Willingly At the Forefront or Perpetual Testing Ground?

Mark Mazower is perhaps one of the most prominent historians of his generation, one that I respect and whose works I’ve have studied extensively over the past decade. This is his latest article on the NY Times and a good read; it may not be comprehensive — as no newspaper article could ever be — it may skim over a two thousand year period, in the process making an impossibly romantic, and if it weren’t for its author I’d dare call it naive, argument: that Greece has repeatedly throughout its history had a leading role in shaping world events by being a forerunner of (r)evolution. The argument is romantic and flattering, but it’s also flawed. It purposefully ignores that Greece has long lost its position as an enviable country (if it ever really had one) and nation, that it encompasses a society, a state and (a modern) culture admired by very few people that can discern between Classical Greece and Modern Greece. It hides the fact that since the founding of the modern Hellenic state in 1830, it is seldom Greece (the state) or its people that have chosen to shape the world, as Mazower puts it, but rather the world that has repeatedly coerced, if not forced, it to partake in its experiments, a guinea pig of sorts, the testing ground for change; whether for the imposition of western european monarchy on newly constituted nation-states in the 19th century, the fight against the Axis, the field testing of napalm in the 1940s, or the slow dismantling of the post-WWII status quo in Europe and the West that’s happening now. In that respect, Mazower’s article is unfounded and misleading; it makes the same mistake so many western historians, philhellenes and intellectuals have made over the past two hundred years: it flatters an intellectually, politically and economically corrupt state and an ignorant yet proud people by ignoring the very causes of their predicament, viewing the world through the stained rose tinted glasses of its long and glorious history and a form of nationalism, irrational as it always is. And that is the last thing that Greece needs, right now and — arguably — has ever needed.

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