WE WRITE of the year 355 B.C. Pericles was dead, but his Acropolis stood. So did Athenian democracy. The age of the great tragic poets was past, but the age of the great philosophers had arrived. There lived in Athens Plato, an old man by now, his young and brilliant disciple Aristotle, and a very old man born at the height of the great Periclean age, Isocrates. The political power of Athens might be on the wane, but her magic cultural fires were still burning brightly. Her ancient rival Sparta was already rapidly sinking into well-deserved obscurity, while her neighbor Thebes, after a brief period of hegemony in Greek affairs, had lost her great political leaders, Pelopidas and Epaminondas. On the whole, the Greek world presented a spectacle familiar to all Athenians for many generations: a multitude of small states, mostly under republican governments, some local leagues, and a few major Powers, none of which had proved itself capable of securing a permanent ascendancy over the others. The political picture seemed, therefore, one of relative stability and even stagnation.

But in the realm of economics, progress towards an intensely capitalistic social order had greatly changed the standard of living and expanded the commercial interests of the leading bourgeoisie in all except the most backward Greek states. This trend was especially noticeable at Athens, always the most international-minded among the Greek cities. The widening horizons of thought and culture in Athens helped swell the chorus of those who asked for a political unit larger than the age-old city-state. Isocrates, for one, had been foremost in advocating a closer federation among the Greek states, a Pan Hellenic "union now." But his appeal had been without results.

Yet the trend of social and economic developments was inescapably toward some sort of unification. Twice it had seemed the destiny of Athens to effect a large-scale federation of democratic states through a confederacy for common defense. But twice Athens had failed to solve the problem created by her preeminent power within the confederacy: she had proved so harsh a master that time and again her "allies" had wrecked it by rebellious secession. The Delic League, the first of Athens' two attempts, had died in the Peloponnesian War. A second confederacy, again under Athenian leadership, had come into being as the power of Sparta weakened. But now, in 355 B.C., Athens was faced once more with her failure to make democracy work within her federation. Its most important members, among them Rhodes and Byzantium, had risen in rebellion against the overbearing sister-republic. After securing foreign allies, they had -- in 357 B.C. -- successfully defied Athenian efforts to bring them back into the confederacy by force of arms.

In consequence, the economy as well as the prestige of Athens had received a serious blow. Retrenchment became the order of the day. The ambitious imperialistic policy, no longer popular among the people, gave way before the growing strength of isolationist sentiment; and this sentiment was carefully fostered by the wealthier class, resentful of the heavy burden of taxes and civic duties imposed upon it by the war. Thus, for the first time in its history, a policy of political isolation became the guiding principle of Athenian statesmanship.


It would be very simple to continue by saying that after the abdication of Athens some other Power was destined to achieve the political unification of the Greek world and that consequently Philip of Macedon, by completing the task which the city-states had failed to accomplish, was but the willing tool of the Weltgeist. Generations of German historians from Droysen to Drerup and Kahrstedt have made this point. Observing that Germany was unified, not by the liberals, but by the armies of Prussia, these historians, all too prone to generalize, concluded that the Athenian democracy -- because it was a democracy -- had been foredoomed to failure at a similar task and that only brute force, as personified in the military and political genius of King Philip, could succeed. It is significant that the latest German writer on this subject, Jaeger, has thoroughly disagreed with the general school of thought among German historians on this point, and it is perhaps even more worthy of note that the French historians up to Clemenceau and Cloché never adopted the defeatist point of view with regard to Athenian policies between 355 and 338 B.C. At any rate, it is impossible to maintain that Athens went unseeing towards her doom, that once having adopted isolationist policies she never had an opportunity to make a stand before being engulfed by the Macedonian tidal wave of the future.

Never did the gods present the ancient world with a more agonizing, a more dramatic, combat between the two irrevocably conflicting principles of policy: isolationism or collective action. That Athens, the foremost democracy of antiquity, was the protagonist in this drama makes the lesson the more poignant, the more significant, for us today. One boon the gods did grant Athens, however, even though they failed to save her. They gave her a man to speak up for democracy, to speak up with the fervor of a biblical prophet and warn his fellow citizens to prepare while there was yet time. It was he who saw in Philip of Macedon a deadly menace long before his countrymen had understood that this time they were dealing with no mere ambitious semi-barbarian chieftain far away in the north. It was he, Demosthenes, who long before the Macedonian giant was bestriding the trembling Greek world warned that this was no time for bickering between the democratic city-states, no time for any one of them to remain aloof whenever in the Hellenic orbit a democracy sought to overthrow a dictatorial régime or was attacked by an aggressor Power. It was Demosthenes, the Athenian, who spoke up for the very Rhodians who but recently had fought their way out of the Athenian confederacy. Let us hear in his own words Demosthenes' appeal to the Athenian assembly to come to the aid of the democrats of Rhodes in their struggle against an oligarchic tyranny. And let us remember that not Spain in 1936 but ancient Rhodes formed the subject of his discourse:

Seeing that Chios and Mytilene are ruled by oligarchs, and that Rhodes and, I might almost say, all the world are now being seduced into this form of slavery, I am surprised that none of you conceives that our constitution too is in danger, nor draws the conclusion that if all other states are organized on oligarchical principles, it is impossible that they should leave your democracy alone. For they know that none but you will bring freedom back again, and of course they want to destroy the source from which they are expecting ruin to themselves. . . . When men overthrow free constitutions . . . I urge you to regard them as the common enemies of all who love freedom. . . . You, living under a democracy, should show the same sympathy for democracies in distress as you would expect others to show for you, if ever -- which God forbid! -- you were in the same plight.[i]

This ringing challenge to Athenian isolationism by a young man of barely thirty years was no mere tirade. Demosthenes knew full well that he was going counter to the convictions of the majority of the assembly, not only because they favored an isolationist foreign policy in general but also because of their natural unwillingness, in this particular instance, to aid those very Rhodians who so recently had fought a bitter war against them. But Demosthenes saw beyond the present:

I observe that some of you are wont to dismiss Philip as a person of no account, but to speak with awe of the King [of Persia] as formidable. . . . If we are not to stand up to the one because he is contemptible, and if we yield to the other because he is formidable, against whom, Athenians, shall we ever marshal our forces?

