On the Enduring Consequences of Tyranny–In Modern Greece and in Contemporary America

George Anastaplo



I have recently had occasion to review, several decades afterwards, materials of mine discussing the rule in Greece by a cabal of Colonels between 1967 and 1974. Those officers made their ill-fated move to seize power during a political crisis in Greece that had simmered for a generation and had become quite intense in 1960-1967, a crisis which may have had its roots in the vicious civil war Greece had had to endure after the ruthless Second World War occupation by the Germans ended in 1944. My own exposure to Greek affairs, going back to what was understood among us as a Greek-American family living in St. Louis (where I was born) and then in Southern Illinois, had been reinforced by visits to “the Old Country” in the winter of 1946-1947 (while I was stationed in Egypt as a navigator with the United States Army Air Corps) and in the 1960s for annual archaeological tours of that Country which I organized for Chicago-area students.

            I was moved, once the Colonels took over Greece, to study intensively what was going on there, a study which included considerable personal contact with the leading Greek political figures in the Country and elsewhere. Two dozen articles of mine, on “the Greek situation,” were entered in the Congressional Record between 1969 and 1975, articles which included vigorous criticism of how the United States Government was conducting itself in response to the Colonels. What I presumed to say about Greek affairs had no apparent effect on how our government conducted itself, but it did move the Colonels’ government to declare me persona non grata, which meant (among other things) that I was not in Greece during the final years of the Colonels, years which saw one disaster after another (culminating in an ill-fated effort by the Colonels to redeem themselves by taking over Cyprus, another dreadful miscalculation on their part which distorts Greeks-Turkish relations to this day).

My recent review of what I once presumed to say about Greek affairs left me impressed by what I knew then about the subject. My Congressional Record materials on Greece, which have been posted on the anastaplo.wordpress site, can remind me of what it takes to make oneself reliably competent in the affairs of any people. Such a reminder should make one cautious about prescribing programs for any other people, if not even for one’s own government.


            However competent I once was in Greek affairs, that is certainly not so today. That the Greeks are currently in serious trouble as a community should be obvious to everyone. The temperament and habits of the general population do seem to make it difficult to develop and maintain the discipline and practices evidently necessary for a sturdy modern economy.

Symptomatic of the Greek temperament seems to be the prevailing casualness in that Country about the payment of taxes. Fiscal discipline seems always to have been quite difficult for the Greeks both to justify and to maintain. I had once hoped that a closer association of the Greeks with “Europe” (with even a common currency) would be salutary, but that does not seem to have happened, at least not yet.

The evident inability of the Greeks at large both to see what seems to be obviously needed and to discipline themselves to act responsibly can make one wonder about the temperament (not the intelligence) of that people. Indeed, the observer may even be moved to wonder how much that temperament contributed to the decade-long political crisis which the Colonels exploited in 1967. Sometimes it can even seem that a determined sophistry, rather than a disciplined thoughtfulness, is treasured in that Country.


            An awareness of my limitations as a student of contemporary Greece should not keep me from speculations here. I do sense that the Greeks were shaped significantly by centuries of experience with the Turks as their rulers. Turkish influences (good as well as questionable) may be seen in the language, in the food, and in the music of the modern Greeks.

Greece, ancient as well as modern, has been much influenced by its geography. It has always been “at the crossroads,” connecting Europe and Africa, connecting West and East. This may have contributed to the early Greek proficiency in philosophy (with even the evidently initial recognition in Greece of the very idea of nature).

Five centuries of Turkish (including Islamic) political domination of Christian Greece came to an end in the Nineteenth Century. Indeed, the modern Greeks were winning their independence (in a piecemeal fashion) during the very years that Abolitionism and then Emancipation developed in the United States for those held in slavery. The desperate effort the Colonels made to acquire Cyprus (in the Summer of 1974) can even be seen as part of a move for Greek self-assertiveness that became so dramatic early in the Nineteenth Century.


