The Third Hellenic Civilization
In the campaign of Metaxas for a “new Greece”, his attempt to consolidate the shape of the “Third Hellenic Civilization” held a primary place. This concept aimed at the long-term elevation of the Greek race and the fullfilment of Greece’s historical mission of civilizating the rest of the world. It drew its inspiration from the pagan values of ancient Greece and the Christian ones of Byzantium.
Contrarily to popular belief, Metaxas never regarded his regime as the ‘Third Hellenic Civilization’. Instead, he believed that his regime would lay out the foundations so that this Civilization would emerge in the future, by a new generation of Greeks moulded in the EON and inspired by the values instilled of the organization.
Interestingly, unlike the Third Reich of Hitler and the Third Rome of Mussolini, the Third Hellenic Civilization never had a military imperialistic intent. In true ancient Hellenic fashion, the Third Hellenic Civilization was a civilization based on a superior philosophy, a more advanced technology, artistic endeavors and innovative inventions which would, by their own merits and in a natural way, spread the Hellenic spirit across the world. He once stated: “Our new civilisation will not be concerned with extension but with intensity, not with the acquisition of territory but with the strength of our spirit”
This approach suited Metaxas’ disdain for the ‘Megali Idea’, the idea of a territorial ‘Greater Greece’ which would unite all historical Greek lands, from Northern Epirus to Asia Minor and Cyprus. In fact, Metaxas argued, the 1922 failed Greek invasion of Asia Minor (which turned into a catastrophe) was a symptom that the concept of ‘Megali Idea’ was not to be geographic, but cultural.
“Now I urge you to look forward to the future; and since you can not live without ideals, the only suitable ideal is that of the Hellenic Idea. The Great Idea (Megali Idea) itself did not fail; only the attempt at its territorial implementation. The Greco-Byzantine perception of it has failed, but not its ancient form of Hellenism. My disagreement with Venizelos, in the final analysis, is over the understanding, the meaning, significance and form of the Hellenic Idea”.
Thus Metaxas contrasted the territorial and imperialistic approach of the Megali Idea, which was a remnant from the Greek medieval empire of Byzantium, to the spiritual approach of ancient Greece, which had a loose and mutable geography (and was almost never unified) but had an enormous influence in the history of mankind.
The theorists of the Fourth of August stressed especially the concept of “Nation” as a source of authority, without identifying it though with the “Greek People”, considering the former a separate transcendental entity, standing above the people.
On a theoretical level, the “Third Hellenic Civilization” was a spiritual creation which would be exclusively a Greek affair. “We want to make a purely Greek civilization”, Ioannis Metaxas told the audience during a speech in Komotini on October, 7, 1936. “We do not want foreign cultures. We want our civilization, which will rise us above the other cultures from this corner of Europe”. The “Third Hellenic Civilization “constituted a rejection of “foreign morals and customs”, a new baptism in the “beautiful Greek traditions” and a return to the “eternal springs” of Hellenism, combining the finest elements of Greek Antiquity with Byzantine tradition.
To alleviate the heavyweight task of surpassing the phenomenal Greek past, Metaxas appealed to ambition: “Let not our Greek previous civilizations intimidate you… You will perfect -the Hellenic Civilization-… And you, modern Greeks, don’t you have the ambition to create your own civilization derived from those two other civilizations – ancient and medieval Greek? Do you not like such a supreme ideal and a paramount objective?”
During his speech at the peripheral administration of EON in Ioannina on 13 June 1937, Metaxas said: “From now on you have to be carefully prepared for your role. You will ignite the Third Hellenic Civilization. The first went away and ye can not bring it back, and it isn’t your job either. The first Greek civilization was Ancient Greece. It was a culture that had a great spirit. But it lacked religious faith. Then the second Greek civilization (the Byzantine Empire) came. It may have brought not great works. But it had deep religious faith. And now you come and you refresh in both of these cultures from within and from a very deep religious faith will look at how to contemplate the works of the great ancestors, emulating them from within the religious faith which we have as Christians”.
Although the concept of the Third Hellenic Civilization was central in the ideology of the Fourth of August state, the relatively short period of Ioannis Metaxas’ stay in power prevented deeper elaboration of this concept. Additionally, because it was essentially theoretical, this ideological construct had a low impact on the overwhelming majority of the Greek people.
The Third Greek Civilization certainly surpassed traditional values and became sort of a “cultural racism”. Metaxas cultivated the perception of the Greeks as the chosen people who had as mission to civilize the world.