The future lies with the Greeks not with the Turks

written by Walter Alison Phillips

 The Issues of Greek History republish below an excerpt that may still be quite pertinent to contemporary Greece, or even a timely reminder to the world from W. Alison Phillips' book entitledThe War of Greek Independence 1821-1833,published in 1897a few years after the grand bankruptcy of Greece (1893) and immediately after the Greek military defeat in the Greek-Turkish War of 1897, i.e. in a bleak period of Modern Greek history and while the humiliated Greek people were consequently subjected to widespread negative or even abusive publicity all over the western world.

To the constitution of a nation, more is needed than an extension of territory and the guarantee of the Powers; and it has been questioned whether the character of the Greeks is such as to warrant their being entrusted with any extended dominion. It is pointed out that, as a nation, they are bankrupt, and, as a people, though possessing many attractive qualities, factious, unstable, and dishonest.
Yet, though all this may be said of them, and, indeed, appears only too clearly in the history of the War of Independence, that war [1821-1830], and the one which has just been concluded [1897], prove that the Greeks are capable of making great sacrifices for the sake of a national ideal; and it is possible that, with a wider field on which to work, their conceptions of duty and patriotism would likewise expand.

To maintain that the Greeks are, as a race, incapable of establishing and
maintaining a powerful State, is to ignore the teaching of a long, if comparatively neglected, period of history. The Byzantine Empire was a Greek State; and, hopelessly corrupt as it doubtless too often proved itself at the centre, it nevertheless preserved civilisation and the remains of ancient culture for a thousand years against the flood of barbarism which, from the north and east, threatened to overwhelm them.

We are what suns and winds and waters make us; 2

and the Greeks of today are very much what their fathers were before them. There never was an age when Greece was peopled by a race of heroes and philosophers, or when her counsels were governed solely by the purest patriotism. The Athenian crowd which listened to the masterpieces of Aeschylus or Sophocles was as fickle, as superstitious, and as cruel as the Athenian crowd of today.

Walter Alison Phillips
The sun of the ancient culture of Hellas is set, and we see but the afterglow which lights up the highest and purest peaks; while over all that was low, and sordid, and commonplace, the night of oblivion has fallen. It is not for us, then, to judge the modern Greek as unworthy of our sympathy, because he seems cast in a less heroic mould than those from whom he boasts his descent. Our attitude may well be that of Lord Byron, of whom Colonel Napier said:

“All [the Philhellenes] came, expecting to find the Peloponnesus filled with Plutarch's men, and all returned, thinking the inhabitants of Newgate3 more moral. Lord Byron judged them fairly; he knew that half-civilised men are full of vices, and that great allowance must be made for emancipated slaves. He, therefore, proceeded, bridle in hand, not thinking them good,but hoping to make them better.”

The conditions have changed, for Hellas, since then, has enjoyed half a century of freedom; yet we should do well to regard its people with a like charitable judgment, and a like hope. For assuredly the future of the East lies not with the Turkswho, in spite of their high qualities and personal worth, are fettered by a system which seems incapable of reformbut with those despised and often degraded Christian peoples, who yet possess, in their religion, if not in their race, the potentiality of progress and improvement.  


(1) Source:
      Walter Alison Phillips, 1897. The War of Greek Independence 1821-1823
      (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York), ch. XXIV pp. 402-405:

(2) Walter Savage Landor (1775–1864) «An Invocation», line 1

(3) Νewgate prison: Διαβόητη φυλακή τού Λονδίνου επί 9 αιώνες (από το 1188 μέχρι το 1902).


"Encompass worlds but do not try to encompass me..."

Walt Whitmann


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