Sunday, May 07, 2017


A Network of Associations

Oswyn Murray, in The Oxford History of the Classical World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 209-210:
The developed Greek city was a network of associations: as Aristotle saw, it was such associations which created the sense of community, of belonging, which was an essential feature of the polis: the ties of kinship by blood were matched with multiple forms of political and religious and social groupings, and of companionship for a purpose, whether it be voyaging or drinking or burial.


In such a world it might be argued that multiple ties limited the freedom of the individual, and there is certainly an important sense in which the conception of the individual apart from the community is absent from Greek thought: the freedom of the Greeks is public, externalized in speech and action. This freedom derives precisely from the fact that the same man belongs to a deme, a phratry, a family, a group of relatives, a religious association: and, living in this world of conflicting groups and social duties, he possesses the freedom to choose between their demands, and so to escape any particular form of dominant social patterning. It is this which explains the amazing creativity and freedom of thought of classical Athens: the freedom which results from belonging in many places is no less a freedom than that which results from belonging nowhere, and which creates a society united only in its neuroses.
The freedom which results from belonging nowhere, which creates a society united only in its neuroses—this sounds like an indictment of our modern society.

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