The nature of the 4th of August Regime

By P.J. Vatikiotis

Metaxas saw the need for the adoption of extraordinary powers: the country needed discipline, political parties and partisan politics had to be banned. There would be no more elections for the foreseeable future, marking the end of parliamentary government in Greece. Metaxas however went beyond this; he wanted to create a new weltanschauung if not quite an ideology (even though he used the term kosmotheoria) for his 4th August Regime, and looked for its basis in the political and social institutions of ancient Sparta.

The Metaxas regime was to be based on total state discipline, a freedom of the individual strictly limited by the needs of the state. This would constitute the starting point of a new Hellenic Civilization, consisting of an improved synthesis or amalgam of the ancient Greek Byzantine civilization. The signal for the need to create a new- the Third-Greek civilization, was given by Metaxas in his address to the EON, the National Youth Organization, on 13 June 1937.

In earlier speeches Metaxas had spoken of the bankruptcy of the prevailing civilization and the need to tap the sources of ancient civilization for the ideals needed by the contemporary Greek in trying to fill the spiritual vacuum and confusion of the interwar period.

From the first days of his 4th August Regime, it was clear Metaxas would proceed to fulfill his commitments. Drastic measures to suppress opposition and sedition against his regime were introduced and decreed almost immediately. Thus on 5 August 1936, a decree provided for the guidance and direction of the press as per its prototype in the totalitarian states. More dramatic and exciting of course was his major attempt to secure a wider popular base when he founded the Ethniki Organosis Neoleas (EON), the National Youth Organization, by decree dated 7 October 1936.

The immense expansion of state jurisdiction, of its activities and its writ, as well as the radical transformation of governmental functions were perhaps terrifying even if they did not amount to a totalitarian Behemoth. This ominous underlying tone is reflected in a leader article in the London Times of 5 August 1940, entitled, ‘Authoritarian Greece’, which was uncertain from the Metaxas reforms whether the Greek dictator was aiming eventually at a constitutional monarchy for the country.

As an intelligent man, Metaxas realized that finding a successor as committed to the same goals of a new authoritarian National State as himself would be difficult if not impossible, and that his highly personal 4th August Regime would not survive his own demise. Is that why perhaps he left behind a Last Political Will and Testament in the form of an outline of a fairly strong monarchic or presidential state.