B. Gray: Stasis and Stability

Stasis and Stability. Exile, the Polis, and Political Thought, c. 404–146 BC

Gray, Benjamin
XIII, 452 S.
£ 90.00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Lucia Cecchet, Historisches Seminar - Alte Geschichte, Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz

Benjamin Gray uses exile and stasis as tools for understanding Greek political culture, namely, the system of conceptions, paradigms and norms regulating political actions in the citizens’ community. Political culture is not a consistent and internally homogeneous system of values, rather it contains contradictions and ambiguities. On the one hand, Gray claims that exile and stasis reflected these contradictions; on the other, that they contributed in shaping and modifying established norms of civic life.

In the Introduction (pp. 21–33), Gray discusses the main interpretative models of Greek political culture. The first is the paradigm of the polis as a participatory community (“polis-as-community” approach), based on solidarity and political friendship aiming at civic harmony. The second model interprets Greek political culture as strongly influenced by individualism and competition among citizens (“polis-as-association” approach), ultimately regulated by the principles of reciprocity between individuals. Other approaches integrate elements of neo-Kantian philosophy – mainly Rawls and Habermas – in understandings of Athenian political culture, based on the claim that Athenian democracy strongly valued mutual respect among citizens and pluralilty of political behaviour. It is Gray’s aim to use “the evidence of exile to evaluate these different interpretations of Greek political cultures” (p. 32).

Chapter 1 sets out the foundations of the argument. It identifies the two main paradigms that orientated Greek civic politics – i.e. the “polis-as-community” and “the polis-as-association” paradigms – within two case studies, two decrees of civic reconciliation after stasis, one from the Sicilian polis of Nakone (late 4th or early 3rd century BC) and the other from the Chalcidian city of Dikaia (4th century BC). The resolution in Nakone is that of establishing homonoia by mixing up the citizens in new associations that cut across family ties and political factions. This is no typical case of post-stasis resolution and Gray is right to stress its extraordinary character as “an ambitious process of social engineering” (p. 40). The importance given to friendship and solidarity among citizens in Nakone leads Gray to interpret this resolution as an implementation of the “polis-as-community” paradigm. By contrast, the procedures of reconciliation introduced in Dikaia place more importance on the respect of justice and of public procedures, constituting a sort of pact for mutual security in the polis (p. 48). They provide an example of the underlying paradigm of the “polis-as-association”. The two models, which Gray terms throughout the book “Nakonian” and “Dikaiopolitan”, (thereby refusing to use inadequate modern socio-political terminology), are at the two poles of “a continuous scale of possible political positions” (p. 58). In the following five chapters (with the only exception of Chapter 6), Gray shows that they work as a dialectical pair and that the mode of their interaction is at the very roots of civic concord and stasis.

Chapter 2 is an attempt at identifying each of these two models in post-stasis situations in some of the Greek poleis. Gray regards Mytilene (334–324 BC) and Athens (422–418 and 403 BC) as examples of Nakonian reconciliation, while Tegea (324 BC) and Telos (early Hellenistic period) bear to Dikaiopolitan features of internal conflict resolution.

Chapter 3 investigates the different categories of citizen expulsion, namely, ostracism, exile, outlawry and disenfranchisement, as well as the implicit and explicit arguments made for expulsion. It provides useful tables at pp. 112–119. The distinction between the two models guides the analysis of the evidence, as Gray differentiates between Nakonian and Dikaiopolitan arguments for exile, though he acknowledges that in many cases elements of both models co-existed.

The co-existence of the two models is apparent also in what Gray terms “dynamic civic interaction” (p. 159), namely the everyday functioning of a polis in its deliberative and judicial functions, beyond cases of exile and post-stasis reconciliation. Chapter 4 is devoted precisely to the examination of this co-existence. The combination of Nakonian and Dikaiopolitan norms in Classical Athens and Hellenistic Asia Minor helped lead to political stability and civic concord. In particular, Athenian Classical oratory (pp. 184–193) reveals that orators often refused to apply only one model and that they preferred to use both paradigms in a system of doublethink (p. 194).