It is worthy of note that Demosthenes, who probably penned his First Philippic in the same year (351 B.C.), did not share the widespread notion that Philip was contemptible. Launching a frontal attack against the organized isolationist forces then dominating Athenian politics, Demosthenes declared, in this same speech For the Liberty of the Rhodians:

You have got to defeat in your debates the faction that deliberately opposes the interests of your city. . . . Owing to this opposition, you can get nothing done without a struggle. . . . There are many politicians who recklessly take up this position.

Demosthenes distinguished sharply between the two groups furnishing the isolationist leadership: the "honest fools" and their anti-democratic allies. But as in our day, the isolationists succeeded without much trouble in defeating the farsighted program of lining up all the Greek democracies in a common defense front against their enemies wherever they might attack.


Undaunted, Demosthenes continued his attacks. If Athens was unwilling to seek solidarity among the democracies, let her at least, he pleaded, beware of a menace rising in the far north, a menace that in time would imperil both the political power and the democratic institutions of Athens. Seeing this clearly, Demosthenes demanded from the assembly a policy aimed to check Macedon's rising military power while it was still vulnerable:

If in the past their [the isolationists'] advice had been sound, there would be no need for deliberation today. . . . Your affairs are in this evil plight just because you, men of Athens, utterly fail to do your duty. . . . Do not believe that his [Philip's] present power is fixed and unchangeable like that of a god. No, men of Athens, he is a mark for the hatred and fear and envy even of those who now seem devoted to him. One must assume that even his adherents are subject to the same passions as other men. At present, however, all these feelings are repressed and have no outlet, thanks to your indolence and apathy, which I urge you to throw off at once.

At this juncture the logical policy for Athens would have been to arm in order to cope with any emergency that might arise -- and this was the keynote struck throughout this First Philippic. But, asked the isolationists, why arm? Macedonia was far away. The only ones to feel the Macedonian sword had been barbarian Balkan tribes and a few Greek colonies on the Chalcidic shores. Other Macedonian kings had had their fling in that remote region without any threat to Greece proper. Against this comfortable interpretation of history Demosthenes exclaimed:

Observe, Athenians, the height to which the fellow's insolence has soared: he leaves you no choice of action or inaction; he blusters and talks big, according to all accounts; he cannot rest content with what he has conquered; he is always taking in more, everywhere casting his net round us, while we sit idle and do nothing.

When, Athenians, will you take the necessary action? What are you waiting for? Until you are compelled, I presume. . . . Or are you content to run around and ask one another, "Is there any news today? . . ." "Is Philip dead?" you ask. "No, indeed, but he is very ill." And what is that to you? Even if something happens to him, you will soon raise up a second Philip, if that is the way you attend to your affairs; for even this Philip has not grown great through his own unaided strength so much as through our carelessness.

It must have been difficult for any honest isolationist to close his ears to this logic. But there was still the other group, the appeasers, hell-bent on peace at any price. They would concede that Philip might be a pretty important fellow, but surely he would never be able to invade Athens. Was not Macedonia very far away? To this Demosthenes replied:

If Philip did nothing more, but were willing to rest satisfied with what he has already captured and subdued, I believe some of you would be quite content with what must bring the deepest disgrace upon us and brand us as a nation of cowards. But by always attempting something new, always grasping at more power, he may possibly rouse even you, if you have not utterly abandoned hope. . . . Surely it is obvious that he will not stop, unless someone stops him. And is that what we are to wait for?

Two main problems faced the anti-isolationists in their campaign to get Athens to adopt an adequate defense program: the cost and the method. Rearmament meant higher taxes. It meant the curtailment of numerous services and amenities provided by the Athenian republic for its citizens. It meant, in short, lowering the living standard of the mass of the voters. At the same time, it also meant the introduction of compulsory military service in order to provide the necessary manpower. True, in former times it had been the duty of every Athenian citizen to bear arms for his country. The hoplites who had won the day at Marathon, the crews and marines who had triumphed at Salamis, had been Athenian citizens conscripted for the defense of their democracy. But those were the dim days of the glorious past. In the prosperous present, Athens preferred to hire mercenaries whenever fighting men were needed.

Nor is it difficult to understand the dogged way in which the average voter, no less than the isolationists and appeasers, opposed the defense program, with its threat to conscript both manpower and capital. Anyone who has followed the debates in the United States Congress can readily picture the epithets hurled against Demosthenes by the assembly--"interventionist," "warmonger," "revolutionary." How, they asked, could he prove that Philip harbored any designs against the security of Athens? As for them, they were convinced that no sensible person would suspect Philip of plotting to dominate the whole Greek world. Why then, they demanded, should Athens embark on a costly war overseas? Demosthenes replied:

Truly, men of Athens, I do think that Philip is drunk with the magnitude of his achievements and dreams of further triumphs, when, elated by his success, he finds that there is none to bar his way; but I cannot for a moment believe that he is deliberately acting in such a way that all the fools of Athens know what he is going to do next. . . . But if, putting rumors aside, we recognize that this man is our enemy, who has for years been robbing and insulting us, that wherever we once hoped to find help we have found hindrance, that the future lies in our own hands, and if we refuse to fight now in Thrace, we shall perhaps be forced to fight here at home -- if, I say, we recognize these facts, then we shall have done with idle words and shall come to a right decision. Our business is not to speculate on what the future may bring forth, but to be certain that it will bring disaster, unless you face the facts and consent to do your duty.

