Although the Colonels failed to turn back the clock, they did slow it down. When they lost power, Greece was still fulfilling its mission of perpetuating the Greek people. In 1975, the fertility rate was 2.4 children per woman, in contrast to 1.45 in Germany, 1.8 in England, and 1.93 in France. Immigration was only just beginning, whereas Western Europe already had large immigrant populations.
Greece has since caught up to the West. Fertility has plummeted to 1.3 children per woman—one of the lowest rates in the world. As Steyn (2011) notes: “In Greece, 100 grandparents have 42 grandchildren—i.e., the family tree is upside down.” Meanwhile, the country has taken in a foreign-born population that is as large, proportionately, as those of Great Britain and France. These trends may certainly change, but one need not extrapolate far into the future to see where they might lead …
How did things change so fast? First, the short answer. The Colonels left in disgrace, thus discrediting their nationalist ideology and creating a climate of indifference to the nation-state. But why, then, did things turn out so similarly in Spain? Its old regime died a quiet death, much like Generalissimo Franco himself, yet post-nationalism has triumphed there just as thoroughly as it has in Greece.
All right. Now the long answer. All of southern Europe had regimes that made patriotism their raison d’être. In short, nationalism had been nationalized. And these regimes used the schools, the media, and other norm-creating structures to instill love of country. In time, however, the structures succumbed to dry rot. The messengers no longer believed their message, and once a new regime came to power, for whatever reason, few were left to make the case for preserving the nation-state.
Another reason was the relative weakness of civil society. Since the State had little counterbalance to its power, whoever controlled it had much more freedom to control the direction of society. This was less true in the United States, for instance. Although university-educated Americans had massively converted to post-nationalism back in the 1940s, conversion proceeded much more slowly beyond this beachhead. Decades passed before the many pockets of resistance were finally overcome and mopped up.
Post-1974 Greece: the ideological motor for change
With the Colonels gone, change was not just moving faster. It was also becoming more deliberate. In the 1960s, it had been driven largely by young people who just wanted to do their own thing. After 1974, the new movers and shakers were more keenly aware of what they were doing … and the long-term consequences.
To some extent, they were merely following a narrative that the West had embraced earlier, after the Second World War. In its soft form, this narrative accepted that nationalism had helped create larger and more open societies. But the time had now come for the next stage: the formation of a “United States of Europe” and, eventually, an international superstate where everyone would be a citizen of the world.
This narrative had a harder version, as follows. Nationalism isn’t just outdated. It’s also evil, having caused the two world wars and the destruction of Europe’s Jewish community. To prevent an eventual third cataclysm, the nation-state should be progressively dismantled and its citizens reeducated.
Even before 1974, this post-national consensus had already been spreading into Greece. It was in the air, and only a totalitarian society could have kept it out. But things did accelerate when the Colonels left the scene. In 1975, Greece reratified the European Convention on Human Rights. That same year, the new constitution affirmed that such conventions “shall be an integral part of domestic Greek law and shall prevail over any contrary provision of the law” (Pollis, 1992). In the early 1990s, Greece embarked on a second round of efforts to comply with the norms of the European Community, which later became the European Union.
Although this process has been called “Europeanization,” a better term would be denationalization. “Europe” had become a transnational space where collective ethnic rights would be much weaker and individual rights much stronger. And such a space would eventually extend well beyond Europe. Turkey was touted as a prospective member, even though most of its land mass lay in the Middle East.
Europeanization was thus presented as a way to empower the individual at the expense of collective identities. Such empowerment would also bring material benefits: a higher standard of living and greater respect for personal freedom. Indeed, just as Greeks had earlier credited nationalism for the West’s success, a conviction now grew that post-nationalism was responsible.
This conviction held sway from the Right to the Left of the political spectrum, though for different reasons. The Right no longer saw institutions like the family, the church, and the ethnos as pre-conditions for economic success. Under the influence of libertarianism, it now viewed them as obstacles to competitive markets and economies of scale. By liquidating these collective restraints on the individual, Greece would replicate the same conditions that had earlier allowed the West to take off economically.
Meanwhile, the Left, under the influence of autonomy theory, saw unchosen collective identities, like gender and ethnos, as obstacles to self-realization. Since people do not choose to be men or women or to belong to an ethnic group, their freedom is diminished. They cannot realize their full potential.
Such thinking differed radically from what Greek nationalists had thought. For them, the secret of the West’s success was the nation-state: a community where one tended to treat fellow citizens with the same trust and deference as one would one’s own family. It was this secure, high-trust environment that made wealth creation so much easier.
The link between personal autonomy and prosperity is therefore neither direct nor causal. Rather, both are made possible by certain internalized restraints on behavior, namely a greater willingness to settle disputes peacefully and a stronger sense of empathy. In short, the “emotional space” of the family is extended to the entire nation. This behavioral evolution has been described with respect to England by Clark (2007, 2009), who sees other changes, such as increased thrift, sobriety, and impulse control, as being just as crucial to the rise of a market economy.
