The subjection of technology and science to the ideals of faith, will and the national ‘soul’ in the Metaxas regime

Technology and science in Metaxas regimeThe undermining of rational values and the clear rejection of liberal institutions is essential to Metaxas’ thinking already since 1900. Thus, such opinions are apparent not only during the interwar period and, especially, in the context of the 4th of August regime; in the formation of his thought irrational ideals, which are included in the main themes of conservative ideology, play a crucial role.

We can understand such elements in Metaxas’ thought, if we place them in the further context of the conflict between Kultur and Zivilisation as it took place during the first two decades of the 20th century in Germany. This is the period when Metaxas studied in Germany (1899-1903) and moreover, expressed on the one hand his admiration for the German model of governance, and on the other hand, the favour for an alliance between Germany and Greece during WWI. This favour leads him to support King Constantine in his dispute with the elected Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos which is named National Schism (“Ethnikos Dichasmos”).

One major element which is traced in Metaxas’ ideas, and also in Kultur’s contents, is the concept of ethics. In his opinion, ethics does not mean a rational settlement of passions, but its subjection to traditional values, such as family. Furthermore, he claims that ethics is identified with the feeling of duty and respect, and also, with the cultivation of the personality in order to be exceptional. In consequence, he believes that his destiny is to create a family which will constitute a model for the others, and to moralize in the immoral Greek society. In addition, he clearly makes a distinction between this morality notion and the focus on the bare interest, selfishness, and on the corruption which are identified, in his opinion, with the modernization and westernization procedure.

There is no paradox that he approaches WWI in the same way. In other words, Germany in his mind represents the maturity, hierarchy, subjection to God, discipline, spirit, fighting spirit, endurance. The Entente, on the other hand, represents the immature, disorder, immorality and the unwholesome individualism. Finally, the German defeat, and secondly the Greek expansion, are interpreted by Metaxas as moral collapse and decadence.

The liberal ideology and the consequent liberal ideals do not appeal to Metaxas. He accuses liberalism of the dissolution of holy hierarchies and pre-French Revolution social order. Moreover, he denies taking the ideals of equality, justice, freedom, democracy, peace into its named value. He considers them as a masquerade of pretensions for power and sovereignty. It is not their rational foundation which attributes to some of these ideals their real existence.

In contrast, irrational elements such as the Love, and the personality value and grandeur offer them a deeper, superior, and steadier foundation. Furthermore, Metaxas believes that the field of political action is fundamentally irrational; what accounts in this field is not the rationalistic settlement of the strife because the political sphere is not limited in administration and liberal institutional regulations:

“I suggest the cancelling of the first part of the article 124 because I consider it as unnecessary. The transformation of the political regimes is not realised through a priori determined rules. The transformation of the political regimes is a dynamic act which expresses intensive popular energy, and there is not a legal or formal restriction which can either contain it or subject it to rules. When the people decide to transform via its power the political regime, there is not a written law or a custom which can either contain or order them how to act. And, on the other hand, when people do not want to transform their political regime, there is no law which will push them to act in such a direction. The transformation of the regimes constitutes a popular act, and the constitutional regulations function as restrictions made of paper against it. The constitutional confirmation comes only after the people‟s act, and it does nothing more than to legalize which has been already dynamically realised. These are the lessons of human history, and it is vain for someone to ignore them”
(Metaxas 2005, 3rd Volume, p.515, parliamentarian speech on the Constitution of 1927).

Instead of rational thinking a set of over rational elements, such as the leader’s instinct, faith, powerful will, sagacity, fighting spirit, resoluteness, persistence and the experience determine, in his opinion, the historical process.

During 1920s the conservative elements of his ideas are supplemented with the fascist ones. In concrete, he recognizes the priority of irrational action over knowledge: “The action fulfils the knowledge with meaning and value. Because only by action does the knowledge become to one with Ego” (Metaxas 2005, 3rd volume, p.615, 1929).

