(Chapter 1: Greece)
I don’t know about you, but I don’t do well under stringency. Most especially the kind of stringency that asserts itself inconsistently. To be dealt this hand by the law, and watch on as your fellow human being is dealt an entirely different hand by that same law… To watch on as this supposed law proves itself not only shifty in its application, but in its very form too… A law that is today this, tomorrow that—lacking consistency and clarity… To live under such a legal regime, that’s got to sting, doesn’t it? That’s why, for the life of me, I cannot fathom how the ‘tete’ people—the humans of old, worldwide—did it. To be made subject to a system that drew a sharp line between the ruler and the ruled; a system that prescribed laws for the living by (solely by the ruled), and said the former (the ruler), was sovereign—untouched by the law… A law that did as it pleased, metamorphosised itself as it wished… You’ve got to admit, that’s really got to sting for the majority of humanity—finding themselves in the ‘ruled’ category of our past worlds.
Ancient Greece is Ancient Athens
I wish we could kickstart this piece with the wise writings of say, Kwaku Anansi, or even his equally sharp sister, Ama Anansi—you know, for anti-Eurocentrism-cum-Black-excellence’s sake. But sadly, lacking a culture of writing which dates back to centuries preceding Christ Himself, we will have to refer to those who bothered to, from the very inception, put pen to paper, for some of the earliest records of the topic for discussion this week. So yes, begrudgingly, we quickly turn to Europe—specifically to this Greek gentleman… His name was Aristotle, and the topic for discussion in this series is the rule of law.
Before we effectively drill down to the Aristotelian conception of law, we must first understand the society from which he proceeded—the society which formed the basis for his philosophical inquests into this vital concept, the concept of rule of law.
Centuries before the emergence of Christ, Greece was, as we have come to expect of early humans worldwide, a society of sparse ethnic groups existing in their individual confinements—not bonded closely together in carefully demarcated borders of nationhood as we have it now. Ancient Greece, spanning the periods of 5th century BC to 4th century BC, consisted of a number of different states—Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Argos, Aegina, Syracuse, Thebes, Rhodes, etc. Yet much of the records of this Classical Greek period is notably centred around the Athenian society. This is because more than any other ancient Greek state, the Athenians left behind written records, detailing their strides in, among others, literature, art, architecture, governance (particularly in law—the focus of this series). So once again—and I hate to sound like a broken record—those who bothered to put pen to paper, to codify their existence, at the end of the day, have history on their side. [We will tackle this matter of codification in the very near future.]
The Athenian, much like the rest of the other Greek states, and the world in fact, had suffered under tyrannical rulers in their past. Tyranny was particularly at its best during the era of, and those eras preceding the 6th century BC, when the last Athenian tyrannical ruler, Hippias was overthrown. After Hippias came Cleisthenes who, upon his ascension to the seat of governance in 508 BC, introduced democratic reforms—reforms such as freedom of speech (a parliamentary system which allowed for the involvements of all citizens in national discourse was instituted), and equal rights for all mankind (‘mankind’ here is not a misnomer. Greek society had not advanced in thinking so much as to afford the human called ‘woman’ a slice of these equal rights. But—and you know what I’m about to say—that’s a topic for another day).
This legacy of democratic rule was to prevail (intermittently) in this ancient Greek society, all the way from the era of the Athenian ruler, Cleisthenes, to the reign of Pericles when democracy flourished famously. But in the 4th century B.C., Athens—conquered and falling under the rule of the Macedonian king, Philip II, and then later, his son, Alexander the Great—saw itself starved of democracy. However, this whole conception of ‘a governance for the people and by the people’ was no new invention by the time the philosopher, Aristotle emerged—for his nation had had a taste of it before, but was presently, as mentioned, being starved of it.
Born in 384 BC in the region of Macedonia, there had been an array of great philosophers before him who had paved the way for the inquisitions into the state of affairs—philosophers like the prolific Plato (Aristotle’s own teacher), and the great Socrates (Plato’s very own teacher), both of the 5th century BC.