            Of course, it can be wondered how successful the determined self-assertion of the Greeks has indeed been. It might even be wondered as well what the effects of all this have been on Turks who have been “deprived” of the control they had once exercised over a vast area in their part of the world. Aspects of the difficulties a people has in accommodating itself to a loss of systematic control of others have been seen among us as well, when a once-dominant majority finds itself obliged to accommodate itself to a significantly-reduced control of this Country’s affairs.

A critical consequence of the centuries of Greek subservience in the Ottoman Empire seems to be evident in the Greek temperament today. A deep skepticism about the legitimacy of Authority has to be reckoned with. It might even seem patriotic, for example, not to take seriously the taxes that Someone Else is levying.

One’s deepest loyalty as a Greek seems to be to the Family and thereafter to the Association (or Clan) that one’s family has “always” deferred to and depended on. These relations are evident in the prevalence, generation after generation, of familiar names in the political life of that country. The Church (which had proved critical to the maintenance of “Greekness” during centuries of Turkish domination) can also make the overall political order seem less authoritative.


            There are, in how the Greek temperament “operates,” questionable (as well as charming) features. Thus, there can be wonderful nights of food, conversation and a determined conviviality. But there can also be an insistent self-centeredness that can make sustained community efforts difficult (except perhaps in military efforts against a foreign enemy).

Of course, we do not have to reckon here with genetic limitations, however deep-rooted the difficult Greek temperament may sometimes seem to be. Thus, the Greeks who come to the United States can, in a generation or two, be “Americanized” (for better and for worse). This may eventually include successful participation by those of Greek descent in responsible political endeavors in this Country.

The immigrant generation can itself do quite well, but they can retain critical features of the “Old Country” temperament. Thus, the United States State Department was, in 1967-1974, seriously misled by the most influential in the Greek-American community, those men who had (as immigrants) prospered significantly in this Country. Those older Greek-Americans who had done so well here as immigrant entrepreneurs, were of a naïve temperament politically that moved them to champion the Colonels (who were, in origins and sophistication as provincial as these immigrants, influential immigrants who have been much troubled, since 1974 by the Turkish occupation of part of Cyprus (for which they can be considered partly responsible?).


            The limitations of the modern Greeks, I have presumed to suggest, are at least in part the result of centuries of Turkish domination. May not much the same be said about the limitations in this Country of African-Americans? Of course, an even more troubling deprivation than what the Greeks endured in the Ottoman Empire was what African-Americans endured as slaves in North America.

The experiences of recent immigrants to the United States from Asia is instructive here. Many of them, not long after their arrival here after remarkable deprivations elsewhere, are able to prosper (even while they are mastering the English language and accustoming themselves to American ways). They are also able both to keep their families together and to make sure that their children take advantage of the considerable educational opportunities available in this Country even among the poor.

A seeming advantage for African-Americans (an advantage that may be in part due to what slave-owners bred for) is their remarkable athletic prowess. But insofar as the lure of athletic distinction inspires the youth of this Country, to that extent is there apt to be (in the typical situation) a misdirection of efforts. A dramatic ratification of such misdirection can be seen in how a President of the United States publicly acclaimed a would-be scholar turned athlete, a matter referred to thus in my Letter to Editors of January 24, 2007:

Our President singled out, in the Gallery during his recent State of the Union address, a professional basketball star who had come to the United States from Africa to study medicine but who had been persuaded to play basketball instead. This is the wrong message at this time, considering how difficult it can be to persuade all too many African-American boys that a productive future lies for them in their studies, not in professional sports. The advisors to our “Education President” should know better.


            The athlete thus singled out had come from Africa. One can be reminded thereby of the small but steady immigration these days from that continent. They do have European Colonialism in their background, but not necessarily slavery — and that seems to make a difference when they do come here.

The Africans one encounters in this Country (as recent immigrants) seem to be accustomed to more reliable social associations. This seems to be reflected in the discipline of their families. Traditional African-Americans, on the other hand, seem to be more the victims of chance developments, including those which lead to more and more native-born African-Americans having to be raised in fatherless households.

The official repudiation of racial segregation in this Country has had one dubious consequence in recent decades. It is now possible for successful African-Americans to act like successful members of other ethnic groups: they need not stay in the old neighborhoods where they could train and discipline future generations of their “people.” The clergy may be more likely to “stick around” — but, of course, the influence of religion itself has steadily lessened among African-Americans as it has among other groups in this Country.


