms and criteria, our noting their usage of this term serves to reinforce the proposition that "representation" is not intended here in the sense of a "copy," or an "image of" anything else. Cleisthenes's "oeuvre" is a unified whole expressive of new value orientations that became physically, psychically, and socially materialized in the reorganization of civic space and time.
This connection between political change, on the one hand, an almost "artistic" sensibility and execution, on the other, should not be misunderstood. Among the many silly pronouncements that have emanated from representatives of what Castoriadis calls "the French ideology" is Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe's assertion that Pericles's "Funeral Oration" is to be read as the first Nazi document. (25) Lacoue-Labarthe is concerned, rather parochially, with defending the French Heideggerians' reputation against growing criticisms of Heidegger's Nazi past; (26) along with Jacques Derrida, he makes the patently absurd claim that Heidegger's May 1933 Rectoratrede, or inaugural speech as Rector of the University of Freiburg under Nazi rule, can be attributed to an excess of "Nazi humanism" on Heidegger's part--similar, Lacoue-Labarthe says, to the "humanism" that (according to the structuralist Marxist Louis Althusser) led Stalin to commit his political "errors." The specific claim concerning Pericles involves an in no way original, but wholly vague, idea that Nazism had something to do with an aestheticization of politics. Pericles's famous "philokaloumen . . . kai philosophoumen" ("We love beauty . . . and wisdom," to give a much too brief rendering; Lacoue-Labarthe examines and dismisses Romilly's, Arendt's, and Castoriadis's efforts at translation) would be a first attempt to carry out the Nazi "program." (27)
The short answer to Lacoue-Labarthe's claim is, of course: "Albert Speer, you're no Phidias." One might also observe that, in the severity of its conception, the mathematical precision of its execution, and as a "geometric" civic reorganization, Cleisthenes's oeuvre constitutes an even earlier philosophically-informed "aestheticization" of the political sphere (in French: le politique), one that was accomplished precisely through its making of politics (la politique) a more orderly and more directly participable field of activity for a larger body of citizens. This was hardly the case with Nazism. Lacoue-Labarthe would thus be mistaken both as to the dating of a first attempt to give a philosophico-aesthetic dimension to politics and as to the signification of this project--which, through the fashioning of a civic space and time, was able to give people a concrete and unified feeling (the original sense of the word "aesthetic") of active belonging and egalitarian participation.
A second term worth noting is "laïcisation." I somewhat inadequately translate it as "secularization." In France, the long republican struggle against political involvement and social influence on the part of the Catholic Church led, with some successes, to the positive creation of a "lay" culture and educational system, however inadequate one may ultimately judge these institutional forms to be. In an American context, by way of contrast, "secularization" is often defined in rather limited and negative terms as a separation of Church from State and as religious toleration among the many competing sects living in this predominantly Protestant country. "Laïcisation" as an affirmative policy, in direct and enduring competition with ecclesiastical authority, is only partially expressed by the English word "secularization," which usually is conceived as a socialization process within the larger context of "modernization." More will be said about this term below.
I shall conclude with a few words as to Cleisthenes the Athenian's relevance today. Before doing so, however, let me first observe that those who define the relevancy of all questions in terms of "race/gender/class" considerations may find this book rather disappointing.
No image or description of Cleisthenes has survived, so we shall never know whether he had any "African" features or racial characteristics--though his Alcmaeonid genealogy would rather suggest not. Moreover, no record of voyages to Africa or to elsewhere outside Greece and Magna Graecia point to his having been influenced by a "Black Cleisthenes." To the extent that one might want to heap anathemas on Athenian democracy for its slave-holding practices, its subjection of women, etc., this lack of African ancestry or antecedents might be taken as Good News. Simplistic, moralistic condemnations can quickly become quite tricky, however: today, the civilization of these "original dead white European males" (Bernard Knox) is both denounced as the source of all evils (imperialism, class oppression, slavery, patriarchy, and so on) and found to be derivative of the great African civilizations . . .
