Klavan On The Culture

Aristotle: Build The Wall!

While re-reading Aristotle’s Politics, I stumbled on this peculiarly relevant passage about whether a city-state should build a “beautiful” wall to keep out invaders. It is translated from the Greek by Spencer Klavan (@spencerklavan).

“Some people say city-states that are trying for virtue shouldn’t have walls, but those people’s beliefs are out-of-date — they can see proof of that for themselves by looking at what happens to other city-states that put on that kind of display. True enough: when your enemies are evenly matched and similar in number, it’s not the best thing to rely on the strength of your walls for safety. But sometimes there are just too many attackers for human beings to fight back with virtue alone. And so if we want to be safe from disaster and embarrassment, we have to make up our minds that the best thing for war is to have the strongest, most secure walls — especially with all the new discoveries in weapons and technology that make siege warfare so much more accurate. Asking city-states not to put up walls is like trying to make your territory an easy target by flattening all its hilly terrain, or like not even putting up walls around private citizens’ houses because you think the people who live there will become cowards. And we shouldn’t forget: city-states that put up walls can use them in two ways — they can act as if they had walls, and as if they didn’t. City-states without walls can’t do that. So in fact people shouldn’t just put up walls around their city states: they should also work hard to make sure that those walls are as beautiful as the city-state deserves, and that they meet every military need — the old ones and the latest ones. Attackers work hard to find out how they can gain the upper hand, and defenders should work just has hard at defense — they should use state-of-the-art inventions; and they should study and try to invent new technology of their own. After all, people don’t even try to attack opponents who are well prepared to begin with.”