Demosthenes say Athenian character was not undergoing degeneration

Demosthenes say Athenian character was not undergoing degeneration. He held the belief that the Athenian character was not undergoing degeneration, despite the majority of the indicators being unfavorable. He would have been unable to endure doing what Plato did abandoning the Athenian state and completely cutting ties with it, as if it were a terminally ill patient. However, its behavior had deteriorated to being lowly and trivial. Undoubtedly, its essence must also be trivial? How might it elevate to more refined ideas and greater courage?

Demosthenes say Athenian character was not undergoing degeneration

Upon comparing the present with the past, Isocrates reached a singular conclusion: the past is permanently deceased. However, Demosthenes, being an engaged politician, could not adopt that perspective as long as there was even one wall of his stronghold remaining and capable of being protected. He utilized the first magnificence of Athens as a catalyst to get maximum effort from his peers. However, when he made a comparison between the past and the present, he did not simply come to the conclusion that the Athenians of his day should strive to equal their predecessors. He believed it was necessary for them to do so.

No matter how extensive and profound the divide between the present and the past, Athens could not detach itself from its history without forsaking its own identity. The longer a people’s history, the more inevitable it becomes that their collapse is predetermined, and the more tragic it is that they are unable to avoid their responsibilities, even if they are difficult to fulfill.

Naturally, Demosthenes did not intentionally deceive himself, nor did he recklessly guide the Athenians into a risky endeavor. However, we must question if the pressing nature of the situation, which he perceived more accurately than any other political figure, truly permitted him or anyone else to engage in the kind of politics that is commonly referred to as ‘the art of the feasible’. He possessed a greater inclination towards practical politics than what has been acknowledged by the majority of contemporary historians.

However, a profound internal deliberation likely took place within him, weighing the pragmatic politician against the idealistic statesman who prioritizes justice and moral duty. This debate centered on the crucial question of whether it was justifiable to jeopardize the entire existence of Athens and demand that she, with her limited resources, undertake an impossible task. When he requested her to contribute a significant amount, he was not making an impassioned plea based on unrealistic expectations.

He was acutely aware that both a nation and an individual have the capacity to exert tremendous and inconceivable efforts in a life-threatening crisis. The magnitude of these efforts is contingent upon the level of awareness of the imminent danger and the genuine desire to save life. This is an enigma of the natural world that even the most astute leader cannot predict. In hindsight, it is evident that the true statesmen were those who approached this problem with a pragmatic mindset, treating it as a matter of straightforward calculations.

They had no difficulty in rejecting a risky endeavor, as they were not compelled to undertake it due to their unwavering faith in their nation, confidence in its capabilities, and recognition of the inescapable nature of destiny. During that crucial juncture, Demosthenes emerged as the one who eloquently and urgently expressed the heroic nature of the city-state concept. Observe the countenance of his statue, displaying a combination of anxiety, deep thought, and marked with lines of worry.

It is evident that he did not possess the inherent qualities of strength and heroism like Diomede or Achilles; rather, he was a typical representative of his day. Undoubtedly, this enhances the nobility of his struggle, as he imposed greater challenges on his heightened sensitivity and nuanced individuality. Demosthenes was unable to decline the challenge.

He willingly embraced it, fully cognizant of all the implications it would entail. According to Thucydides, the Athenians were capable of confronting danger only when they had a clear understanding of it, while others often recklessly faced perils that they did not fully grasp. Demosthenes adhered to that philosophy.

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He cautioned the Athenians that the upcoming conflict would differ from the Peloponnesian war, during which Athens limited its actions to allowing the invading enemy inside Attica and observing them from within the protective walls. The methodology of warfare has advanced since that time. Athens would use her resources in vain if she were to delay until the enemy breached her borders. That is a primary factor that led Demosthenes to decline the option of adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach.

He garnered support from both the Greeks and the Persians. Moreover, the Macedonians, immediately after their victory in Greece, proceeded to topple the Persian empire. The Persian lack of concern for the fate of Greece might be characterized as sheer ignorance. Demosthenes believed that his astute and logical arguments would enough persuade the Persian king to comprehend the dire consequences that awaited Persia if Philip were to triumph over the Greeks.

It is possible that he might have experienced visiting Asia firsthand. However, his representatives were unsuccessful in overcoming the Persian resistance.