Can Aristotle Inspire a New Civilization?

Aristotle by Evi Sarantea. Courtesy Evi Sarantea.

Aristotle by Evi Sarantea. Courtesy Evi Sarantea.


For millennia, Greece / Hellas was mother of civilization. Starting in the Bronze Age, 3,100 – 1,000 BCE, the country of dozens of poleis (city-states) invented a nature-friendly and beautiful architecture, homes with running water, paved streets, and sanitation. Observation of the sky and the movement of the planets and nature sparked science; superior craftsmanship gave birth to engineering. Even the gods were forces of nature, each of them being a model of improving human knowledge of how the world works. Hephaistos, for example, was the perfect craftsman of robots and invincible weapons.

The ancient Greeks were not perfect. They fought with each other. This weakness precipitated civil wars and foreign conquests that nearly wiped out their civilization. Modern Greeks live with that legacy of the best and the worst.

Greece won its political freedom and independence about 200 years ago. The country survived centuries of humiliation at the hands of Europeans, including Mongol Moslem Turks. However, Greece suffered additional humiliations during the last two centuries of independence.

Decline and fall

The basic reasons for this chronic decline have been two: failure to unite (in ancient times) as one people and one country and, second, (in modern times) the divorce of the Greeks from their Hellenic virtues of kalon k’ agathon, the good and the beautiful : being the best in athletics, courage, war, patriotism, science, philosophy, the arts, and civilization.

Alexander the Great united the Greeks and conquered Persia, a vast empire. However, Alexander died very young in 323 BCE. He was barely 33 years old. His successors fought over the spoils of his empire. And neither Alexander nor his successors saw the Roman danger until it was too late. In 146 BCE, the Romans made Greece the Roman province of Achaea.

The Romanization of Greece eventually brought the Christianization of Greece. These two major foreign influences forced the Greeks to abandon their commitment to kalon k’ agathon, being the best. This changed Hellenic civilization, making the country susceptible to foreign conquests and the adulteration of values.

Greece in the 21st century

Greeks in the twenty-first century are going through another existential crisis: the extreme humiliation of European-American supervised debt repayment and austerity and the opening of the country’s borders to Moslem migrants and Africans through and from Turkey. In fact, Turkey routinely keeps filling boats of Moslems and sends them to the Greek Aegean islands of Lesbos, Chios and Samos. And Greece, as if in a nightmare or mission of suicide, keeps accepting these illegal migrants primarily because of European Union pressure, which has to do with American desire to keep Turkey in NATO.

Despite these overwhelming foreign influences, Greek governments have yet to understand that defending Greece’s borders is number one responsibility for maintaining the freedom and independence of the country. With some exceptions of accepting selected migrants, governments in the European Union shut their borders to Middle Eastern Muslim migrants.

Once again, Greeks worry about their freedom and independence. The European powers, including America, don’t seem to have any special affection or Philhellenic feelings towards Greece. Germany in particular is leading the punishment and humiliation of Greece. Clearly, Germany wants to convert Greece to a migrant camp and a permanent gated site for hotels and tourists.

Meanwhile, Turkey, probably 80 million people strong and with a large army, and armed to the teeth, plays the NATO allies like it played the European powers for centuries during its era of empire.

Purpose of the Institute

The purpose of the Aristotle Institute should be to reverse this hazardous situation by inspiring Greece to return to its Hellenic virtues of being the best. At the same time, the Institute ought to constantly remind Americans and Western Europeans what is at stake in the demands of Islamic Turkey.

The Aristotle Institute honors Aristotle, the Greek polymath genius who invented science, zoology in particular, and tutored Alexander the Great. Arabs for centuries called Aristotle The Philosopher. Starting in the eleventh century, the first European universities — Bologna (1088), Paris (1150), and Oxford (1167) — came into being in order to study the thought of Aristotle.

The Institute ought to model itself after the Mouseion and Library of Alexandria, Egypt, under the rule of the Macedonian Ptolemies. These two innovations, the Mouseion and Library, were innovations of Aristotle that, with the ideas of The Philosopher, made up the university-institute of advanced studies of Alexandria. The Antikythera Mechanism, a computer of genius from the Greeks of the second century BCE, came out of the Mouseion-Library complex and its science and civilization.