Although he participates to the democratic political play, the combination of conservative and fascist points is reflected not only to his private notes (in the Book of Thoughts), but also, to his public parliamentarian speeches. But the clearest formulation of these points is realized during the 4th of August dictatorship. Faith, enthusiasm, soul, spirit and powerful will constitute the powers in which knowledge and rationality are subjected functioning either as pallid followers or inspired formations:

“I think that you like me because you feel a strong emotional connection with me. May be a lot of us, or all of us, are thinking: “Which is our relationship with a man who was a soldier…or a politician…?‟ But, if you say something like this, you don’t tell the truth. Because every public man, such as me, who really governs this country, is not deep inside something other than an artist. Because the same power of the soul which pushes you, pushes me also in the same way pushes every public man who wants really and truly to govern this country: this is the imagination which directs me to all of the acts of either my military or political life; The imagination which directs you, and the composers and the executers, because even the executer must be directed by his imagination. And, as you transfigure the visions of your imagination into articulations, so do I: I transfigured the creations of my imagination in acts which influenced the destiny of our Nation either in the time of the War, or in the peace period, and in dangerous but salutary acts which influenced the life and the fate of our society. You may ask me: “What about rationality? We imagine you as a man who puts everything under the rational rule; that you pose the major proposition, the minor proposition and the conclusion.‟ I have to respond to you, my dear friends, that I recognize rationality only after the action. The imagination directs me, the emotion pushes me and the action immediately realises. And after, I call the rationality in order to justify the action. I am convinced that all of you understand what I mean, because you believe that I am one of you, as I really and deeply understand you”
(Metaxas 1969, 1st Volume, pp.438-440, speech at the dinner of artist organisations, 30/12/1938).

The fact that Metaxas expresses these beliefs in front of different publics, and that he decides to subject science and technology to the over rational elements, indicates that these positions play a crucial role in his thinking.

From the early thirties his repugnance for liberalism is reinforced. The liberal parliamentarian settlement is identified in his thought with the absence of powerful will, the dissolution of moral values, the masquerade of interest by ideology and the hypocritical and conciliatory spirit. Moreover, he accuses its Greek version of outlandish and perversion: its only contribution is the extended corruption, the undermining of the Greek people natural unity, the soulless forms of representation, the powerless governments, the fight between the powers and the mutual undertaking of its roles.

Parliamentarism, Metaxas argues, is undermined by WWI and the worker’s movement. Even its supporters, he observes, turn away from it and are oriented to the reinforcing of the State in order to protect their regime from the strong ambiguity. The weakness of the parliamentarian rule leads to the communist expansion which is profited by the lack of ideals and the extended social crisis. The conclusion is clear for Metaxas: parliamentarism does not respond to the contemporary conditions because the era of its birth was entirely different.

In an era, during 1932-1935, when the common field of the total of Greek political and intellectual spectrum is the quest for dictatorship, Metaxas publicly and privately declares his decision to move in the orientation of an authoritarian political solution. Salvation will come, for him, “through the exit from the parliamentarism and the entrance in a new situation of more permanent, stable, and vigorous executive power” (Metaxas 2005, 4th Volume, p.592, 4/1/1934, interview to the newspaper “Independent Man”).

When after the elections of 1936 the parliament seems to be immobilized, he seizes the opportunity to realize his visions. Metaxas had previously declared in an explicit way: “Because, it is known as a historical lesson, that the most acute ideas prevail during a political crisis. This is the reason why people correctly feel that the solution must be found beyond parliamentarism” (Metaxas 2005, 4th Volume, p.593, ibid).

In Metaxas’ mind the 4th of August State constitutes or is expected to constitute a collective, organic, and soulful representation of a united and undivided society. According to Metaxas, it inaugurates new and direct forms of representation through the immediate contact with the people, it cares for peasants and workers in order to prevent the social conflict and contain the Left, and responds to the intensive quest for order, security and social peace; moreover, it creates a new kind of civilization, the Third Hellenic Civilization (“Tritos Ellinikos Politismos”), in order to respond to the acute ideal crisis.

All these aims are realized or expected to be realized through a set of institutional technologies in harmonizing the capital and working class interests. The system of social insurance and the measures for social care, according to Metaxas, play a dual role: on the one hand guarantee the increase of worker’s productivity, and on the other hand move them to resist against the disastrous antinational proclamations.

The achievement of social harmony is dependent on the corporatist organization of society; the corporatist idea is crucial in Metaxas’ thought and he believes that the 4th of August State must be evolutionally transformed in a corporatist State. During his governance only the peasants and the youth were organized in such a way; but the future perspective was the corporatist organization of every productive branch and the institution of a national representation of the professional interests.