"Consent to do your duty" -- is there a better way to describe the working of the democratic process in times of stress? But the people of Athens did not consent. They did not think it their duty to make the financial and personal sacrifices necessary to safeguard their democracy. They saw no emergency. Their standard of living was too dear to them. And consequently they dismissed the warning of the First Philippic as the hysteria of a well-meaning but misguided citizen. Athenian isolationism had put another feather in its cap.


While the Athenians wrangled over their defense problem, Philip blithely continued his mopping-up operations among his neighbors. His military machine had reached such a state of efficiency that it was ready for combat with major Powers beyond the orbit of Macedon. The last neighbor capable of offering any resistance to his expansion was Olynthos, a city not far from the site of modern Salonika. Now it so happened that at that time the democratic government of Olynthos was beset by numerous enemies both within and without. Pursuing his customary policy, Philip exploited this situation to the full. When he deemed the strength of his Fifth Column within Olynthos to be sufficient, he struck:

I wonder -- exclaimed Demosthenes in his First Olynthiac -- if any one of you in this audience watches and notes the steps by which Philip, weak at first, has grown so powerful. First he seized Amphipolis, next Pydna, then Potidaea, after that Methone, lastly he invaded Thessaly. Then having settled Pherae, Pagasae, Magnesia, and the rest of that country to suit his purposes, off he went to Thrace, and there, after evicting some of the chiefs and installing others, he fell sick. On his recovery, he did not relapse into inactivity, but instantly assailed Olynthos.

Immediately, Olynthos appealed to her sister democracy for aid. Once more, a battle royal ensued at Athens between the isolationists and their foes led by Demosthenes. But this time it was not unfriendly Rhodes appealing for democratic solidarity. This time it was Olynthos, the last major bulwark against Macedonian penetration into the heart of Greece. One would have thought that the men of Athens, observing the steady march of Philip, could no longer have blinded themselves to the effects a defeat of Olynthos must have on their own city. Yet, with the doggedness of the doomed, they continued to insist that anything was better than to commit the mortal sin of preventive war. No Athenian boys were to be ploughed under on overseas battlefields! And what did the spokesman of the "warmongers" reply?

The present crisis . . . calls on you, almost with an audible voice. . . . But, I confess, our attitude puzzles me. My own idea would be to vote for an expedition at once, to make instant preparations for its dispatch, thus avoiding our previous blunder. . . . Our chief ground for alarm is that this man [Philip], so unscrupulous, so quick to seize his opportunity . . . misrepresenting us and our failure to intervene, may divert to his own purpose and wrest from us something of vital importance.

Quite clearly these were the arguments of an interventionist. For the defense of Athens herself, Demosthenes advocated a military expedition overseas. But again the isolationist chorus uttered the familiar refrain: "Beware of interventionist propaganda. The Olynthian war is but another imperialist struggle in which both sides strive for selfish aims. Hands off!" To be sure, no Athenian isolationist went so far as to introduce a resolution into the assembly requiring both belligerents to state their war aims -- after all, in 2300 years the world has progressed in every field, even in that of pure folly! But the strength of the sentiment of "hands-off, it's only another imperialist war," can be gauged from the effort of the interventionists to overcome it. Declared their leader:

The eyes of the Olynthians are opened to the fact that they are now fighting not for glory, not for a strip of territory, but to avert the overthrow and enslavement of their fatherland. They know how he [Philip] treated those . . . who betrayed their country . . . and those who opened their gates to him. And a despotism, I take it, is as a rule mistrusted by free countries, especially when they are near neighbors. . . . Make up your minds; rouse your spirits; put your heart into the war, now or never. Pay your contributions cheerfully; serve in person; leave nothing to chance. You have no longer the shadow of an excuse for shirking your duty. . . . You must not let slip the opportunity that ofters, nor make the blunder you have so often made before. . . . If we had . . . shown the required zeal in marching to the help of the first that appealed, we should have found Philip today much more humble and accommodating.

Unfortunately we always neglect the present chance and imagine that the future will right itself, and so . . . Philip has to thank us for his prosperity. We have raised him to a greater height than ever ruler of Macedon reached before. Today this opportunity comes to us from the Olynthians unsought, a fairer opportunity than we have ever had before. . . . If we leave these men too in the lurch . . . and then Olynthos is crushed by Philip, tell me what is to prevent him from marching henceforward just where he pleases.

But it took real vision to perceive the truth of these words. The law of human inertia, the psychological habit of assuming that it cannot happen because it has not happened, has always been the most powerful prop of isolationism. Why should the Athenians move a finger? The present was so sweet, and life was so comfortable. But, admonished Demosthenes:

We may find that we have paid a heavy price for our indolence, and because we consult our own pleasure in everything, may hereafter come to be forced to do many of the difficult things for which we had no liking, and may finally endanger our possessions here in Athens itself.

Philip, he conceded, had risen higher than any of his Macedonian predecessors. But had his position become so secure, was he already so powerful that resistance would be futile? Did he represent the inevitable wave of the future?

His present prospects are not so bright or satisfactory as they seem and as a superficial observer might pronounce them; nor would he ever have provoked this war had he thought that he would be bound to fight himself. He hoped that on his first entry he would carry all before him, and he finds himself completely mistaken. This unforeseen result confounds and discourages him. . . . We must assume that [the recently subjugated nations] would prefer freedom and independence to slavery. They are not accustomed to acknowledge a master, and Philip by all accounts is a particularly harsh one. . . . Look then, Athenians, upon his difficulties as your opportunity. Be prompt to take up the challenge. Send embassies when necessary. Take the field in person. Rouse all the other states. Reflect how eagerly Philip would march against you, if he had such a chance as we have, and if the war were on our frontiers. Are you not ashamed if, having the opportunity, you lack the courage to do to him what he would certainly do to you if he could?

