”The Birth of Greek Individualism” (Isaiah Berlin)

”The Birth of Greek Individualism”, Liberty, red. Henry Hardy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, s. 287–321.

Isaiah Berlin urskiljer tre avgörande vändningar i det politiska tänkandets historia. 1962 avhandlade han dessa i tre föreläsningar vid Yale.

The three crises in Western political theory, when at least one central category was transformed beyond redemption, so that all subsequent thought was altered, occurred in the fourth century BC, during the Renaissance in Italy, and towards the end of the eighteenth century in Germany. [Liberty, s. 290]

Den andra och tredje utgörs av Machiavelli (värdepluralism) och den tyska romantiken. Den första vändningen består av individualismens uppkomst, och det är förvånande och sorgligt att Berlin inte ägnade sig mer åt detta ämne. Föreläsningen 1962 är i princip den enda text där han behandlar detta ämne [Liberty, s. xxvi–ii].

Det ursprungliga antagandet i grekiskt politiskt tänkande var att människan var en social varelse, i meningen att individen härrör ur det offentliga, och människans naturliga liv sker i polis, och idén om att i namn av individuell frihet eller fredligt tillbakadragande försöka upprätta en privat sfär kan knappt ens uppkomma.

’Man has been created by nature to live in a polis’. This sentiment is central in the classical texts of Greek art and thought that have survived. No argument seems needed to establish this proposition, for it is evidently something that all sane men believe without question, it is part of the general notion of man. Solitude can be endured only by a god or a beast; it is subhuman or superhuman. [s. 295]

The claims of the social texture are supreme. [296] We discover what men should do by asking ourselves what functions nature has designed them to perform in the pattern for which they were created. [297]

Motstånd mot dessa antaganden? Antigone och sofisterna?

[They] give evidence of sharp disagreements about what kind of State is the best, but not of opposition to the supremacy of the social institutions. [298]

The Sophists are relativists, egalitarians, pragmatists, atheists, but for the most part, at any rate towards the end of the fifth century, they are not individualists. Thay want to alter society, not concentrate attention upon the individual and his character and needs. [. . .]

There is no trace here of genuine individualism, the doctrine that there are personal values – pleasure, or knowledge, or friendship, or virtue, or self-expression in art or life – to which political and social arrangements should be subordinated. [. . .] The assumption is, on the contrary, that all these values can be realized only within and as part of the life of the Greek polis.  [299]

Men Perikles då? De som hos Perikles läser in individuell frihet och rättigheter har fel.

Variety versus uniformity, spontanity versus coercion, loyalty versus tyranni, love instead of fear: these are the Periclean ideals. However attractive they may be found, they are not identical either with individualism or (a much later stage of human development) with the notion of the right of the individual against encroachment by the State – the staking out of a claim to the sancrosanct area within which he literally can do as he pleases, however foolish, eccentric, outrageous. [301-2]

Men så sker ”a most surprising development” [302]. Efter Aristoteles död 322 f.Kr. så förändras idélandskapet fullständigt. Epikuros och stoiska filosofer tar över, och ”It is as if political philosophy had suddenly vanished away” [302]. Inget sägs längre om Staden, om hur goda medborgare bör fostras och om den roll som var och en måste spela, inget om hierarkier eller om rättmätig fördelning. Vidare:

Personal ethics are no longer deduced from social morality, ethics are no longer a branch of politics, the whole no longer precedes the parts, the notion of fulfilment as necessarily social and public disappears without a trace. Within twenty years or less we find, in place of hierarchy, equality; in place of emphasis on the superiority of specialists, the doctrine that any man can discover the truth for himself and live the good life as well as any other man, at least in principle; in place of emphasis on intellectual gifts, ability, skill, there is now stress upon the will, moral qualities, character; in place of loyalty, which holds small groups together, groups moulded by tradition and memories, and the organic fitting-in of all their parts and functions, there is a world without national or city frontiers; in place of the outer life, the inner life; in place of political commitment, taken for granted by all the major thinkers of the previous age, sermons recommending total detachment. In place of the pursuit of grandeur, glory, immortal fame, nobility, public spirit, self-realisation in harmonious social action, gentlemanly ideals, we now have a notion of individual self-sufficiency, praise of austerity, a puritanical emphasis on duty, above all constant stress on the fact that the highest of all values is peace of mind, individual salvation. . . [302-3]

All men are vulnerable: they must contract the vulnerable surface that may be wounded by other men or by things and events. This must be done by avoiding all forms of commitment. [. . .] Lathe biosas [’Escape notice having lived’]: get through life as obscurely as you can. [. . .] Pay taxes, vote, obey orders, but withdraw into yourself. [Epikuros:] ’Man is not by nature adapted for living in civic communities’. [304]

Independence is everything: the two great Epicurean words are autarkeia and ataraxia – self-sufficiency and imperturbability [oberördhet]. [. . .] You have not long to live and might as well arrange yourself as comfortably as possible in your own corner of the world. If you do not interfere with others, or envy or hate them, or seek to alter their lives against their wishes, or try for power, you will get by. [. . .] [This is] a doctrine familiar whenever the stresses of life become too much for distinguished and sensitive persons. [305-6]

Pleasure or duty, happiness or rational self-realisation, these were the opposed ideals of the Hellenistic world. Whatever their differences, [the Epicureans and the Stoics] were as one against the public world of Plato and Aristotle and the major Sophists. The break is immense and its consequences great. For the first the idea gains ground that politics is a squalid occupation, not worthy of the wise and the good. The division of ethics and politics is made absolute; men are defined in individual terms, and politics, at best, becomes the application of certain ethical principles to human groups, instead of the other way around. Not public order, but personal salvation is all that matters. [310]

Vad är det då som förklarar denna omvälvning. Standardteorin säger att orsaken är stadsstaternas upplösning av Filip och Alexander av Makedonien, och att de nya politiska omständigheterna direkt avspeglas i de nya tänkarna.