            However much progress has been made in race relations in this Country, it is obvious that African-Americans still have a long way to go. It is hard both for them and for their prejudiced fellow-citizens to shake off the shackles of the past. But it can be wondered whether African-Americans take sufficient advantage of the considerable resources already available to them, however inferior such resources may indeed be compared to what is routinely available elsewhere for more privileged groups in the United States.

Among the resources now available, of course, is the fact that an African-American can be twice elected President of the United States. The support of him at the polls by the African-American community has been impressive. A discipline has been displayed here that seems to be promising for future political enterprises among African-Americans.

Even so, the enduring dubious consequences of slavery should not be minimized, adversely affecting as it does the spiritual development of the descendants both of former slaves and of former masters. Also to be reckoned with here is the fact that the first African-American elected to the Presidency is not himself a descendant of forebears subjected to the traumatizing effects of centuries of chattel slavery in this Country. One can be reminded here of the significant difference (psychic and otherwise) between the free man and the freedman.



            What, then, should the typical African-American expect? I notice, in passing, the superiority (in relevant nomenclature here) of “African-American” or even “Negro” over “Black.” Among the elements to be expected, for a long time to come, is considerable racial prejudice in this Country — and vocabulary can be influential here.

One can be reminded, upon contemplating the considerable progress African-Americans have indeed made, of the illusions that German Jews came to rely on in the Nineteenth Century. The Nazis in the late 1920s and the early 1930s had deepseated prejudices against the Jews among the Germans that could be exploited in the severe conditions left by the First World War and the Great Depression. And when that exploitation became deadly on an unprecedented scale, the Jews of Germany (and, indeed, the Jews of European Continent) were helpless, unable to count on significant support from other peoples elsewhere.

That dreadful experience has contributed to the determination among apprehensive Jews everywhere that a vigilant Israel continue as an ultimate refuge for Jews who must be regarded as perpetually vulnerable. What, it can be wondered, provides a comparable assurance today for apprehensive African-Americans? What, in short, can the American way, or American constitutionalism be expected to provide as a reliable refuge for any decent people who are determined to be and to do good?

There remarks were prepared, in June 2013, for a middle-class African-American audience in the Chatham neighborhood, Chicago, Illinois. George Anastaplo is Professor of Law, Loyola University of Chicago, and Lecturer in the Liberal Arts, The University of Chicago. His most recent book is Reflections on Slavery and the Constitution (published 2012 by Lexington Books). This June 2013 essay should eventually be included in Reflections on Race Relations and the Constitution (the seventh of a projected ten-volume series of “constitutional sonnets,” five volumes of which have already been prepared for publication).

The desperate circumstances of the African-American community are indicated by an account published in 1995 (that is, well before the current recession which has made matters even worse): “The situation amongst the majority of black Americans is desperate. Their communities are rife with crime, drug addiction and AIDS. African-Americans are progressively falling further behind whites in wages and employment rates. The unemployment rate for black males is double that of white males. And unemployed black professionals are far less likely to get hired than their white counterparts. Over 25 percent of black men and women live below the poverty level, compared to less than 10 percent of white Americans. The largest causes of death among young black men is either murder or suicide. Nearly half the black male Americans from 15 to 19 years old who died in 1988 were killed by guns. In 1994, thirty percent of black men between the ages of 20 and 29 were in some phase of the criminal justice system—either in prison or jail, or on probation or parole. The infant mortality rates in inner city black ghettos approaches that of most third world countries. . . .” Robert A. Rockaway, “’The Jews Cannot Defeat Me’: The Anti-Jewish Campaign of Louis Farrakhan and the nation of Islam” (Tel Aviv University, November 1995). See, also, the Lead Editorial, Chicago Tribune, July 9, 2013, sec. 1, p. 6 (on the shooting victims in Chicago during the first six months of 2013). Compare the second editorial on that occasion: “Lessons of the Asiana [Airliner] Crash: A credit to first responders and an increasingly safe industry.”






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