Do not forget that you can today choose whether you must fight there or Philip must fight here. If Olynthos holds out, you will fight there, to the detriment of his territory, while you enjoy in security the land that is your home. But if he takes Olynthos, who is to prevent his marching hither? . . . "But, my friend," cries someone, "he will not wish to attack us." Nay, it would be a crowning absurdity if, having the power, he should lack the will to carry out the threat which today he utters at the risk of his reputation for sanity.

It is the duty of all of you to grasp the significance of these facts, and to send out an expedition that shall thrust back the war into Macedon. It is the duty of the well-to-do that spending but a fraction of the wealth they so happily possess they may enjoy the residue in security; of our fighters, that gaining experience of war on Philip's soil, they may prove the formidable guardians of an inviolate fatherland; of the statesmen, that they may give a ready account of their stewardship.

"All aid to Olynthos," such was the quintessence of these concluding passages of the First Olynthiac. Not merely aid short-of-war, but all-out aid. And not out of the goodness of the Athenian heart, not for platonic love of democracy abroad, but in order to protect Athenian democracy at home by defending it abroad. But would Demosthenes at last convince the assembly? It almost seemed so. Resolutions were passed for an Athenian alliance with Olynthos, the raising of an expeditionary force, and the establishment of a special war chest. But the isolationists, hard pressed though they were, did not give up. They went to work and cut down the "all-aid-to-Olynthos" program to a mere trickle of men and arms. Demosthenes, far from taking this cold sabotage supinely, insisted on reminding the Athenian assembly once more of what was at stake:

That Philip has found men willing to fight him, situated at his frontiers and possessed of considerable power, above all so determined that they regard any accommodation with him as both delusive and fatal to their own country -- this has all the appearance of a superhuman, a divine beneficence. So the time has come, men of Athens, to look to it that we do not prove more unfriendly to ourselves than circumstances have been, for we shall show ourselves the meanest of mankind, if we abandon . . . the very allies that fortune has raised for us and the chances she throws in our way.

To those average voters who followed the isolationists in believing that Philip was just another local upstart, Demosthenes declared in his Second Olynthiac:

Glory is his sole object and ambition; in action and in danger he has elected to suffer whatever may befall him, putting before a life of safety the distinction of achieving what no other king of Macedon ever achieved. But his subjects have no share in the glory that results. They are perpetually buffeted and wearied and distressed by these expeditions north and south, never suffered to give their time to their business or private affairs, never able to dispose of such produce as they can raise. . . . Philip . . . wants to have the credit himself of every action, among his many faults being an insatiable ambition.

No, Philip was no ordinary local dictator. His aims already encompassed the whole of Greece; tomorrow the world itself would be the limit of his ambition. This was no time for politicians to haggle, for democratic complacency, for worrying about taxation and debt-limits, for heated debates on the division of powers. In the words of Demosthenes:

We sit here doing nothing. But one who is himself idle cannot possibly call upon his friends . . . to work for him. No wonder that Philip, sharing himself in the toils of the campaign, present at every action, neglecting no chance and wasting no season, gets the better of us, while we procrastinate and pass resolutions and ask questions . . . . The outcome is strife and contention among yourselves, some taking this side and some that, while the interests of the state suffer . . . . If you authorize one class of men to issue orders . . . and force another class to equip the navy and pay the war-tax and serve in the field, while yet a third class has no other public duty than to vote the condemnation of the latter, you will never get anything essential done at the right time. There will always be some class with a grievance, who will fail you, and then it will be your privilege to punish them instead of the enemy. That third class, always voting in condemnation of others' policies -- who were they but the inveterate isolationists opposing every effort to cope effectively with the Macedonian menace? It is significant that Demosthenes did not accuse them of voting against their better knowledge. Instead, he bent all his strength to establish a common national front against the evergrowing Macedonian threat. Once more, a shortlived burst of energy followed his heroic appeal for unity. Further levies were raised to go to the aid of Olynthos. But the whole defense program was struck a death blow when the financial measures proposed to implement it were declared unconstitutional. And yet this unconstitutional program, had it been executed, would probably have saved the democratic constitution of Athens.

Meanwhile, the defenders of that city were fighting on two fronts: against Philip who was hammering at their gates, and against his fifth column, the anti-democratic elements who were undermining morale from within. In the end, these Quislings induced a sizable body of Olynthian troops to go over to Philip. But before this came to pass, the anti-isolationist forces at Athens gathered for a last attempt to rescue Olynthos. Their spokesman, Demosthenes, must have felt sick at heart to hold forth on the same topic again, with the same arguments and against the same odds. The tone of his Third Olynthiac is more somber than that of the first two, the glow of his words of a darker hue; but the flame of his patriotism shines forth as brightly as ever:

I observe that the speeches are all about punishing Philip, while our affairs have reached a stage at which it must be our first concern to avoid disaster ourselves. . . . Athens once had the chance both of establishing her power and of punishing Philip. . . . Now, however, I am persuaded that we must be content to secure the first, that of saving our allies. . . . Never was there a crisis that demanded more careful handling than the present. . . . The popularity-hunting of some of our orators has led us into this desperate predicament. . . .

Well, what is done cannot be undone; but now . . . what remains, men of Athens, but to help them with all your power and energy? I see no alternative. For . . . if we shirk our responsibilities, I see not a little danger, men of Athens, for the future, if the Thebans maintain their present attitude towards us, and the Phocians have come to the end of their money, and there is nothing to hinder Philip, when he has crushed his present foe, from turning his arms against Attica. But surely if any one of you would postpone the necessary action till then he must prefer to see danger at his very doors, rather than hear of it far away, and to beg help for himself, when he might be lending help to others now; for I suppose we all realize that that is what it will come to, if we throw away our present chances. . . . Our statesmen in peace have lost us the allies we gained in war.

