Heresies in the Mirror: The Genesis of Globalism
Men, bound by ties of blood and marriage, are by nature limited in their moral and political horizons. Just as healthy children assume their family home is the center of the world, which is limited largely to their own neighborhood and perhaps, as they grow older, to their town and region, so healthy societies begin as parochial bands of local chauvinists and gradually spread to accord human status to neighbors and even enemies . When Aristotle declared that men were born for citizenship, he meant, among other things, that the small polities of Greek cities constituted a natural order.
It had taken the Greeks centuries to agree on a common name for the different dialects, ethnicities, tribes, and cities they belonged to: They were Hellenes. As time went on, Dorian Greeks adopted the largely Ionian Homeric Iliad and Odyssey as their scriptures, while Ionians adopted a literary form of Doric Greek for choral lyric poetry. The great games—Olymmpic, Pythian, Isthmian, and Nemean games—and the pan-Hellenic shrines at Delphi, Olympia, Dodona, Delos, etc.—further strengthened their common identity and enabled Dorian Sparta and Ionian Athens to lead the alliance against Persia in 480. There were even a few faltering steps taken toward confederation: the Delphic amphictyony that looked after the shrine of Apollo, and the league of mostly minor towns in Achaea.
In the fifth century, a Greek poet from Boeotian Thebes (Pindar) could travel to Dorian Syracuse and Agrigento and Ionian Athens and win plaudits, and the Athenian Aeschylus spent so much time in Dorian Syracuse that he died in Sicily. Herodotus, among the most generous-minded of Greek writers, could appreciate the virtues of Persians and Egyptians but never lost sight of the superiority of the Greeks, of whatever dialect or ethnicity.
Despite this developing sense of unity, the history of archaic and classical Greek cities is one of intense local chauvinism and conflict, which often ran along lines of ethnicity and dialect: When Ionian Athens, late in the Peloponnesian War, decided to attack Syracuse, the cities of Sicilian Greek lined up for the most part along ethnic lines, Ionian cities backing Athens and the Dorian cities backing Syracuse.
Since Greek cities, like the quarrelsome Jewish tribes, could not get along with each other, they were hardly likely to conceive of a world without borders or distinctions. Plato might be said to have taken steps in that direction, but Aristotle, his greatest student, was an Hellenic patriot and a firm believer in the autonomy of cities. He is said to hav advised Alexander to treat barbarians (namely Persians and other Orientals) as slaves and Greeks as free men, though Alexander and his successors in the East found it impossible to establish stable kingdoms without granting rights and privileges to non-Greeks. Intellectually, the great leap into world-consciousness was made by a Hellenized Phoenician from Cyprus, Zeno, the founder of Stoicism.
Zeno was an eclectic forager, borrowing from Plato, the Skeptics, and Aristotle to produce a synthesis, which, as Cicero shrewdly observed, owed its success less to the originality of its thought as in the packaging: Stoics wore a mantel of extreme and rigid virtue and employed a technical vocabulary that baffled non-philosophers. Nonetheless, they contributed a great deal to logic and ethics and exercised great influence.
Zeno and his successors developed Aristotle’s concept of natural justice and handed it on to Cicero. They also counseled indifference to the duties and pleasures of ordinary life and cultivated abstinence from pleasure and the ability to endure pain. Why, asked one Stoic, should a man mourn the death of his own wife more than he would mourn the death of another’s?
Stoicism, until the Romans learned to modify it, taught moral absolutism. A man was either totally wise, or else a fool. As a means of humbling ourselves and practicing discipline, it is good to remind ourselves of our limitations, but philosophers—ever prone to arrogance—more likely to use absolutism as a tool to elevate selves above the rest of humanity.
If family ties and local patriotism mean little, then the Stoic should regard all men as his fellow-citizens. He should be a cosmopolites—a citizen of the world. Like most of the harsher teachings of the Stoics, cosmopolitanism is easier to mouth than to practice. So austere a Stoic as Cato the younger was able to hand off his wife to a friend, but he could not cease to be a Roman patriot who preferred death to living under a dictator who, among other sins, cultivated the friendship of foreigners.
Early Christian ethics owes a great deal to Stoicism, though the brotherhood taught by Jesus had nothing to do with politics: It was a strictly ethical and spiritual bond among people who had received the faith. The early Church was plagued by dissensions between Jewish and Gentile converts, and the Apostle to the Gentiles had to spend a great deal of time instructing Jewish Christians that their old ritual observances, kosher laws, and superstitions would avail them nothing. However, neither Christ nor any of his disciples ever preached against the rights of nations and empires to defend their borders or their interests. Indeed, at his trial, Jesus told Pilate explicitly that the power he had—which included the power he was about to exercise in executing the Christ—was a gift from God. Fifteen centuries later, unChristian sophists conflated Christian brotherhood with Stoic Cosmopolitanism and spiced it with the developing hatred of Christendom that emerged in the 16th century in order to bring forth an ideology—it was certainly no philosophy—that minimized or even denied differences of race, ethnicity, and religion. This was the birth of the universalist dream.
More to come