Fostering the Men Hostile to Liberty

John Stuart Mill, Grote’s History of Greece:

After Solon (omitting the intervening usurpation of Peisistratus), the first great constitutional change was the reformation of Cleisthenes; an eminent man, to whose character and historical importance no one before Mr. Grote had done justice. The next was that in which the immediate mover was Aristides, at the reestablishment of the city after the Persian War, when the poorest class of citizens was first admitted to share in public employments. The final measures which completed the democratic constitution were those of Pericles and Ephialtes; more particularly the latter, — a statesman of whom, from the unfortunate absence of any contemporary history of the period between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars except the brief introductory sketch of Thucydides, we have to lament that too little is known, but of whom the recorded anecdotes indicate a man worthy to have been the friend of Pericles.

Ephialtes perished by assassination; a victim to the rancorous hatred of the oligarchical party. Assassination afterwards disappears from Athenian public life, until re-introduced on a regular system by the same party, to effect the revolution of the Four Hundred. The Athenian Many, of whose democratic irritability and suspicion we hear so much, are rather to be accused of too easy and good-natured a confidence, when we reflect that they had living in the midst of them the very men, who, on the first show of an opportunity, were ready to compass the subversion of the democracy by the dark deeds of Peisander and Antiphon; and, when they had effected their object, perpetrated all the villanies of Critias and his associates.

These men ought always to be present to the mind, not merely as a dark background to the picture of the Athenian Republic, but as an active power in it. They were no obscure private individuals, but men of rank and fortune; not only prominent as politicians and public speakers, but continually trusted with all the great offices of State. Truly Athens was in more danger from these men than from the demagogues: they were indeed themselves the worst of the demagogues; described by Phrynichus, their confederate, as for their own purposes, the leaders and instigators of the Demos to its most blamable actions.

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