A 2500 year old example
About two and a half thousand years ago,
Pericles in his "epitaphios"
(his famous funeral oration)
praises his country, because the Athenians respect not
only the written but in particular the unwritten laws.
And he was right to be proud.
Because obedience to the written laws needs no great bravery.
If you do not follow them, the policeman nabs you.
Compliance with the
this is something special.
This presupposes the existence of a force
which is greater than that of the policeman.
A force that some people carry in themselves and
others draw from the society in which they live.
And the society at the time of Pericles possessed this power.
What are these unwritten laws then?
Nothing but the general perception of
society for certain types of behaviour
For example, in Athens at that time, as in other
and at other times, the unwritten law required frugality.
Here, perhaps, it's worth remembering a charming
in Plato's "Symposium", where Alcibiades describing his
admiration for Socrates mentions that Socrates used to wear
only one garment, summer and winter.
Being able to live in the same clothes
winter and summer was considered
admirable at that time.
Today someone deserves greater admiration,
the more clothes he owns, especially clothes
You will tell me of course:
If you have the inner world of Socrates,
why do you need many clothes?
You feel neither cold nor hot, for you one tunic is enough.
If you are aware of
your inner emptiness,
then you're forced to adorn yourself
with borrowed plumes, and furs.
It was shameful then to live luxuriously.
"Φιλοκαλούμεν μετ’ ευτελείας",
(we love beauty with simplicity)
For example, luxury construction, although it was
the standard for
public buildings, was completely unacceptable for a private home.
If someone dared to put the slightest luxury on
public opinion would immediately say:
"Look at that mess!
He's decorating his house like a public building".
And of course no one dared, because
Athens was then a village where everyone
knew everyone else and his way of life.
And there was always the danger that Aristophanes
would expose you in one of his comedies, and then
you would find nowhere to hide from your shame.
One of the worst symptoms of the grave illness
of today's society is that shame has been lost.
των εν ανθρώποις
νόσων πασών, αναίδεια",
(The greatest of all diseases in humans is shamelessness),
There is no worse
humans than losing shame.
Look around you: Politicians, university
journalists, ordinary people are not ashamed to live
with provocative luxury, to lie, to evade taxes, to waste
public money or even to put it in their own pocket.
And if they get caught, they assume a pose and
play the censors and the guardians of honesty,
as if they are proud of their achievements.
And some naive people admire them for their "skill".
It does not matter how they acquired so much money.
Since they have so much money, they are to be admired.
The society at the time of Pericles and Euripides
was healthy, and in such societies the
"code of honour" that is imposed on those who
want to have the approval of their fellows, is much
stricter than the law imposed by the policeman.