"But," says an objector, "if our foreign policy has failed, there is great improvement in domestic affairs." And to what can you point in proof? To the walls we are whitewashing, the streets we are paving, the water-works, and the balderdash? Look rather at the men whose statesmanship has produced these results!

Let the benighted isolationists point with pride to their achievements -- their roads, their W.P.A. and their relief appropriations -- but let the people of Athens realize that they are in for a rude awakening. Already a certain malaise had spread through the nation. There was lightning on the horizon, and the sound of battle, where democratic Olynthos stood fighting for her very life against the rising tide of Macedonian militarism. The Athenians, becoming restless, began to compare the glorious days of the past, of Miltiades and Themistocles, with the ominous present. They asked, why did things then go well that now went amiss? Replied Demosthenes:

Because then the people, having the courage to act and to fight, controlled the politicians. . . . Now, on the contrary, the politicians hold the purse-strings and manage everything, while you, the people, robbed of nerve and sinew, stripped of wealth and of allies, have sunk to the level of lackeys and hangers-on, content if the politicians gratify you with a dole. . . . They have mewed you up . . . and entice you with these baits, that they may keep you tame and subservient to the whip. . . . If, therefore, even at the eleventh hour, you can shake off these habits, and consent to fight and act as becomes Athenians and to devote the abundant resources that you have at home to the attainment of success abroad . . . I call on you to do that for yourselves . . . and not to desert that post of honor, men of Athens, which your ancestors through many glorious hazards won and bequeathed to you.

A poorly stifled yawn from the isolationists! Why does this fellow always bring up those old stories? War, after all, is rapidly going out of fashion. And if there is fighting to be done, one can hire mercenaries to do it. Beware, this spokesman of the warmongers is dangerous. Does he not advocate a general conscription of the male population for forced labor as well as for military service? Such regimentation is undemocratic. Let's vote it down.

And so they did. Not until two years later was a special war tax introduced. To save their face the Athenians did indeed dispatch a somewhat greater military force to the aid of Olynthos, but only to have it arrive on the scene of battle just in time to learn that Olynthos had fallen, that it had been wiped off the face of the earth, that its inhabitants had been sold into slavery, that another democracy had been obliterated. Now had come the time for the Athenian isolationists to reap the rewards of their folly -- and they were not to their liking. Now they at last awakened to the fact that Athens was the next in line. Hurriedly, embassies were dispatched to her neighbors, the Peloponnesian states, asking their support in the crisis now so close at hand. The ambassadors met with an icy reception. In vain did they plead. The Athenian record was too devastating. Most of the states preferred Philip's assurances of peace to an alliance with a democracy that had let down the other democracies one after another. Completely isolated, Athens had no choice. Trying to make the best of it, she substituted for her policy of isolationism the even more fatal one of appeasement.


Olynthos had fallen. Its citizens filled the slave-marts of Greece. The Greeks were shocked; but their capitalists bought the slaves, splendid men, women and children. A few, among them Demosthenes, redeemed as many of these unfortunates as their private funds would permit. Even the young and coming isolationist Aeschines professed his shocked bewilderment upon encountering a gang of Olynthian slaves with their new master. But he evidently failed to make a proper connection between cause and effect. Athens, thanks to her isolationist policy, now had no choice but to give in, and Demosthenes participated in the first embassy sent to inquire of Philip the terms on which he would make peace -- a strictly negotiated peace, of course.

Upon its return to Athens the embassy reported that Philip's terms formed no cause for alarm. Athens herself had nothing to fear. Indeed, Philip was even more gracious than might have been expected. Having perceived that Athenian policy until very recently had aimed at carefully staying out of wars and entangling alliances, Philip was only too glad to encourage this tendency and to assist its advocates, the Athenian isolationists, to achieve their goal even more completely than they might have wished. For the main clause of the proposed treaty demanded that Athens should cease to take any interest in the fate of those Greek states then engaged in war with Philip, that in other words she should just forget about her natural allies, especially the Phocians. Now it so happened that it was the Phocians who controlled the all-important pass of Thermopylae, the only route for a major invasion, on land, against Athens. But, despite the all-pervading enthusiasm for appeasement, the Athenian assembly refused to swallow this clause. After ratifying the remainder of the treaty, they sent a second embassy to Philip in the hope of obtaining his assent to disregard this provision for enforcing Athenian isolation and making it complete.

Demosthenes did not share the illusions of his fellow-citizens -- he knew Philip too well. Nevertheless, to preserve at least the appearance of national unity, he again went along with the others. The ambassadors fared ill. Even while they were on their way, Philip had achieved another major victory, this time in Thrace. The countryside through which they travelled showed signs of great military preparations -- against the Phocians, they were told. When they saw Philip, he was amiable, but non-committal. The isolationist majority understood him to promise not to extend his military operations into the heart of Greece, i.e. against the Phocians, without consulting the Athenians. Yet how could any Athenian seriously have entertained such a thought? Even the manner in which Philip finally ratified the treaty, with that sinister clause in it, ought to have warned the ambassadors to beware: only after they had trailed him as far as Pherae in Thessaly did he deign to go through the formalities of ratification.

Back again to Athens travelled the weary men. In a desperate appeal Demosthenes denounced the sham-treaty, warned against this sort of appeasement and beseeched the Athenians not to leave the Phocians to the tender mercies of Philip. He did not speak for love of the Phocians; he spoke for love of Athens. Did not the Phocians control the all-important defile of Thermopylae, the gateway to Athens? And what if Philip went back on his vague oral promise not to attack Phocis without first consulting Athens? Could anyone seriously trust him in a life-and-death matter like this?