So personal autonomy alone isn’t the secret of economic success. It can in fact ruin a country if there are no internalized restraints on behavior.
Post-1974, few Greeks were arguing the above points. And those who did were usually Orthodox priests who spoke in the language of another age. Debate thus focused not on post-nationalism itself, but rather on the obstacles to implementing it. These obstacles were summarized by Pollis (1993):
Historically, the dominant ideology in Greece considered the basic social unit to be the extended family, not the autonomous individual. In such a society, rights and obligations are reciprocal, hierarchical, and differentiated; they are not attributes of individuals possessed equally by all. As such, while equal individual rights were absent, the “family” was responsible for the material well-being of all. With the rise of Greek nationalism—the articulation of a nationalist ideology by the newly formed modern Greek state—, traditional culture and its value system persisted albeit in modified form.
[…] Such an organic conception of society, in which individual autonomy is irrelevant, obviously does not provide fertile soil for the flourishing of individual civil or political rights.
The take-home message, however, was not that post-nationalism is unworkable and should be shelved. Rather, it was the organic conception of society that had to go:
[…] Greece’s sovereignty will inevitably erode and its presumed “insularity” will fade as it is expected to conform to and be judged in terms of “European” standards, including those on individual rights, and not in terms of its claimed distinctiveness as an integral ethnos.
[…] While the visible changes are, and will be, in specific areas—the legal sphere, economic structures and policies, monetary policy, product standards, and control over borders—the cumulative impact will challenge and dilute Greek national identity as that identity has been conceptualized from the time of the founding of the modern state. (Pollis, 1992)
For post-nationalists, another obstacle was the school system, specifically the textbooks and their exclusion of the “Other”:
[…] “the Other” is different, for he was Muslim and not Orthodox like the Greek. With a solid and imperious spirit, the young pupil learned to move away from all those who tried to be like him by themselves, from all those who can only be humbler than him because, among other things, “the Greek national group has endowed itself with literary, theatrical, musical, and sculptural expressions that are different from those of the Others who surround it.” (Angelopoulos, 2007)
This rejection of the Other was seen as being inherent to the pre-1974 school system:
[…] beyond the awareness of being different, it is love of Country that helps strengthen the difference between the “Us” and the “Others”: “… in this case not only the language but also Greek education as a whole are elements of identity that distinguished Greeks from the “Others.”
[…] two areas of concern to this common education were particularly emphasized: the language of the ancestors and love of Country, a notion indirectly related to that […] of belonging to the same family […] to the extent that the Country is an entity whose substance is consubstantially maternal/paternal […], for it transfers […] the warm virtues of family relations among people belonging to the same household.”(Angelopoulos, 2007)
People outside this “family”—the Other—were to be viewed with mistrust and as sources of possible future domination or internal conflict (Angelopoulos, 2007). Thus, to bring about a post-national world, a new narrative would be needed:
[…] after the Colonels’ dictatorship, Greek historiography and particularly the national education planners and, consequently, the authors of school manuals, turned away from the nationalist cleavage [between Greeks and non-Greeks] and turned toward organizing a historical narrative that aims to manufacture citizens who are without hate for their neighbors of different origin, language, religion, and upbringing.(Angelopoulos, 2007)
The new narrative would achieve this goal by presenting the Other more respectfully, by showing that he seeks neither to dominate Greece nor to create disorder. In practice, however, this goal clashed with one of the primary duties of education: telling historical truth. The Other had dominated the Greek people, and that domination had been far from idyllic. The new narrative was thus no less prone to mythmaking than the old one. It tended to create a Big Other for whom one should feel only respect, deference, and … subservience.
A new balance might have been eventually struck between respect and truth-telling, either in Greece or in the West as a whole. As things turned out, however, there would not be enough time. No sooner had the Greeks learned deference to the Other than the Other began coming … in droves.
Angelopoulos, C. (2007). Le contenu des manuels grecs d’histoire avant et après les Colonels, in M. Verdelhan-Bourgade, B. Bakhouche, R. Étienne, & P. Boutan (eds). Les manuels scholaires, miroirs de la nation ? (pp. 41-54), Paris: L’Harmatten.
Clark, G. (2009). The domestication of Man: The social implications of Darwin. ArtefaCTos, 2(1), 64-80.
Clark, G. (2007). A Farewell to Alms. A Brief Economic History of the World. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
Georgiadis, K. (2010).Guardians of the nation: pronatalism, fertility politics and the multi-child family movement in Greece, British Society for Population Studies Annual Conference, September 2010, University of Exeter, England.
Pollis, A. (1992). Greek national identity: religious minorities, rights, and European norms, Journal of Modern Greek Studies, 10, 171-196.
Steyn, M. (2011). Mark Steyn: An upside-down family tree, The Orange County Register, December 23