Class warfare isn't unique to America. The rich and poor have really never gotten along, and have had periods when they are ready to literally start throwing punches, especially when an economy deteriorates into those who have it all and those who have nothing. When the middle class vanishes, the society fractures. It's why Plutarch said that an imbalance between rich and poor is the most common and fatal error of all republics.
In our current political and economic atmosphere in the United States, we once again have the extremes that Athens faced some 2,500 years ago. We have the extremely rich and the extremely poor, and those in power and society who are for the rich or for the poor. Really no one stands on middle ground anymore. But in ancient Athens, one famous Reformer and Lawgiver seems to have done such a good job with these issues that his face was hung inside the United States House of Representatives, although it remains to be seen as to whether or not our government will ever live by his example. His name was Solon, someone who loved the Gods and the people.
He himself was not poor, but he also wasn't dishonest, deceitful or uncaring, which is why the poor loved and trusted him to improve their society. He did not make it illegal to be rich. He allowed success. But he also didn't permit it to be gained through the oppression or destruction of others. He forgave the debts of the poor and outlawed slavery as a condition for repaying debt, as was a custom at the time. In other words, no one could any longer turn you into an involuntary servant just because you owed money. He also repealed the harsh Draco Laws. These laws gave the death penalty even for minor offenses, which probably impacted the poor more than anyone else. Finally, he gave all citizens a voice in the government and established a kind of Athenian congress known as the Boule. Solon literally made life livable for all people.
Last night, I was thinking about how Solon would handle the situation today in the United States, which is much like the one he faced so long ago. What if the best way to handle our social and economic problems is not to destroy one side or the other, but to simply institute and enforce humanitarianism and civilized justice? And more so, has our country lost those two things? I think it has. We have become so obsessed with success and wealth that we actually devalue and exploit people who don't have it. The imbalance that Plutarch called the fatal error of all republics is growing by the day, and we are far past the declaration of war between the two classes; it's already raging.
Perhaps Solon would tell us to be humane and fair, that the best way to solve our problems is to simply give everyone the best quality of life possible.
In the Goodness of the Gods,