Remarks on Greek Independence Day

Blair House
March 23, 2006

Thank you for the kind introduction, Andrew. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, Father Alex Karloutsos, His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit, Foreign Minister Bakoyanni, Deputy Minister Folias, Ambassador Mallias, the Honorable Andrew Natsios, Undersecretary Burns, Assistant Secretary Fried—it’s a pleasure to be here. Ladies and Gentleman:

I have always been proud to be a Greek-American, so it’s a personal privilege to welcome you to tonight’s celebration in honor of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America and the 185th anniversary of Greek independence.

Pardon me if this sounds immodest, but between two and three thousand years ago, Greece gave birth to a philosophical style and train of thought that has helped liberate more than half the world.

Flourishing between Judeo-Christian faith to the east and Roman law to the west, the Golden Age of Greece and then Hellenism elaborated reason-based modes of inquiry, analysis, and discourse that helped interpret and draw together the ancient Mediterranean world. And it is disproportionately from the ancient Mediterranean world that our modern world derives—in increasingly democratic form.

Against this backdrop, Greece’s independence 185 years ago was a renewal and return to our peninsula and islands of the freedom that the ancient Greeks defined through their institutions, philosophy, literature, commercial activities, art, and architecture.

In parallel, Europe, North America, South America, the subcontinent of India, Japan, South Korea, and many other regions and nations have aspired to replicate within their democratic experiments the virtues of Greek thought and debate.

Democracy, of course, is a restless form of government. Indeed, while serving as US ambassador to Iraq, another cradle of civilization, I could not help thinking that democratic principles, which we all idealize, should not be too harshly judged in their imperfect implementation.

No one has faced a more difficult task than the Iraqis in shaping a system of Greek origin to their particular historical and cultural setting. Nor, I would submit, have any people been braver in pushing through two elections and a constitutional referendum in a span of less than twelve months.

We Americans can sympathize with the Iraqis’ struggles, the struggles of the Afghans, the Ukrainians, the Liberians, and many other peoples building and strengthening their democracies. We know that democratic independence isn’t a task that’s done once and done forever. We fought our war of independence in the 18th century, but if we had been having dinner on this spot early in the 19th century, we would have had stars overhead and smoke in our eyes because our good friends the British had put this part of Washington to the torch. And of course, a few decades later, we fought a civil war, the most terrible price we have ever paid, so that all Americans could be free.

I offer these thoughts because they trace not only the difficulty of democratic development through history but also its constancy. The inquiring habits of mind of Ancient Greece still underpin the urge of individuals throughout the world to ask great questions—and in the case of democracy, the biggest questions of all: Why should this or that people be free and not us? Why shouldn’t we, with the same God-given gifts, enjoy similar opportunities to express, better, and secure ourselves? How could it be that someone else has rights we do not have?

It seems to me that the mere asking of such questions—wherein the voices of Greek philosophers can be distinctly heard—is justification enough to gather in honor of the glories of Ancient Greece, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, and the 185th anniversary of modern Greece’s independence.

Again, it’s a pleasure to have you with us this evening.

Thank you one and all for your presence.