The Real Sovereign
When Abraham Lincoln took the stage on that 19th day of November, 1863 at Gettysburg—following the relative calm that proceeded his nation’s goriest battle of the Civil War—to deliver that potent two-minute speech and capped off that speech with the words, “…this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” he had not precisely offered to the world an original definition for this vital form of governance called democracy. For the term itself, ‘democracy’, unsurprisingly finds its origins in ancient Greece, particularly from the reformer ruler, Cleisthenes.
Introduced in 507 B.C., ‘demokratia’, is a compound word containing the terms ‘demos’ (meaning ‘people’) and ‘kratos’ (meaning ‘rule’). So then, democracy, quite literally means rule by the people—and a rule ‘by’ the people is easily achieved by a rule ‘of’ the people. And the people, being human, hence looking out always for their very best interest, being given this option of governance where rule is by them, such a rule will expectedly and undoubtedly be so undertaken that it will be ‘for’ the people—a rule that serves the public good and common interest.
And in ancient Athenian society—having for itself a largely codified history—we find the first (recorded) signs of this system of governance… A system of governance where the people are not merely subjects upon whom laws are arbitrarily applied and enforced. The Classical Athenian society had a legislative system which comprised of all adult male citizens (not being criminals or slaves). It had a parliamentary system which consisted of five hundred elected adult men—these five hundred men were chosen out of the population each year, and had the duty to, during the one-year period, enact laws, and help drive the mechanisms of politics. These proposed laws were then voted on by the rest of the voting populace.
Participation in national discourse, in fact, was more than a privilege and a right under Cleisthenes’ and Pericles’ Athens—it was a duty. To actively partake in making of statehood—in the making of laws, in the monitoring of their enforcements, and the entire politics of governance, that was a duty incumbent on the citizen. The citizen was to be relentless in their challenging of the status quo—when those status quos were found to be redundant, injurious to societal growth and its proper functioning. The citizen, quite plainly, was not to be a spectator, they were to be active participators. In all aspects of their national lives, the citizen was to be an inquisitor if need be, an enforcer, a watchdog guarding jealously the agreed-upon mechanisms of statehood and the institutions employed to effect their enforcements. “An Athenian citizen does not put his private affairs before the affairs of the state… We alone believe that a man [and woman] who takes no interest in public affairs is more than harmless—he is useless. The power to make laws is given to many rather than a few.” These harsh words used by Cleisthenes in description of the dormant citizen almost reeks of ostracisation.
We have, so far in this piece, seemingly used the terms ‘democracy’ and ‘rule of law’ interchangeably. And we will take an in-depth look into these terms in subsequent articles. But I must quickly note that I particularly like this Herodotus, the acclaimed ‘Father of History’, commenting on the human renaissance his nation sent itself through, said: “In a democracy, there is, first, that most splendid of virtues, equality before the law.” Needless to say, democracy and the rule of law are quite indispensably, bedfellows.
A Human Renaissance
It was not only the mechanism of statehood that flourished under this system of governance employed by the ancient Athenian society, the people within the society themselves flourished famously. The freedom afforded the Athenian citizen—the freedom of thought, of speech, of association, and of being, afforded the Greek (specifically, Athenian) populace was the fertile soil that saw to the springing up of the nation’s great thinkers, philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, writers, etc. that us all humans, spread worldwide, have come to know and admire. Important historical figures such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Diogenes, Homer, Sappho, Sophocles, Pythagoras, Archimedes, Hippocrates etc. are all products of this era of human renaissance—a renaissance largely enabled by the legal and regulatory regime kickstarted in 5th-and-4th-century-B.C. Greece.
In all aspects of our lives—us all in this world of ours—we find ourselves largely influenced by Greek history. In all aspects of the human existence and experience, the Greek is found in positions of ‘inventor’—the first ever to do it. The world’s first historian is said to be Greek—Herodotus (a.k.a. the ‘Father of History’); the ‘Father of Geometry’ is Euclid, also Greek. The nation proudly boasts of the world’s greatest philosophical minds. Advancements in science, architecture, governance, law, philosophy, theatre, etc. all find their roots in Classical Greece.