The compulsory State arbitration functioned as a faster and immediate way in achieving the social harmony, while preventing at the same time the social conflict. The Supreme Economic Council’s duty was defined as the closing and scientific approach of the complicated political and productive problems. The State maintained the priority on political decision and the technocrats were conciliated with their conciliatory role to the government.

Metaxas aimed to complete his political creation with a radical constitutional reformation. In this text the will for reinforcing an authoritarian executive power is clearly manifested in the primary role of the King and in the direct election of the Prime Minister who have the political initiative. The political presence of the people really exists as a sign of “thirst for people legitimating”, something which all the totalitarian interwar regimes were strongly seeking for; but, this presence is only conciliatory and in no case sovereign. In concrete, the executive, legislative, and the judicial corps have not any legislative initiative; in contrast, they are not rightfully convened on assembly because the Government convenes them whenever it wants. The function of the political parties is explicitly prohibited in this Constitution sketch, while the Government has the power either to “expand‟ or to “shorten‟ the individual rights dependent on the circumstances.

Metaxas admires modern technology and believes that it could contribute to the social progress. As Minister of Transport in the Ecumenical Cabinet during 1926-1928 he clearly declares:

“The roadwork network being conceived as a common creation of all the Greeks, I am absolutely sure that it will constitute one of the most beautiful stage of the development of the Greek working, Greek entrepreneurship, Greek evolution, and finally, of the Greek civilization in general”


(Metaxas 2005, 3rd Volume, p.841, parliamentarian speech in 1927).

Moreover, during the four years of Metaxas’ governance the so called “productive public works”, which had been stopped after the crisis in the early 30s, restarted. The big projects of road construction and land reclamation were accomplished to a large extent during this period. He attracted foreign capitals for further development of Greeces infrastructure –transportation, public works, irrigation works, large public enterprises for common wealth. But due to the efforts of the Technical Chamber, the projects were assigned to Greek companies and engineers.

Public works were promoted by the dictatorship as a partial remedy to unemployment. Between 1936 and 1939, a network of roads was constructed that cost the state one billion drachmas. Be that as it may, in 1940 these was only one important main road from Athens to Thessaloniki that paralleled the single track railway line with another narrow gauge line, still under construction northwest of Trikala and a second line that curved down from Athens via Patra to Kalamata.

Other public works were aimed at increasing land for cultivation. With Rockefeller Foundation aid in the late thirties, the Metaxas Government set out to drain the swamps was to of Thessaloniki and clear the area of malarial mosquitoes. Along the region from the Aliakmon River past the valley of Loudias to Axios River, ditches for drainage were dug, eucalyptus trees were planted, and landless refugees were settled.

The military wing of the economy also boosted in the late 30s. Extended fortifications at the northern borders were built – the so-called ‘Metaxas Line’. Constructed along the Bulgarian frontier, it was a combination of forts, bunkers and anti-tank obstacles sown like dragons teeth in the path of invaders from his most hated and incapable enemy. Also, the creation of a large-scale war industry consisting of ammunitions plant, the state factory for airplanes and the military shipyards were among the most advertised accomplishments of the Fourth of August regime.

At the same time the Greek industry was developed on a protective basis. Evidence of this inclination are the big lignite exploitation projects, the feasibility reports about the hydroelectric infrastructures, and the plans for the establishment of a steel industry in Greece just before the war. The share of industry to the gross national income was finally increased from 11.45% in 1928 to 13.42% in 1939.

But, in order for technology to function in such a progressive way some preconditions, according to Metaxas, are necessary. On the one hand, technology and science must be incorporated in the structures of an authoritarian State with a powerful government:

“And now we are able to trustfully aim towards the full development of this place. Because through the development of the transportation, the civilization, the people‟s wealth, the communication between the habitants, and the solidarity and their connections among them will be also developed. But, you must not think that we would solve this problem, that the foreign capitals would trust us in an interesting for us way, unless the problem of the absolute safety and order for the foreign capitals and the issue of social discipline, State discipline, and of the existence of a State and a stable Government which knows what it wants, had not previously been solved. However, if by this work it is the material civilization which is advanced, you have to remember that the existence of a real and durable civilization in one country must be based on a higher moral level. Is it necessary for me to tell you which moral civilization this is? Of course no…”
(Metaxas 1969, 1 st Volume, pp216-217, speech about electrified railway Athens-Kifissia, 1/8/1937).