To the certain dismay of others, gender questions also take a back seat. Under Cleisthenes's reform, women, like men, could henceforth be designated by their deme name ("demotic") and their tribal affiliation, not their patronymic--potentially rather an advance from the point of view of those who oppose patriarchal institutions--but nothing is made of this one way or the other. Nor is the fact noted that, as in all societies, minors remain minors. Perhaps the authors of Cleisthenes the Athenian will be faulted for not pursuing any further the strange coincidence they mention concerning another Cleisthenes, an "invert," or homosexual, who appeared as a character in some of Aristophanes's productions, including one comedy with a sexual subject-matter (Lysistrata) in which the two Cleisthenes are confounded. Greek homosexuality--altogether more tolerated than during the modern and Christian eras--is nevertheless deemed by the authors not especially relevant to the political reform known under Cleisthenes's name. Need we point out that this is not prima facie evidence of rampant homophobia?
As to general class considerations, I attempted above to explain how the Cleisthenean moment sheds light on the political transformation of class relations in a way that a "class analysis" alone cannot. Slavery--which, when speaking of ancient Greece, is generally to be classified under "class" considerations, (28) not in terms of racial characteristics or struggles--is given special attention in the Pompidou Center debate between Vidal-Naquet and Castoriadis. The discussion is unfortunately brief, it being limited, moreover, by the external constraint of a two-hour time limit. It is my hope that the argument on this topic between these two scholars will be appreciated for its having gone to the heart of their dispute in terms easily accessible to the nonacademic audience for whom it was intended. (29)
Raising the issue of the position of women in Greek society as well as that of slavery, the historian/human rights activist Pierre Vidal-Naquet stresses in his 1992 talk the real structure of exclusions that, he believes, were the necessary counterpart to the greater inclusion made possible by the democracy at Athens. He bases his analysis of those structural elements in part on a reading of the comedies: gynecocracy (rule by women) was treated as a joke; doulocracy (rule by slaves) was not even considered something to joke about. The philosopher/political activist Cornelius Castoriadis endorses Vidal-Naquet's reading but contests the idea of "necessity" developed therein, asserting instead that the key issue is not these real exclusions but the incapacity/failure of the Greek polis to give political meaning to the idea of universality--an idea already being developed on the level of thought in Greek philosophy. Castoriadis notes that on the political level strong limits were placed in ancient Greece on discussion not only of what the nineteenth and twentieth centuries would come to call the slavery question and the woman question but also of the agrarian question (and property rights generally); only in the antislavery, the women's, the socialist, and the workers' movements of the past two centuries have these questions truly come to the fore as political issues and have the realities behind these questions begun to be called into question in their effective existence by a real social movement of those affected. Yet neither the historian of human facts nor the philosopher of human possibilities has confused a frank examination of these limitations of and on Greek democracy with a gratuitous transmillennial stand of moral denunciation. Nor has either one thought that, by pointing out these historical or philosophical-political limitations, he has made a great new discovery that warrants blanket condemnation of Western civilization.
If the point needs repeating, so be it. (30) Greece, and the ancient Greek democracies, are not a "model," an "anti-model," or otherwise an object for blind imitation or simple rejection--especially if the question is one of their relevancy today. Garry Wills's fine recent essay, Lincoln at Gettysburg, wonderfully illustrates this point for the nineteenth century in his contrast between the overlong Greek revival-inspired funeral oration of Ralph Waldo Emerson's teacher, Edward Everett, and Abraham Lincoln's two-hundred-and-seventy-two-word artfully plain Address that "remade America." If we accept that, with his austere mathematical reorganization of the tribes, Cleisthenes remade Athens, the very creativity of this act should be enough to dissuade us from making any attempts to "imitate" his reform (or reject it out of hand on account of one or another supposed--or real--moral fault).