For a small, unassuming tribe of people as the ancient Athenians were, for such a people to rise steadily in human prowess and consequently national prowess, that it is able to affect other tribes (city-states) around it, and then the entire world around it… For such a group of people to have such a vast influence on all peoples of the world, and help determine the course of human history worldwide, this is no easy feat… It was one borne out of the concerted efforts of the people, concerted efforts of their leaders to create an environment that allowed for the people (the ruled) to be the ultimate determiner of the laws against which they were to be ruled… In the end, governance and the law, was what built Greece—governance was what lifted that nation, together with its people, up to the position of world influence. Governance was what birthed Socrates, it was what gave birth to Plato, to Aristotle, to Euclid, and all these great names we have come to know.
It sounds like a ridiculous thing to say: but leaders are not a useless bunch of people—a people employed to serve a term, and leave unceremoniously—the lives of the people of whom they were called to serve, unchanged. It sounds like an absolutely ridiculous thing to hammer on: but the law is not merely a stringent body of ‘dos and don’ts’—it is a vital tool employed in the transformation of nations and its people. These are universal facts that go without saying. Leaders cutting across arms and levels of governance, institutions (both public and private), all sectors of the economy and of national lives, are, in the end, the very mechanism that will see to the flourishing of society or otherwise—not just the structures of society, but of the people within these societies themselves. There are great inventors in Ghana who may never see the light of day, because the system has not allowed for their creations; there are brilliant thinkers who may never have their Aristotelian moments because they are born into this unfertile soil of ours.
I know we said we were going to focus on Greece, but perhaps we should have started with Eden. In law, the legend of Eden comes up often. The argument goes: after God had created this wondrous universe, and had put humankind at the centre of the puny earth, specifically in an earthly paradise called ‘Eden’, He/She gave these heavily unclad humans, then just two folks—Adam and Eve—all they ever required in this confinement of the Garden of Eden. God’s rule was one: ‘Adam, Eve, do not eat from the forbidden tree’. But apparently, there was a serpent (Satan) roaming freely about who drew this pair’s attention to this very fruit. ‘If it is forbidden, then it must be good’—that was the devil’s reasoning. Because, after all, if it was really forbidden—like really forbidden—why did God put the tree right at the centre of the Garden? And also, if it was really forbidden—like really, really forbidden—why did God place the Devil here with these two to facilitate this transaction of temptation and consequent disobedience? This sales pitch was enough to convince the two—just like that, Adam and Eve were sold on the Forbidden Tree. So, ladies and gentleman, this gentleman and lady allegedly ate that which they were not supposed to…
But it’s what God did after this unfortunate event that has become subject of legal awe…God, He/She calls on the two to ask, “Why?” And that, arguably, is the first record, in legend, of a court session, in our human history. Right in the Garden of Eden, the world’s first court was in session. Before punishment could be meted to these two original defaulters, God, being omniscient—all knowing, bothered still, to ask why…to give these two defaulters the opportunity to ‘remove their mouths’—to speak for themselves, to defend themselves. Adam and Eve, of course, famously blew this chance with their blame game [Sidenote: perhaps if God had created at least one additional person right from the very inception, preferably a lawyer—a lawyer on retainer…Adam and Eve would have gotten a better representation. But hey, this is just one person’s opinion here…]
However, a good legacy had began with the Court of Eden. A legacy of inquisition. If a people must live under a law, if a people must enjoy or suffer under a law, they must have every right to question: ‘why’? ‘Why’ is not merely an exercising of our human rights of inquisition, it is also, as our human experience has taught us, a gateway towards the betterment of our very human experience. This is a bold assertion—we will provide more proof to back it in subsequent pieces.
I am sorry, we seem to have wandered off aimlessly from Greece to Eden. We even almost got lost in the Garden of Eden—finding ourselves in the Court of Eden instead, as we did. This piece seems a very embodiment of its own title—it reeks of uncertainty, of a lack of form and precision. That stings, doesn’t it? To be made subject, an ardent reader as you are, to an incoherent work such as this. A bad law is an imprecise law—a law lacking form and certainty; a law that does not open itself for inquisitions. But I would argue that a good article on bad law is an imprecise article—an article lacking form and certainty; yet an article that opens itself up for inquisitions. I don’t know—I have had too much sobolo to drink—so at this point I am just confusing my own self.
But one thing is certain though, next week, we will find answers to our ‘why’—why this whole journey into antiquity?