Last March in Delphi, I was talking with the leader of the conservative New Democracy party, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, four months before he was elected prime minister of Greece. We both emphatically agreed that Greece had just about everything to offer: magnificent and haunting scenery; a blessed prospect on the Mediterranean; a geostrategic location between East and West, making it a gateway to both Europe and the Middle East; a uni-ethnic population with no real religious or ethnic divides; and a resourceful, inspired ethos. But the big thing Greece has always lacked—we both said—has been strong institutions and reasonably good governance, making it ultimately a weak state: the root cause of why the twentieth century was such a devastatingly disappointing one for the country.

Indeed, I lived seven years as a journalist in Greece in the 1980s, and was an eyewitness to the sordid,...


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