I must add that--even more than "liberal" and "conservative" defenses of representative government against the ancient Greek tradition of direct democracy--the "radical Left's" rejection of this heritage on the basis of feminist, antiracist, or anti-imperialist convictions (class-based motivations are less evident in academia, where this "radical Left" is now almost exclusively based) is doubly mystifying--that is to say, mystifying to me as someone who places himself on the radical democratic Left and an act of mystification on the part of those who make these arguments. Such moralistic positionings are indicative of the sorry state of critical emancipatory thought today. Does one really wish to allow, by default, the entire legacy of Athenian democracy to be bequeathed to today's conservatives and neoconservatives? When pressed, for example, in his 1992 preface to a recent exhibition on classical art and Greek democracy, to think of a fifth-century B.C.E. Greek democrat, President George Herbert Walker Bush named not Themistocles, Ephialtes, or Pericles, not Democritus or Protagoras, not even Cleisthenes (who may have survived into the fifth century), but Solon--a sixth-century reformer who labeled the Many kakos (bad)--and Plato--the fourth-century's consummate enemy of democracy! (31)
A number of issues point to the potential relevancy of Cleisthenes the Athenian today. First, there are the very structures of the Athenian democracy, which Lévêque and Vidal-Naquet analyze in terms of the overall organizational framework instituted by Cleisthenes's reforms. In his talk, Castoriadis spotlights some practices of the mature Athenian democracy that, he believes, still also can have pertinence for us. Vidal-Naquet himself, in extemporaneous remarks added to the presentation he delivered at the Pompidou Center colloquium, recounts that during the May 1968 student-worker rebellion he proposed adoption of the method of sortition--selection of delegates by lot--a proposal that was rejected at the time, no doubt due to the strong feelings of hostility to all forms of organization, even the most democratic ones, then prevalent. Being tenacious, however, Vidal-Naquet was later able to win approval for this method among a body of his teaching colleagues, and he conspicuously urges everyone to propose its usage wherever an increase in democratic participation is desired for otherwise unwieldy bodies and associations. One might also note that selection by lot, along with rotation, had already been reinvented by the English workers' movement in the early nineteenth century, so there is no reason to think that new methods of organization inspired by these practices could not win widespread grass-roots acceptance again at some future time.
In fact, my secret hope is that, beyond all the promotional and marketing efforts that this, like any, book will undergo, someone, perhaps finding a dog-eared or an unread copy some day in a second-hand bookstore, will be inspired by its ideas--and the democratic tradition that lies behind it--to rethink in a radically new way our basic social and political ways of living, acting, thinking, sharing, and being. This person need not be a scholar, well-versed in classical studies and fluent in ancient Greek. He or she may be hard-pressed to understand all the technical and foreign-language terms, (32) and for this reason I have transliterated most Greek words following the spellings of the useful, if somewhat bulky, Oxford Classical Dictionary. Struggling with the text, reading also, as I would recommend, Herodotus's Histories, Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War, and Aristotle's Constitution of the Athenians for background information, perhaps living in an urban or rural setting where schooling has declined to an even greater extent than is the case today, and where gaining access to the above-mentioned books has become even more difficult due to library hour and book-purchasing cutbacks, this person might begin to imagine the liberty and sense of direct political involvement experienced by the citizens of Athens (while recollecting, also, that they were a minority of the population) and begin to envision him- or herself--whatever his or her social and economic background, color, race, sex, or sexual preference(s)--not as "the new Cleisthenes," but as an original political thinker who, inspired by a passion for equality and democracy, might just be able to offer his or her friends, community, country, and world some modest or far-reaching contributions toward a new way of participating directly, and on an equal footing, in the formation and transformation of our collective life. This translation has been undertaken for such a person. You will discover who you are. Let this bracing experience of freedom speak across the centuries to your condition and to your dreams. Look for, encourage, and be ready to criticize new movements that are willing and able to undertake the reconstruction of your society.
All I wish to do in conclusion is to note a few additional thoughts that might be of help to such a person (potentially, us all).