A great new world is opened by Alexander’s armies, and the average Greek or Athenian . . . , deprived of the sense of intimacy and security provided by the walls of the small self-contained city, feels puny and insignificant in the vast new empire which stretches out to the East. There is no natural unit to which to give his loyalty, and in which he can huddle for security. [. . .] The bleak new atmosphere, with familiar landmarks gone, makes him feel frightened and solitary, and concerned with his own personal salvation. Public life decays. [. . .] Men retreat into themselves. The social fabric disintegrates. All men are equal before the remote despot in Pella or Alexandria or Antioch. The organic community has been pulverised into dissociated atoms. Stoicism and Epicureanism are natural forms of faith for men in this condition. [311]

Men detta kan inte vara en korrekt förklaring. Rent tidsmässigt stämmer inte berättelsen. Den idémässiga förändringen sker före och alltför snabbt för att kunna förklaras av stadsstatens fall. ”It is only reasonable to assume, therefore, that Stoic and Epicurean individualism did not spring quite so fully armed from the head of this now defeated and humiliated Athena.” [312]
Berlin söker sig därför åter tillbaka i tiden och ser föregångare i Diogenes, Aristippus, Antistenes. Bakom dessa, och bakom Sokrates, finner Berlin inflytandet från sofisten Antifon som levde under slutet av femhundratalet f.Kr.

This is the first audible voice in ancient Greece which says – what Epicurus and his followers later echoed down the centuries – that the only satisfactory life is lived by keeping out of the sight of those who can do you damage, by creeping into a corner of your own choosing and constucting a private life which alone can satisfy the deepest needs of man. [314]

I samma linje tänker Diogenes och Crates. Problemet är att vi endast känner till dem genom skrifterna av deras fiender – Platon och Aristoteles. De framställs där som marginella eccentriker men Berlin frågar sig om dem verkligen var det. Detta går inte att veta, och ”the only point I wish to stress” är att de nya lärorna på 300-talet inte uppstod ur intet. Berlin köper inte heller teorierna om att tankegodset importerades från Orienten. ”There is nothing inherently un-Greek in Zeno’s doctrines: the belief in universal reason, in nature, in peace and inner harmony, self-mastery and independence, liberty and a calm detachment are not Hebraic values” [316].

Så slutligen, vad innebar denna omvälvning i det politiska tänkandet? (Indelningen nedan är Berlins egna.)

(a) ”Politics and ethics are divorced” [317]. Den naturliga enheten är inte längre gruppen, ur vilken individerna får sin existens, utan istället är individen primär. Handlingsregeler –etiken– härleds inte ur individens funktion i polis. Istället för att utgöra målet så är institutioner nu medel, och ”politics is a technological discipline”.

(b) ”The only genuine life is the inner life” [317]. Personligt oberoende är allt, och detta innebär ett tillbakadragande till det kontemplativa livet, inte uppröras av det yttre, betänka alltings nödvändighet.

(c) ”The ethics are the ethics of the individual” [318] Det viktiga med denna punkten är att särskilja den från idén om individuella rättigheter eller privatlivets helgd. Källorna och motiven till ens handlande hämtar man hos sig själv, men detta är inte detsamma som idén om en privat sfär. Den personliga frälsningen och visdomen hyllas visserligen, men det finns ingen politiskt doktrin som matchar denna idé, det finns ingen idé om ”a right to a room of one’s own”. Den idén kommer långt senare, och de forskare som har velat läsa in ett rättighetstänkande eller idén att privatliv uppstår som värde ”misunderstand the ancient world profoundly” [318]. (Berlin tycks här instämma med Benjamin Constants berömda The Liberty of Ancients Compared to that of Moderns (1816)). Enligt Berlin är ”The notion of freedom from State control . . . is wholly alien to the ancient world”, och att tolka idéhistorien på annat sätt är en ”gross anachronism” [318-9].

(d) Men det som skedde var dramatiskt nog: en av grundpelarna i det västerländska politiska tänkande var ”if not broken, cracked” [319]. Och personlig frälsning, personlig glädje, smak och individuell karaktär blir till det främsta värdet att sträva efter.

At any rate, from now on this scale of values haunts the European consciousness. Public and individual values, which had not been discriminated before, now go in different directions and, at times, clash violently. [319] [. . .]

[Once] the seamless whole of the city-state in which the public and the private were not distinguished is torn, nothing can ever make it entirely whole again. In the Renaissance, in modern times, the notion of the separateness of moral and political values, the ethics of resistance, of withdrawal, of personal relationships, versus those of the service of mankind, is one of the deepest and most agonising issues. This is the hour of its birth. [319-20]

(e) Denna tid brukar karakteriseras som ”an age of decadence” [320]. Berlin argumenterar mot denna syn och hela föreläsningen avslutas med följande ord:

To every age its values: the individualism of the Hellenistic age is attributed by these thinkers to men’s loneliness in the new mass society. Yet perhaps what they felt was not loneliness, but a sense of suffocation in the polis? [. . .] So far from being a sad, slow decline, it meant expanding horizons. The third century marks the beginning of new values, and a new conception of life; the condemnation of it by Aristotle and his modern disciples rests on assumptions which, to say the least, do not seem self-evidently valid. [321]

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