As nobody desires to respond, Metaxas formulates the fundamental principles of the 4th of August regime: Religion, Fatherland, Loyalty to the family in order for a moral civilization to be formed which will be incarnated in the solidarity among citizens, loyalty to the State and to the king, in the youth’s edification, and in the subjection to the moral laws. This is what is required for technological evolution and social development. On the other hand, although Metaxas considers technology and science as creations of the rational spirit, he is convinced that they must be imbued with faith and will:

“I was avoiding presenting myself in front of such a privilege public, as you, with arguments based on faith. I am well aware that you, the scientists, are more based on the rationalism, observation, and the experimentalism than on the faith which, however, inspires me in all of my attempts to diffuse my thoughts to the Greek people; and this is a fact that I cannot hide from you. I am inspired, I repeat it, by a faith not based on any rationalism, on any experience, on any experiment, I am inspired by the belief that the Greek people is a people who is able to create its own civilization, that this is dependent on them, and it is absolutely sure for me that this race, which creates that significant civilization on which the contemporary European is based, will create in the nearest future as great creations as their ancestors. If you ask me where this belief is based on, I will respond to you: I ignore it. This is the belief that I have, and with this I march forward to the future, so I ask all of you to march on together forward to the future”
(Metaxas 1969, 1 st Volume, pp. 186-187, speech in the dinner of the Polytechnic Club of Athens, 13/5/1937).

Also, they must be subjected to the national ideals in order for the negative effects to be avoided from their uncontrolled evolution. According to Metaxas, scientists and engineers must support the idea of the national State as the only meaningful ideal for their personal existence:

“…If we only stop to the development of the technical civilization, we can say that we have achieved less than the half of our work. Because, if a technical civilization, which will fulfill either the lowest, or the highest needs for the wealth and improvement of the society, is not inspired by a deeper ideal, and if the builders of these civilization, as you are, are not inspired by this ideal too, then it cannot achieve to bring a deep and durable change to the history and the continuity of this land. This deep ideal, which I immediately manifested when I concentrated all the power on the 4th of August in this country, is that we have to create a Hellenic civilization”
(Metaxas 1969, 1st Volume, pp.238-239, speech to the Officials of Athens)

Technological civilization is seen as soulless per se; spiritual and moral civilization is the authentic manifestation of human creativity. Yet, technology is able to reach the higher level of spirituality and morality, if its creations constitute formations of these ideals. Inaugurating the hospital of Kilkis Metaxas manifests:

“These works of social solidarity, which have major significance, take their real value only when they are inaugurated among a people who feel proud of their origin, proud of themselves, and have decided to defend their independence…Then, works like these have the value which they must have. However, when they have been realized, within a society which only feels philanthropy, and fears to confront both the exterior and interior dangers of the whole of the society, then these works only indicate a powerless philanthropy, and they have no significance. However, in contemporary Greece which is armed, deeply loves peace, and is ready to defend itself, such works being executed give the measure and the value of its civilization”
(Metaxas 1969, 2nd Volume, p.32, 24/2/1939).

The subjection of technology to the power of faith necessarily leads to soulful articulations. Moreover, it facilitates Metaxas to appropriate the most modern technologies, such as the radio and the cinema, orientating them to the propagation of his regime ideals. Metaxas is convinced that technology and science are mainly sourced by the rational spirit. His notion of science is positivist since he considers the observation, the experimentation and the rational thought as the essential elements of it. Technology, on the other hand, is considered as a creation of the rational thinking and as a synonym to progress; but, interventions are necessary in their evolution. The fact that he recognizes its rational foundation does not mean that he accepts them for the same reason. Given that the rational claims are undermined being compared with the over rational elements, Metaxas recognizes technology and science under the condition of its subjection to these. Additionally, he believes that he discovers the authentic essence of science which the scientists who think in a positivist way are unable to conceive, that is the faith:

“Your teachers will tell you that the searching for truth by Science is realized through certain methods; that Religion also, searches for truth, but through the belief; that Art searches for truth, but through emotions; that Science searches in its way for the truth: through the scientific methods which are not related to these of religion belief or to emotions. And they are right to talk to you in such a way. The scientific methods are: the dialectic, rationalism, observation, experiments and anything else. But, if you will search for truth via these methods, you deeply presuppose inside something which neither experience nor rationalism indicates: that the truth which you search for, really exists. And this presupposition is a religious issue. Science is constructed on this base through the scientific methods. If you have not deep inside this belief you cannot become real scientists. How can you find something which you don‟t believe that really exists? But, what such a belief does order you? It orders you to be real in all the dimensions of your life. How is it possible for a scientist to be a researcher for truth, if the same man is a liar in his life?”
(Metaxas 1969, 1st Volume, speech at the swearing ceremony of the students of the University Of Athens, 20/11/1937).

This element could imbue technology and science with the national spirit and soul and to transform it in something more than a soulless form of “knowledge”:

“Your intellect must be elevated to how you will advance, how you will create the pure science which has neither Nation, nor Fatherland, which is one and only, but it is serviced in a different way by the various races. This is the only difference, and it is your Nation which makes it. Because Greece is the country which created the modern European civilization and science, you must feel proud of it servicing the pure and international science, but you must service it as Greeks, in the way of your ancestors, with the same devotion, the same zeal, and the same sacrifice. In this work you will find the Government as your supporter”
(Metaxas 1969, 1st Volume, p.144, speech at the inauguration of the “Student‟s House”, 21/12/1936).

The organized political regulation constitutes the most suitable context for the achievement of this goal and for the prompt use of technology. Metaxas believes that the authoritarian political solution is multiply advantageous for the techno/science evolution. Firstly, it facilitates the planning and the realizing of technological works which is impossible within the parliamentarian context. Secondly, it fulfils with social solidarity and national grandeur the soulless joints of technological nets (Metaxas 1969, 1st Volume). Finally, the incorporation of techno/science into the soulful State motivates the techno/science activity in order to contribute to the progress of the national community, the moralization of the society, and the deeper foundation of the national idea:

“I am well aware of the fact that sciences were not born by the acts of the abstract contemplative man. Sciences were firstly born by the needs of life, and after, during its evolution, by the cutting down of the uncommon elements they reach to the general principles of science and to the pure science which aims at the research of the major theoretical problems. However, since the pure science was born by the practical works of life or by practical scientific works, the pure science being formed in such a way acts in a different direction, from above to the extreme limits of its adaptation; it lights through the pure contemplation all the adaptations, and it regenerates them. In conclusion, we cannot be scientifically developed, since we ignore the issue of the pure scientific research. But, we can easily understand that studies and researches are necessary…However, I leave from here being convinced that the corpus of Greek Chemists is conscious of its value, its mission, and its duties in respect to the whole of the society, and that it works in order to achieve these goals even this requires every sacrifice or self-sacrifice to serve the society”
(Metaxas 1969, 1st Volume, pp.351-352, speech at the dinner of Greek Chemists, 16/1/1938).

According to Metaxas, this contribution must be the price which technology and science has to pay to the 4th of August regime because it cares for its development. On the other hand, the scientists seem able to pay. In the Archives of Ioannis Metaxas we find a list of distinguished scholars of every discipline who are ready to diffuse science to the people, wondering and giving lectures in various places in Athens within the context of meetings organized by the 4th of August regime.

It is clear that in the context of the interwar crisis Metaxas attempts to define the new orientations for the Greek nation after the bankruptcy of Megali Idea. He is sure that the national idea’s decadence is owed to the rationalist, cosmopolitan and materialist ideals which had intruded in Greece already from the 19th century. In the aftermath of the Megali Idea’s bankruptcy he observes their last manifestation as these ideals summarized in the –Venizelian– rejection of irredentism and in the focus on domestic organization and economic development. There is no paradox, for Metaxas that the ideological crisis, the prevailing of the humanist ideals over the national ones and the communist expansion follow.

Nevertheless, the only solution is a new national ideal consisting of a spiritual version of Megali Idea, a powerful national community, a soulful State, a youth with optimistic ideals, robust body and arched stature. Metaxas dreams of a united society able to create the Third Hellenic Civilization under his rule with artists inspired by the “people‟s soul” and where the organized political regulation would absorb all the contrasts and tensions under the widened concept of “Hellenic”.


– By Vassilios Bogiatzis