Pericles- Funeral Oration

Topics: Athenian democracy, Politics, Democracy Pages: 8 (3007 words) Published: October 5, 2010
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Individual and Community

Introductory note: this is not an outline of the entire funeral oration but an interpretation of some central theme of the work, the way in which individuals serve the common good by pursuing their own ends.

The first part of the speech focuses on the contribution of the democratic constitution of Athens to the good of Athenian citizens On the Athenian way of thinking, a good political community is one in which citizens live a good (happy, fulfilled) life. The implied contrast is with Sparta and other such regimes in which a good regime has ends that are independent of the good life of citizens. Such regimes demand that citizens sacrifice their own good for the success or glory of the political community. The Athenian polis contributes to the good of individual citizens in a number of ways. Life is free and easy. In private life, everyone is equal before the laws.

In public life, equality of opportunity is found
This is important in a democracy because political equality is impossible if poor not able to take part in government. And it contributes to the good of the polis by allowing it to draw upon the talents of abilities of all citizens. Freedom

Legal restrictions on what citizens may or must do are relatively few. Citizens are tolerance of each other doing what they like.
Many ways to refresh the mind from the burdens of business: contests (including dramatic contests), religious sacrifices. Note that this is one of the few mentions of religion in the speech. Economic benefits of living in the relative wealth of Athens: "elegance of private establishments," produce from all over the world. Education of Athenians is not a painful discipline (as in Sparta) but encourages freedom and "courageous habits." Love of beautiful things found in Athens, including philosophy. In comparison, life in the military regime of Sparta is highly regulated and hard. Second part of the speech focuses on how democratic institutions serve the common good and, in particular, leads individual citizens to choose to serve the good of Athens. They do this primarily in two places: political discussion in the assembly and military service Deliberation and discussion is not a stumbling block but a preliminary to wise action. Deliberation and discussion is useful because it allows for a wider range of ideas and perspective to be brought to bear on political decisions In many other cities such discussion and debate would, it seems, be a stumbling block, leading to delay, inaction, hesitation. Why does this not occur in Athens? Implicit answer: Athens allows for the rule of a simple majority (50% +1), thereby allowing the polis to be decisive, even where there is great division. The question, then, is how is majority rule compatible with political stability? Why does not majority rule lead to conflict when the minority is quite substantial? The citizens are willing to accept the decisions of the majority because: Given the democratic constitution of Athens, all citizens believe that they and their views have been listened to and respected, even when they have been outvoted. Thus citizens approve the process of decision making even when they disapprove of the decision. Citizens thus feel an obligation to respect the democratic decision of the majority. (Compare the US during the Vietnam war in which many citizens felt that they had on control over the foreign policy of our country.) They will have the opportunity to change these decisions later, if they convince a majority that a mistake has been made Military service

Athenians know the difference between hardship and pleasure (unlike Spartans, who know no better. But are willing and eager to fight for Athens and, if necessary, to die, a glorious death in the service of the city. In Athens,...
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