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Tom Davis / March 14, 2011

Where Is Solon?

Today, America suffers under the yoke of despotism not unlike that in the Great City State of Athens circa 600 BC. Athens consisted of two classes of citizen, the rich and the poor. Great tension existed and civil war seemed inevitable. Economic crisis was the status quo; many Athenians were indebted beyond their means. When they could not pay their debts, they were made serfs. As such they could never regain their status as citizen.

The rich on the other hand got richer by the profits reaped from the loans and defended their right to private property and privileges in vogue at that time. This partisan strife coupled with the economic chaos made Athens weak before their external enemies.

In the face of possible disaster, the ruling powers of The City State appointed Solon, a highly respected statesman, lawmaker and writer of poetical propaganda. In defense of his constitutional reforms, Solon “enacted laws prohibiting loans on the security of the person. He lowered the rate of interest, ordered the cancellation of all debts, and gave freedom to serfs. He acted so moderately and impartially that he became unpopular with both parties. The rich felt hurt by the reform. The poor, unable to hold excess in check, demanded a complete redistribution of landed property and the dividing of it into equal shares.”

Despite the criticism from rich and poor alike, a social peace resulted. Further, by implementing new constitutional laws, Solon put into place a “mighty shield against both parties and did not allow either to win an unjust victory” (Aristotle, The Athenian Constitution).

Solon further introduced a system of checks and balances favoring neither faction. Solon could likely have become a tyrant over all Athens. Solon sought no power for himself, but in fact left Athens for a period of ten years in order to see whether or not his changes could stand the test of time. They did.

Though Athens later came under the rule of a tyrant or tyrants, “Solon’s reform provided the ancient Greeks with a model of both political leadership and order based on impartiality and fairness.” (http://www.iep.utm.edu/platopol/#H4)

The same ideas of political order, leadership, and justice can be found in Plato’s dialogues.

Does anyone fail to see the parallels between ancient Athens and modern America?

Somewhere in these United States, I am certain there is a modern-day Solon to aid us in retaining this great republic which Benjamin Franklin warned, “You now have it, if you can keep it.”

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