Monday, July 26, 2021
A World Without Media
M.I. Finley, "Leaders and Followers," in his Democracy Ancient and Modern, 2nd ed. (London: The Hogarth Press, 1985), pp. 3-37 (at 17-18):Newer› ‹Older
"A state composed of too many," Aristotle wrote in a famous passage (Politics, 1326b3-7), "will not be a true state, for the simple reason that it can hardly have a true constitution. Who can be the general of a mass so excessively large? And who can be herald, except Stentor?"Id. (at 22, discussing Thucydides 6.24.3-4):
The reference to the herald (the town crier) is illuminating. The Greek world was primarily one of the spoken, not the written, word. Information about public affairs was chiefly disseminated by the herald, the notice board, gossip and rumour, verbal reports and discussions in the various commissions and assemblies that made up the governmental machinery. This was a world not only without mass media but without media at all, in our sense. Political leaders, lacking documents that could be kept secret (apart from the occasional exception), lacking media they could control, were of necessity brought into a direct and immediate relationship with their constituents, and therefore under more direct and immediate control.
It would be easy to preach about the irrationality of crowd behaviour at an open-air mass meeting, swayed by demagogic orators, chauvinistic patriotism and so on. But it would be a mistake to overlook that the vote in the Assembly to invade Sicily had been preceded by a period of intense discussion, in the shops and taverns, in the town square, at the dinner table—a discussion among the same men who finally came together on the Pnyx for the formal debate and vote. There could not have been a man sitting in the Assembly that day who did not know personally, and often intimately, a considerable number of his fellow-voters, his fellow-members of the Assembly, including perhaps some of the speakers in the debate. Nothing could be more unlike the situation today, when the individual citizen from time to time engages, along with millions of others, not just a few thousand of his neighbours, in the impersonal act of marking a ballot-paper or manipulating the levers of a voting-machine.