But against Demosthenes rose Aeschines, the glib appeaser. In eloquent terms he praised the value of peace, of that peace he had brought home, truly a peace with honor. Philip, he exclaimed, was a gentleman. He would never go back on his word. And thus, within three days after the return of the embassy, the Athenians formally advised the Phocians to surrender their stronghold, Delphi, the religious center of Greece. The Phocians understood. They knew that they were lost. But if Athens had calculated that the Phocians, feeling themselves completely forsaken, would quietly surrender Delphi to her while still maintaining a garrison at Thermopylae, she was quickly and disastrously disillusioned. Within a week the Phocians did indeed surrender, but to Philip; and they surrendered not merely Delphi but Thermopylae as well. Those who lived through the agony of Munich will sympathize with Demosthenes and his friends. But for the moment nothing could be done. The peace with Philip stood, bearing the name of Philocrates, a member of the embassy. It is fitting that he was discovered shortly afterwards to be in Philip's pay.

In the depth of defeat the anti-isolationists did not give up. For the first time, a strong undercurrent of popular feeling came to their aid. Now, when the Phocians were being punished by Philip with unheard of severity, when the Macedonian armies controlled the roads leading towards the Athenian border, when Athens stood humiliated before the world, the Athenians belatedly realized to what a pass their isolationism had brought them. Demands for a thorough house-cleaning grew. Yet Aeschines, like his counterparts among the modern isolationists, was quick to discover in the policy of his opponents insidious perils to democratic institutions and in himself a paragon of democratic virtue. In his speech Against Timarchos he declared:

Autocracies and oligarchies are administered according to the temper of their lords, but democratic states according to established laws. . . . Therefore you, who have a government based upon equality and law, must guard against those [Demosthenes and his friends] whose words violate the laws or whose lives have defied them. . . . Did you not put to death Socrates, the sophist, fellow citizens, because he was shown to have been the teacher of Critias . . . who put down democracy, and after that, shall Demosthenes succeed . . . Demosthenes who takes such vengeance on private citizens and friends of the people for their freedom of speech? . . . He will . . . find fault with the peace which was brought about through Philocrates and myself, until he shall call out such bursts of applause from the jurors that I will not even face him in the court-room . . . but will consider myself lucky if I get off with a moderate fine instead of being punished with death.

These words clearly marked the beginning of the twilight of Athenian isolationism. The only problem that remained was this: Had Athens still time to undo what her isolationists had done?

A final showdown had manifestly become inevitable. The years from 346 to 340 B.C. were characterized by the indefatigable efforts of the Athenians to escape from their self-built prison of isolation. Once more, Demosthenes visited the Peloponnesian states in an attempt to line them up with Athens for "the day" to come. He failed. Protests against his activities were delivered in Athens, not only from Philip, but from Greek states like Argos and Messene who feared a rapprochement between Athens and Sparta, their hereditary enemy. Demosthenes was put on the defensive. But he rose to the occasion. He used the opportunity thus offered to rivet into the minds of the Athenians the realization that the peace they were enjoying was but an armistice, a long armistice, at the end of which a reckoning was bound to come:

If anyone views with confidence the present power of Philip and the extent of his dominions, if anyone imagines that all this imports no danger to our city and that you are not the object of his preparations, I must express my astonishment, and beg you all alike to listen to a brief statement of the considerations that have led me to form the opposite conclusion and to regard Philip as our enemy. . . .

Guided in his calculations by ambition and the desire of universal dominion, regardless of the claims of peace and quietness and justice, Philip rightly saw that to our state and our national character he could offer nothing, he could do nothing that would tempt you from selfish motives to sacrifice to him any of the other Greek states, but that you, reverencing justice, shrinking from the discredit involved in such transactions, and exercising due and proper forethought, would resist any such attempt on his part as stoutly as if you were actually at war with him. . . . By his very acts you stand judged the one and only power in the world incapable of abandoning the common rights of the Greeks at any price, incapable of bartering your devotion to their cause for any favor or any profit. . . .

Everything, if correctly observed, points to the fact that all his intrigues are directed against Athens. . . . He knows, then, these two facts -- that he is intriguing against you and that you are aware of it. Assuming that you are intelligent, he thinks you are bound to hate him, and he is on the alert, expecting some blow to fall, if you can seize an opportunity and if he cannot get in his blow first. That is why he is wide-awake and ready to strike, and why he is courting certain people to the detriment of our country. He imagines that their cupidity will lead them to accept the present situation while their natural dullness will prevent them from foreseeing anything that may follow. . . .

But there is one common bulwark which the instinct of sensible men possesses within itself, a good and safe one for all, but invaluable for democracies against tyrants. And what is that bulwark? It is mistrust. Guard that; hold fast to that. If you preserve it, no harm can touch you. What is your object? . . . Freedom. Then do you not see that Philip's very titles are utterly irreconcilable with that? For . . . every despot is the sworn foe of freedom and of law. Beware . . . lest, seeking to be rid of war, you find a master.

But the process of awakening the Athenians to the threat to their freedom was painfully slow. It was a far cry from the days of Marathon. Demosthenes sensed the gathering storm. He knew that peace between the forces of despotism and democracy is only an armistice. He differed sharply from the genial appeasers who still believed that the peace of Philocrates had warded off the danger of a finish fight between democratic Athens and despotic Philip. To offset this complacency Demosthenes warned:

You . . . are compassed about with plots and snares, you will . . . find to your surprise that, through having nothing done in time, you have submitted to everything. . . . It would indeed have been fair . . . to call upon those who conveyed to you Philip's promises, on the strength of which you were induced to conclude the peace. . . . Yes, and there are others who ought to be called upon. Whom do I mean? The men who, when peace was made and when I . . . spoke out and protested . . . told you that I, being a teetotaler, was naturally a disagreeable, cross-grained fellow, and that Philip . . . would do just what you would pray for. . . .