Chapter 5 goes back to the topic of stasis and it investigates its causes and internal dynamics with reference to some case studies, among which there are fourth-century Phlius, Athens in 404–3 and 322–18 BC, early fourth-century Corinth and Hellenistic Iasos. Gray argues that the clash between the Nakonian and the Dikaiopolitan models of politics was itself an important factor leading to conflict (p. 288) and this happened because the ongoing dialectic between the two models often ended up radicalising both of them.

The last chapter stands out as a study on the political and social experience of exile from the perspective of the exiled. This is somewhat independent from the rest of the book, as the degree of theorisation is much lower. It is the most successful part of the work, discussing the modes of integration or isolation of the exiles and of the refugees into host communities. Gray provides an interesting new framework of interpretation, distinguishing between exiles who aimed at re-creating civic political behaviour (for example, by holding their own assemblies in the hosting poleis, by organising their own magistracies, or even by founding new cities, see the tables at pp. 311–324) and those who suspended normal civic habits during exile.

Conclusions, bibliography, and three indexes (of Greek words, of passages, of subjects) complete the work.

The overall impression is that Gray sometimes goes too far in the attempt at classifying arguments and practices of expulsion into one (or both) of the two theoretical models. This is particularly evident in Chapter 3. A few examples: Plato’s arguments for the ethical purity of the polis in the Laws, Demosthenes’ view of civic virtue in On the Crown, as well as the criteria regulating the potential expulsion of the naturalised citizen Eurydamas in a mid-Hellenistic decree from Phthiotic Thebes, the penalty of disenfranchisment to protect civic property in third-century Mylasa and that of atimia for moving boundary stones in fifth-century Chios (pp. 121–132) all refer to the Nakonian paradigm of civic unity. But at the same time Gray acknowledges that some of these examples contain also many Dikaiopolitan features. Similarly, he maintains that a Nakonian argumentation co-exists with a Dikaiopolitan notion of polis in Demosthenes’ Against Meidias (p. 136); and, further, the Nakonian ideal of civic virtue emerges alongside the Dikaiopolitan spirit in the provisions regulating the service of garrison commanders in an epigraphic document from Hellenistic Teos (pp. 146–151). While this mixture of features of both paradigms does not contradict Gray’s frame of interpretation, as he makes it clear that the two paradigms did co-exist, one might have some doubts on how sharp the distinction between the two models is and how fruitful the search for this distinction is. Gray foresees and counters this kind of objections throughout the book (see, for example, pp. 97–98 and 159) by stressing the different aims of the two models, namely, the fact that a Nakonian harmonic community differs from a Dikaiopolitan individualistic association. However, one is left unconvinced on how effective this difference was and unclear about how to draw a distinction between them.

Further, reasoning at the level of political theory, Gray notes that at the middle of the two poles between Nakonian and Dikaiopolitan model there should be a middle ground of proto-Kantian approaches to politics, which would promote mutual solidarity, while at the same time also welcoming individual pursuits. Nevertheless, he maintains that there is very little evidence for such a middle model as a paradigm in the Classical and Hellenistic world. However, one wonders whether the constant mixture of elements of the two paradigms does not itself show that this middle ground did in fact exist, and whether it is not an excess of theoretisation and systematisation of the evidence into a “Nakonian-Dikaiopolitan” binary system that obscures it.

Leaving these objections to the theoretical framework aside, Gray’s book is very successful in highlighting the tensions inherent in Greek political culture and the constant interplay between different visions of good civic order. Furthermore, Chapter 6 provides a very useful discussion of an aspect of ancient exile that is still rather neglected, i.e. the forms of organisation of exile groups and their cultural responses to exile. The reader will also benefit from the constant integration of evidence from literary texts (mainly by orators and philosophers) and a vast collection of epigraphic documents.

Lucia Cecchet: Rezension zu: : Stasis and Stability. Exile, the Polis, and Political Thought, c. 404–146 BC. Oxford  2015 , in: H-Soz-Kult, 11.06.2018, <www.hsozkult.de/publicationreview/id/rezbuecher-25292>.
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