The Institute should start with outstanding volunteers. However, long-term funding will be necessary for hiring outstanding polymath scholars in Greek civilization and American politics, war, law, science, and diplomacy.

The Institute will be sponsoring seminars, conferences, and presentations by distinguished scholars and politicians. It will also be publishing briefings, articles, and books in order to highlight the virtues of Hellenic civilization. This will be especially geared for the benefit of Greece, helping the Greek people to return to their own roots.

The Institute will have its own Website, newsletter-magazine, and a publishing company: Aristotle Books. Institute writings and publications will be in both Greek and English: insightful, timely, and well-written: translating in attractive prose key findings of classical scholarship and modern thought.

The works of the Institute will project models for inspiration and imitation: stories from Minoan Crete, Mycenaean Greece (Mycenae, Pylos, Argos, Sparta, Thebes, Athens, Eleusis, , Delphi, Elis, Olympia, Nemea, Corinth, Helike, Iolkos, Orchomenos, Kerkyra, Cephalonia, Ithaca, Magna Graecia, Macedonia, Thrace, and Ptolemaic Alexandria for moral and political uplifting as well as for strategies for making Greece the best. Such scholarship and its philosophical and practical results may spark new ways of looking at the world, and especially how Greece can recapture its old glory of courage, science, and civilization.

The Institute must start in Greece and the US as a non-profit organization. And after a year or so, sister organizations may set roots in other Philhellenic countries. A possible center for the Institute in Greece could be Helike near Corinth primarily because of its rediscovery. Helike was destroyed by an earthquake in 373 BCE. Dora Katsonopoulou, a Greek archaeologist, has been excavating Helike for decades. In the process, she has discovered the origins and history of this important ancient polis. Other potential centers for the Aristotle Institute include Patras, Delphi, Olympia, and Athens.

The Greek mission of the Institute

The work of the Institute is potentially of great import. Greece in 2023 is at risk — and has nowhere to turn. The reasons for isolation come from the legacy of centuries of foreign control of the country. The second factor is the external environment. Still in crippling debt, Greek politicians are serving their lenders, not necessarily their country.

Emboldened Turkey is waving the flag of Islam. It sees Greece as an easy target. It tries to scare the Greeks into submission. It has been sending its warplanes over the Greek Aegean islands for several years. Greek airplanes responds to these provocations, chasing the Turkish airplanes away. But none of the EU member states or NATO allies have tried to stop such aggression.

The European-American alliance of NATO is also handicapped by the dangerous war in Ukraine, which is primarily an American proxy war against Russia. Moreover, the EU-NATO alliance is not beneficial to Greece. Its notions of using Turkey against Russia are obsolete; the Turks are also thinking of using the NATO states against each other and against Russia. The Moslem Turks consider the Christian states of NATO as the enemy.

The leaders of the NATO alliance pretend they care for multiculturalism; they are trying to accommodate the destruction of the Middle East, especially the river of war refugees unleashed by America’s 2001 and 2003 invasions and wars of occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq; and, finally, the leaders of the EU-NATO are not concerned by the unacceptable risks and dangers of an unregulated international banking system.

The Aristotle Institute can help Greece find solace to its great Hellenic civilization that made Western societies prosperous and strong. That civilization was also in love with the natural world. Mountains, forests, valleys, rivers, seas and oceans and wildlife were intimate part of that civilization. Indeed, they made up civilization. The greatest of the Greek gods (Zeus, Demeter, Persephone, Dionysos, Aristaios, Pan, Apollo, Athena, Artemis, and Poseidon) were nature gods. This tradition can help us face nature as our ally and understand climate change for what it is: anthropogenic that can be defeated by defeating the billionaires behind fossil fuels.

The primary purpose of the Aristotle Institute, however, should be to inspire Greece to rethink its present and future, indeed, building its future on the strength of its Hellenic past – in science, technology, civilization, and defense. Such a new country would spark a new Renaissance and a new hope for countries living in peace with themselves and nature.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of seven books, including the latest book, The Antikythera Mechanism.