Beyond showing that Cleisthenes's reforms involve the creation of an egalitarian civic space and time, the authors of Cleisthenes the Athenian highlight the resolutely artificial character of this space and time. A political reform does not exhaust itself in simple acceptance of already accomplished social change any more than the political moment it achieves is a mere acknowledgement (or "interpretation") of already altered social relations. Taking the already established social terms of "tribes" and "trittyes"--or "thirds" of tribes--and leaning on the wealth of significations already present in the *da- root, as Lévêque shows in his Pompidou Center contribution, Cleisthenes achieved a new "mixing" of the entire polis's population for purposes of greater political involvement and orderly participation when he made the deme--previously a rural district--the grass-roots basis for the entire polis's tribal reorganization. These new tribes were artificial, as were the collections of demes into the three trittyes that came to make up each new tribe. This artificiality wonderfully illustrated the artificiality of political arrangements, the fact that such arrangements proceed from nomos (law, convention) and not phusis (that which is done "by nature"), and thus demonstrated that laws--and even the Law, a people's basic institutional framework--can be altered when the people deem it necessary. In later eras, such conscious radical self-transformation will be known as "Revolution." The century of rapid social, political, philosophical, and aesthetic change that followed in Athens dramatically corroborates this point.
As important as this proof--this experience--of political artificiality and conscious social change was and is, it should also be remarked that Cleisthenes's reforms achieved a certain "secularization" of the city's political space and time. This process, we noted, is key to Lévêque and Vidal-Naquet's understanding of the Alcmaeonid's religious policy--which they view, in part, as the creation of a "secular" (laïque) civil religion. In his review of Clisthène, Jean-Pierre Vernant was quick to add Lévêque and Vidal-Naquet's proviso--"to the extent that a secular State was possible at the end of the sixth century"--when he concurred with their observation. (33) The authors' point about secularization is nonetheless well taken. Cleisthenes's reforms brought the ancient polis to the point where, supported by its new civic religion, citizens became capable of contesting and changing the laws of the city without necessarily appearing to be transgressive of these laws or of the wishes of their founder or "giver." (34) (Contrast this situation with Solon's attempt to fix specific laws in place until his return from an exile undertaken for the very purpose of precluding alterations in the laws he had "given" to the city.) In light of today's return to a theologically-informed "politics" concerning such issues as a woman's right to abortion, the participation of homosexuals in the military, and "family values," this difficult achievement of a positively secular basis for the first political democracy is of utmost relevance: if democracy as a practice of self-governance and self-limitation is to survive, the laws, customs, and institutions of a society cannot be conceived as "untouchable" or beyond question, due to their supposed divine origin or because of the "original intent" of some group of "founding fathers." (35) Nor is it lost on the authors of this book that the person who performed the service of "law-giver"--of laws that no longer could be taken as "given" (36)--was himself the leading member of a family that had suffered a religious curse: the Alcmaeonids were repeatedly forced into exile after Cleisthenes's great-grandfather, Megacles, led the populace in killing the unsuccessful potential tyrant Cylon and his supporters, who had sought and obtained religious sanctuary on the Acropolis.
Still, we ought to be wary of attributing too much to the Athenian Alcmaeonid. As Vidal-Naquet now acknowledges in his new Preface, a mistake of Clisthène was to hang too much on Cleisthenes's name, making him stand for an entire social, psychical, and political self-transformation of the Athenian and the Greek conception and experience of space and time. The nature of social change can be deceptive to any observer, even when s/he does not subscribe to the "great man theory of history" and even when s/he is explicitly seeking to explore the interface between an intellectual approach and a practically-oriented one, as Vidal-Naquet now describes Cleisthenes the Athenian's main methodological ambition. A main interest of this book is that it provides us with a glimpse of the process of social institutionalization at the very point where, in politics as well as in philosophy, Greek society was beginning to learn how to transform itself and its views of the world, unencumbered by references to divine or other extrasocial instances and sources of authority. A broader understanding of this specific, and unique, historical process may come with such an expansion of historiographical parameters, especially with respect to the authors' considerations on the "geometric spirit," as it was realized in Greek sculpture and geography. And yet, neither can we ignore that Greek society did produce the individual Cleisthenes, who helped bring about that society's self-transformation.