I do not wish to indulge in idle talk. But I think that one day Philip's policy will cause you more distress than it does now, for I see the plot thickening. I hope I may prove a false prophet, but I fear the catastrophe is even now only too near. . . . While the danger is in the future and gathering head, while we can still hear one another speak, I want to remind each one of you, who . . . it is that has forced you to take counsel, not for your rights and interests abroad, but for your possessions here at home and for the war in Attica, a war which will bring distress on every one of us, when it does come, but which really dates from that very day. For if you had not been hoodwinked then, there would be no anxiety in Athens, because Philip could never, of course, have gained command of the sea . . . nor could have marched past Thermopylae and Phocis. . . . May all the gods forbid that my warnings should ever be brought to the sternest test!

It was not to be. The conflict had become irrepressible, and gradually the majority of the Athenian voters were coming to recognize that the issue had to be faced. The three years which probably intervened between the Second Philippic and the Third Philippic (presumably delivered in 341 B.C.) mark a definite turning of the tide. Aeschines, apparently brought to trial at last, escaped conviction by so slim a margin that the verdict amounted to a moral condemnation. Philocrates shortly after the Second Philippic had been unmasked as a paid traitor and in 343 B.C. had fled into exile. The salutary effect of this house-cleaning was noticeable. The war fund, established in the Olynthic crisis but never supported with sufficient appropriations, was not set up in earnest. This time, when Byzantium (another city that had forcibly seceded from the Athenian confederacy a decade before) appealed for aid against Philip, the response of Athens was quite different from that which met the appeal from Rhodes. The assembly now listened with sympathetic attention to the plea of Demosthenes to keep Philip busy near the Dardanelles and thus prevent him from becoming active in central Greece:

Since the conclusion of the peace . . . all our interests have been completely betrayed and sacrificed . . . I do not think they could have been in a worse condition than they are to-day. Perhaps, indeed, this condition of our affairs may be attributed to many causes and not just to one or two, but a careful examination will convince you that it is above all due to those who study to win your favor rather than to give you the best advice. Some of them, . . . interested in maintaining a system which brings them credit and influence, have no thought for the future, while others, by blaming and traducing those in authority, make it their sole aim that our state shall concentrate on punishing her own citizens, while Philip shall be free to say and do whatever he pleases . . .

If indeed Athens can remain at peace and if the choice rests with us . . . I personally feel that we are bound to do so . . . ; but if there is another person concerned, with sword in hand and a mighty force at his back, who imposes on you with the name of peace but himself indulges in acts of war, what is left but to defend ourselves? If you choose to follow his example and profess that you are at peace, I raise no objection. But if anyone mistakes for peace an arrangement which will enable Philip, when he has seized everything else, to march upon us, such a man has taken leave of his senses, and the peace that he talks of is one that you observe towards Philip, but not Philip towards you. That is the advantage which he is purchasing by all his expenditure of money -- that he should be at war with you, but that you should not be at war with him . . .

Today we call this the "softening-up process." We know it well. But it is no new invention. For years Philip had engaged in it. He had won most of his Greek successes by first undermining the will-to-resist of each of his prospective victims. Nor did he, in the best Blitzkrieg manner, always deign to make an open declaration of war when the softening-up process had been completed. On this point Demosthenes admonished his countrymen:

If we are going to wait for him to acknowledge a state of war with us, we are indeed the simplest of mortals, for even if he marches straight against Attica and the Piraeus, he will not admit it, if we may judge from his treatment of the other states. For take the case of the Olynthians; when he was five miles from their city, he told them there must be one of two things, either they must cease to reside in Olynthos, or he in Macedon, though on all previous occasions, when accused of hostile intentions, he indignantly sent ambassadors to justify his conduct. Again, when he was marching against the Phocians, he still pretended that they were his allies, and Phocian ambassadors accompanied him on his march . . . . And then again quite lately, after entering Thessaly as a friend and ally, he seized Pherae and still retains it. . . . And do you imagine that . . . in your case he will give warning of hostilities, especially when you are so eager to be deceived? . . . Is there any intelligent man who would let words rather than deeds decide the question who is at peace and who is at war with him? . . . When he lays hands on Megara, sets up tyrannies in Euboea, makes his way, as now, into Thrace, hatches plots in the Peloponnese, and carries out all these operations with his armed force, he is breaking the peace and making war upon you.

I say that you will be wise if you defend yourselves now, but if you let the opportunity pass, you will not be able to act even when you desire to. . . . let your deliberations embrace all the Greek states and the great danger that besets them.

The steps of Philip's rise to power were built from the ruins of scores of cities and states. The tragic failure of the Greek states to realize that he was no mere local despot bent on local aggrandizement explains more than anything else why they persevered in their suicidal isolationism until it was too late. His systematic progress had been made possible by this very epidemic of isolationism. This issue between voluntary coöperation and collective slavery has never been more clearly presented, never more brilliantly illuminated, than by Demosthenes, the Athenian.

Neither the Greek nor the barbarian world is big enough for the fellow's ambition. And we Greeks see and hear all this, and yet we do not send embassies to one another and express our indignation. We are in such a miserable position, we have so entrenched ourselves in our different cities, that to this very day we can do nothing that our interest or our duty demands; we cannot combine, we cannot take any common pledge of help or friendship; but we idly watch the growing power of this man, each bent (or so it seems to me) on profiting by the interval afforded by another's ruin, taking not a thought, making not an effort for the salvation of Greece. For that Philip, like the recurrence or attack of a fever or some other disease, is threatening even those who think themselves out of reach, of that not one of you is ignorant . . .

