Courtesy Reuters

Demosthenes Redivivus a Page from the Record of Isolationism

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

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