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Saturday, 19 May 2007

Democracy - 'only another form of government'

Henry Maine, my great great grandfather, wrote in 1876:
'To one small people, covering in its original seat no more than a hands breadth of territory, it was given to create the principle of Progress, of movement onwards and not backwards or downwards, of destruction tending to construction. That people was the Greek. Except the blind forces of Nature, nothing moves in this world which is not Greek in its origin. A ferment spreading from that source has vitalised all the great progressive races of mankind, penetrating from one to another, and producing results accordant with its hidden and latent genius, and results of course often far greater than any exhibited in Greece itself.' p.238, 'The effects of observation of India on modern European thought' in Village Communities in the East and West (New York:Henry Holt 1876) That sting in the tale of his paean for 'the Greek' absolves Maine from the reproach of having added to the Greek 'misfortune' that Nikos Dimou describes so eloquently. Maine's approach is anthropological not classical. He challenged uncritical faith in democracy. In Popular Government - four essays published in 1885 - saying 'democracy is only another form of government', noting how the flattering rhetoric lavished on kings had been transferred uncritically to 'the people'. He was criticised as conservative, even reactionary, for questioning widely accepted justifications for 'popular government' - Rousseau's natural law, Benthamite utilitarianism, the idealism of John Stuart Mill. In fact he was not dismissing democracy in a Platonic way but providing astute cautions, matched by the Churchillian quip that democracy is the worst form of government - except for all the others. Democracy is not in itself more stable than other forms of government. There is no essential connection between democracy and progress. [On Greek origins see alternative views e.g. Hindu]
Maine's lecture, The Rede Lecture for 1875, delivered before the University of Cambridge, was titled 'The Effects of observation of India on Modern European Thought'. It was aimed at impressing upon a British audience the undiscovered richness of India's contribution to world thought, through drama, comparative philo­logy and mythology and the possibility that 'it may yet give us a new science not less valuable than the sciences of language and of folk-lore.
I hesitate to call it Com­parative Jurisprudence because if it ever exists, its area will be so much wider than the field of law. F­or India not only contains (or to speak more accurately, did contain) an Aryan language older than any other descendant of the common mother-tongue, and a variety of names of natural objects less per­fectly crystallised than elsewhere into fabulous per­sonages, but it includes a whole world of Aryan institutions, Aryan customs, Aryan laws, Aryan ideas, Aryan beliefs, in a far earlier stage of growth and development than any which survive beyond its borders. (pp.210-211)
My impression is that Maine was seeking to draw his potentially sceptical audience into a recognition that here in a sort of Hindu wilderness - though he does not say that - is a treasure house of information on the roots of Western civilisation. Whereas no-one would have doubted the connection of British or European culture to those of Greece and Rome, the thought of such connection with our India was novel. So when later in the lecture Maine makes his, often quoted, reference to all things Greek in origin, I surmise an intention that was less about praising Greece (the way his quote is used) and more about using an intellectual and emotional connection, familiar to all his listeners, about us serving India's progress as Greece had served ours.
It is this principle of progress which we Englishmen are communicating to India. We did not create it. We deserve no special credit for it. It came to us filtered through many different media. But we have received it; and as we have received it, so we pass it on. There is no reason why, if it has time to work, it should not develope* in India effects as wonderful as in any other of the societies of mankind.
Maine's finale is less a fanfare for Greece, more an astutely placed douceur, to attract the attention and curiosity of his classically educated audience to India's intellectual archeology, drawing upon his posting in India as Darwin drew upon his voyage to the Galapagos. [*'develope', tho' now archaic, is not a misspelling] * * * Lin wrote to Corfu:
Hi George, Glad to hear that the money arrived safely. It was quicker than I thought it might be. Thanks for the update on work and the photos. The roof pictures look good, but I'm not sure about the bit in the bottom right corner of the 'slope looking at Lefteris' garden'. Is this before it was quite finished? The 'lower terrace' looks great. Not sure what you mean about covering the drain with plaka, though. Do you mean permanently or temporarily? I thought we were going with the idea of a reed bed in the drain? That's what we'd prefer if possible. It's great to see that wall out. Can't wait to see it with the door gone as well! I hope the top of the arch is going to be curved, as discussed with Martin before we left - look at arches on buildings near the house for reference - I looked at them with Martin and we talked about how much curve would be possible...I've attached photos of the arch in our kitchen here which might be helpful. It's much wider and therefore quite flat - I'd think there should be a bit more curve on the new arch. (Don't look at the mess! I haven't caught up with housework since our return and I'm in the middle of a major clearout at the moment, so there's lots of junk around, waiting to be moved to various places.) I looked on the internet and found information about sealing wood floors. I think we'll go with the polyurethane! We want a satin or matt finish - not shiny gloss. I'm pretty sure Squeak is a girl, so she probably is pregnant. it's a shame, 'cause she's only a kitten herself. More biscuits and sandwiches will be required! Good luck with the stairwell-widening next week. Looking forward to seeing more photos. All the best, Lin and Simon
The authors of the essays in the book Mazower edited are conscientious in their methodologies. They explain how they have striven to make the subjective objective, aware of the challenge - even now - of making space for debate about so fragmented a time. The writers tread carefully recording impressions that have become currency, observing the reconstruction of the family, nation and state but also aiding that process in their thinking and writing. They exemplify an alert approach to gentler ideas of truth built on teasing out many subjectivities, privileging none over others, describing their own part in their conclusions. These authors are not detached from their findings, yet nor are they opinionated. Each describes and argues for the truths they've uncovered. Sweet unsleeping reason.
[back to the future - from a Greek friend via Flickr on 17 Aug: Except the blind forces of nature, Εκτός από τισ τυφλέσ δυνάμεισ τησ φύσησ, nothing moves on this world τίποτα δε κινείται σε αυτον τον κόσμο which is not Greek in its origin το οποιο δεν είναι Ελληνικά στην καταγωγη The phrase "in its origin" is freely translated "apo ta genofaskia tou - από τα γενοφάσκια του" - that is commonly used in the villages in folk language and in slug Greek. It is a "warmer" expression. Genofaskia means early age or ancestors or family origin.]

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Simon Baddeley