Finally, Cleisthenes the Athenian provides us with a precious investigation of the interconnections between philosophy and politics in the land where they both first arose. Castoriadis has argued that in ancient Greece first, and then in Western societies starting from the early Renaissance, we witness the difficult "co-birth" of philosophy and politics--an ongoing questioning of the received representations or "idols of the tribe" (Bacon) accompanied by an open-ended challenging of established conceptions of justice and social organization. (In his Pompidou Center Conference, Castoriadis notes the historical limitations on this political process, due to the nature of the Greek polis itself, which never found a way of implementing in a practical way the concept of universality invented by Greek philosophy.) In addition, he emphasizes that the twin offspring of this "co-birth" are not identical: one cannot deduce a politics from philosophy (Plato's great mistake) any more than one can deduce a philosophy from politics (Marx in his more enthusiastically reductive moments). What Lévêque and Vidal-Naquet have done--we might say now in retrospect, since their book predates Castoriadis's formulation--is to explore this "co-birth" and to subject it, in detail, to an incomparable--and so far unsurpassed--historical analysis.
So as not to anticipate these details, let us simply note here that the authors examine the "geometric" philosophies and policy proposals of four ancient Greek thinkers. In Herodotus's account, Thales--known since Plato as the "first philosopher"--recommended the creation of a centrally-located capital for all Ionia when Persia was pressing the eastern Greeks for control of their lands and islands; even though this motion did not pass, Thales's counsel indicates (the authors argue) a certain willingness on the part of an "intellectual" or philosopher to propose, in public assembly, an abstract geometrical or mathematical solution to a current political problem. Cleisthenes's reform stands here as the successful conception and implementation of a geometric model for the reorganization of civic life. Later, Hippodamus of Miletus gained renown for his urbanistic political philosophy and building program; in contrast to the egalitarian and unifying political framework of Cleisthenes's reforms, however, Hippodamus sought to divide the civic space first instituted by these reforms into a functional urban space within which the domiciles of artisans, laborers, and military personnel were to be separated physically into different urban sections. Still owing much to the representation of civic life initiated under Cleisthenes, but influenced as well by Hippodamus's and others' nondemocratic and inegalitarian ideas, Plato, after he withdrew himself and his students to the outskirts of the city and advocated rule by a detached group of philosophers, drew up plans (in the Timaeus, the Critias, and the Laws) for a functional, geometrically-planned city in which civic time would no longer be patterned on civic space, but which instead would subordinate civic space to a religiously-sanctioned theological time.
A "regression to Utopia", as Lewis Mumford has said? Or, the "truth" of the drive toward geometric urban planning--the most successful far-reaching proponent of which was Cleisthenes--as others, including Jean-Pierre Vernant at the end of his review of Clisthène, (37) have argued? For my part, I wonder whether it is overly "Platonic"--and perhaps also thoroughly "Hegelian"--to view one ultimate instance of this drive for geometric urban planning (as it happens, Plato's) as the "truth" of a political-intellectual-aesthetic-historical process that spanned three very different centuries and eras. So much ink has been spilled, especially since Marx, over the question of the relations between "theory" and "praxis," etc. Perhaps the least bad response is to say that, for those of us who want a world in which everyone has a right and a responsibility to challenge received opinion and to act as a full member in the formation of collective life, it is incumbent upon us to rethink the relations between thought and action and to involve ourselves, wherever we may deem it feasible, in the remaking of our world, so that all may participate on an equal footing. This translation is humbly intended as one small contribution to that immense, open-ended process.
--Paris-Florence-Paris, May-June-July 1993 (Final revisions:
Paris, November 1994)