Yet the Greeks see all this and suffer it. They seem to watch him just as they would watch a hailstorm, each praying that it may not come their way, but none making an effort to stay its course. . . . We hesitate one and all, we play the coward, we keep an eye on our neighbors, distrusting one another rather than our common foe. Yet if he treats us all with such brutality, what do you think he will do when he has got each of us separately into his clutches?

The misguided narrowness of the Greek city-states must be set aside for a larger conception, a wider union, a federation however loosely knit of all those with common political, cultural, and social ideals. And lest the armchair generals bemuse the Athenians into thinking that according to the accepted rules of warfare no serious danger could befall them, Demosthenes proclaimed:

For my own part, while practically all the arts have made a great advance and we are living to-day in a very different world from the old one, I consider that nothing has been more revolutionized and improved than the art of war . . . In those days . . . they were so old-fashioned, or rather such good citizens, that they never used money to buy an advantage from anyone, but their fighting was of the fair and open kind. But now you must surely see that most disasters are due to traitors, and none are the result of a regular pitched battle . . .

Since, however, you all know this, you must take it into account and not let the war pass into your own country; you must not come to grief through keeping your eyes fixed on the simple strategy of . . . old . . . but arrange your political affairs and your military preparations so that your line of defense may be as far away from Athens as possible, give him no chance of stirring from his base, and never come to close grips with him . . .

But it is not enough . . . to oppose him with active military measures. . . . You must reflect that it is impossible to defeat the enemies of our city until you have chastised those who within our very walls make themselves their servants. . . . You have granted to these men more security for the pursuance of their policy than to your own defenders. Yet mark what troubles are in store for those who lend an ear to such counsellors . . .

Perhaps you wonder why the people of Olynthos and Eretria and Oreus were more favorably inclined to Philip's advocates than to their own. The explanation is the same as at Athens, that the patriots, however much they desire it, cannot sometimes say anything agreeable, for they are obliged to consider the safety of the state; but the others by their very efforts to be agreeable are playing into Philip's hands. The patriots demanded a war subsidy, the others denied its necessity; the patriots bade them fight on and mistrust Philip, the others bade them keep the peace, until they fell into the snare. . . . It is the same tale everywhere, one party speaking to please their audience, the other giving advice that would have ensured their safety. But at the last there were many things that the people were induced to concede, not for their own gratification nor through ignorance, but gradually yielding because they thought that their discomfiture was inevitable and complete. And . . . that is what I certainly fear will be your experience

Demosthenes warned that there was no ready-made panacea for the plight in which Athens now found herself. Above all, he said, it would be sheer madness to rely upon Philip's good nature.

It is folly and cowardice to cherish such hopes, to follow ill counsel and refuse to perform any fraction of your duties, to lend an ear to the advocates of your enemies and imagine that your city is so great that no conceivable danger can befall it. Ay, and a disgrace too it is to have to say when all is over, "Why! Who would have thought it? For of course we ought to have done this or that, and not so and so." Many things could be named by the Olynthians to-day, which would have saved them from destruction if only they had then foreseen it. . .

So we too, Athenians, as long as we are safe, blessed with a very great city, ample advantages, and the fairest repute -- what are we to do? Perhaps some of my hearers have long been eager to ask that question. I solemnly promise that I will answer it and will also move a resolution, for which you can vote if so disposed. To begin with ourselves, we must make provision for our defense, I mean with war-galleys, funds, and men; for even if all other states succumb to slavery, we surely must fight the battle of liberty. Then having completed all these preparations and made our purpose clear, we must lose no time in calling upon the other Greeks . . . so that if you win them over, you may have someone to share your dangers and your expenses . . .

I do not, however, suggest that you should invite the rest, unless you are ready to do for yourselves what is necessary. . . . But I do contend that we must send supplies to the forces in the Chersonese and satisfy all their demands, and while we make preparations ourselves, we must summon, collect, instruct, and exhort the rest of the Greeks. That is the duty of a city with a reputation such as yours enjoys. But if you imagine that Greece will be saved by Chalcidians or Megarians, while you run away from the task, you are wrong. For they may think themselves lucky if they can save themselves separately. But this is a task for you; it was for you that your ancestors won this proud privilege and bequeathed it to you at great and manifold risk. But if every man sits idle, consulting his own pleasure and careful to avoid his own duty, not only will he find no one to do it for him, but I fear that those duties that we wish to shirk may all be forced upon us at once.

There is nothing to add to this eloquent appeal. It produced results, at last. In the words of Plutarch:

But when things came at last to war, . . . the first action he [Demosthenes] put them upon was the reducing of Euboea, which by the treachery of the tyrants, was brought under subjection to Philip. And on his proposition, the decree was voted, and they crossed over thither and chased the Macedonians out of the island. The next was the relief of the Byzantines and the Perinthians, whom the Macedonians at that time were attacking. He persuaded the people to lay aside their enmity against these cities, to forget the offences committed in the Confederate war, and to send them such succors as eventually saved and secured them. Not long after, he undertook an embassy through the states of Greece, which he solicited and so far incensed against Philip that, a few only excepted, he brought them all into a general league. . . . But the hardest task was yet behind, left for Demosthenes, to draw the Thebans into this confederacy with the rest. . . . Now the Thebans, in their consultations, were well enough aware what suited best with their own interest, but everyone had before his eyes the terrors of war.

Thus, to the very last, isolationist pacifism stood in the way of joint action. Demosthenes, however, achieved his greatest triumph by winning even the Thebans over to the side of Athens. But it was too late. The new-born league had no time to implement its treaties. Near the small town of Chaeronea in central Greece the united armies of Thebes and Athens went down to defeat in 338 B.C. Too long had the forces of isolationism, appeasement and reaction been at work. And thus fell Athens.

[i] All quotations from the speeches of Demosthenes and Aeschines in this article are taken from the Loeb Classics edition (Greek and English version).

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