What Aristophanes can tell us about Micronationalism

To more practical people, the study of history or of classical literature appears to have little import. Interest in the study of the sociocultural and political systems of other peoples seems to be waning in comparison with the more “practical” sciences, though this is certainly not the case in our humble micronation. For us, the study both of classical literature and of history is informative for more than just the aged anecdote about how “history repeats”: instead, the study of these offers us a philosophical training to challenge and change our own public discourses. There is no place where this is as true than in micronationalism.

Old Comedy, represented by the extant playwright Aristophanes, contained in it elements of political satire, commentary on civic leaders and institutions, and dissidence to specific policies and communities. In one area of public policy, Aristophanes lambasts the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians’ war doctrine, and paints his characters — whether with Lysistrate or with Dikaiopolis — as being leaders of a political dissident movement against the state and its policies. It is with the latter, however, that I am most concerned.

The character Dikaiopolis from the Acharnians shows the desperation of the rural Acharnians under the Periclean war doctrine to make Athens like a ship, as has been described in John Hales’s Lords of the Sea: in other words, to relocate all the inhabitants of Attica inside the city walls of Athens. In the play, Aristophanes produces a character who goes from taking part in the collective governance of the Athenians’ democracy to negotiating peace privately, as an act of protest, with the Spartans and the Peloponnesian League. Following his private peace, Dikaiopolis celebrates the Rural Dionysia with a procession at his own home in Athens.

This play is more pertinent to micronationalism and the study of micronations — polities which some individual or group founds but whose sovereignties are not seen as legitimate — than that of the Lysistrata. Aristophanes makes an obscure character and constructs him in the trappings of an independent state by depicting him as the leader of a force which has the power to negotiate for peace, and which later trades independently with Peloponnesian League merchants — though no Athenian can do so. In short, Dikaiopolis has become someone other than an Athenian: he has become a micronationalist.

This is by no means a concrete paper dealing with these concerns, but the prospect of this study I intend to perform is one which shall contribute to the young interdisciplinary study of micropatriology: contribute to understanding of the dissenting social power a micronation can have. This is a historical and literary concern within the micropatriological tabula rasa, and the Acharnians provides an interesting perspective for micronationalists and those who study this decades-old (if not centuries-old) social and political phenomenon. This new historicist perspective can be applied to this piece of literature to understand the mentality of the Athenians about dissidence and civic protest, and certainly has applications extending to political and social history and philosophy; my concern however is simpler and related exclusively to what I know as a micronationalist and as a student of history. Moreover, I do not intend to discuss how the play compares to broader philosophy belonging to the Fifh Century BCE in relation to micronationalism: such is a more serious and more critical endeavour than I have the expertise for at this time. The classical reception of the Acharnians is likewise beyond my expertise, though I hope to engage resources in order to broaden my understanding of how this play might have been received by contemporaries and by later peoples. Finally, a close micropatriological study of this comedy by Aristophanes can critique the definition debate around what a micronation is — a debate which is so engrained in the study of micronationalism. Any close study of the Acharnians can reexamine our understanding of micronationalism’s origin: the answer may not be Emperor Norton, but Aristophanes.