The Story of Democraczy: Chapter Five
by Martin Gantman
Pericles: 450 BC
Ephialtes: 465 BC
Cleisthenes: 500 BC
Solon: 600 BC
Hammurabi: 1,800 BC
Ur Nammu: 2,000 BC
Gilgamesh: 2,500 BC
Sumeria: 5,300 BC
Lascaux: 30,000 BC
Religious activity: 100,000 BC
Homo sapiens: 130,000 BC
Homo erectus: 1,500,000 BC
Homo habilis: 2,500,000 BC
One of the most important matters to take from the Roman era, basically 600 to 25 BC, was that the period was, according to Marx, Hegel, and others the unofficial/official commencement of the paradigm of class struggle. Research indicates that the cohesion within certain classes, particularly the plebeians, was not uniform, but there appears to be certainty that people with wealth, property, and power (patricians) were intent on keeping, and expanding upon, what they controlled and were willing to use extremely devious, if not vicious, means to accomplish that end, including: sending poor people to war in order to encroach on and perhaps confiscate those plebeian’s then unoccupied lands.
As long as we retain the ability to think freedom, we have not been utterly dominated – if we were we would not have the perspective of freedom from which to express our ‘unfreedom”
– paraphrase Žižek
This is not to say that this was the first time that there were excluded classes in a republican or democratic situation. In Greece, for example, most inhabitants were simply not labeled citizens and so could not participate in government. But Rome was the first noted time of open class rebellion. On the other hand, when the plebeians did obtain a modicum of authority, the wealthier members of their own class reverted to political self- interest rather than commit to the group’s common goals.
The difference here, and what makes this period significant, is that it marks, in history, perhaps the first public articulation of a group’s desire for equitability. It seems difficult to know what went on in the heads of excluded persons: non-citizens, women, slaves, etc. in Greece, or even Sumeria, but in Rome these peoples began to let it be known.
Theories of government and the traditional analyses of their mechanisms certainly don’t exhaust the field where power is exercised and where it functions. The question of power remains a total enigma.
– Michel Foucalt
This idea of class struggle, which surfaces intermittently over the next 2,000 years begins here. But the emergence of this phenomenon also raises questions about the consistency of class. Given that people who have advantage will go to major lengths to maintain and even expand upon their position, it is now also evident that people on the not-have end of that difference may, ultimately, put forward effort toward negating some of the disparity. The large question is whether the prime motive for members of that group is equitable distribution, personal gain, or undefined desire.
The objective primarily at hand, increase in wealth – an economic goal – drives much socio-political theory. But classes are time based. At any particular moment the activation of a class is dependent on the perception of difference between one class and another.
In the United States 1950’s there seemed to be a possibility of less affluent classes, during a minor fit of fiscal partisanship, actually gaining ground in the redistribution of wealth. This may have been a misperception, but in any case it was short-lived. In the 1960’s and 70’s the struggle became not per se about wealth but more about power.
. . . . . a revolutionary community “without status, without life, without title, without name”
– Jacques Derrida
It finally became too ludicrous to some that the political authority at the time could initiate yet another fanciful war – sending primarily one class to a struggle, meaning combat/war, based on a fearfully, or perhaps cunningly, conceived difference in ideology – similar to how plebeians were sent to war in order to take them away from the center of power. (The very same rationalization, by the way, that was used to engage in Iraq with no more than a whimper of opposition).
. . . . no class . . . . can be a member of itself; . . . a class of classes cannot be one of the classes which are its members; . . . . a name is not the thing named.
My friend Jim admonished me that this blog is not art. Though normally very articulate, in this case he has difficulty verbally (but not gesturally) expressing why it is not. The fact is that the world, life itself, is very much an immense irony – or, to paraphrase a speech style from the renowned Casey Stengel, life is an analogy for life.
All we have to do is look at life as if it is an infinitely continuous, implausible performance piece to see that. And what is art but a vehicle to bring that recognition to our attention?