An Open Letter to David W. Tandy, Professor of Classics, the University of Tennesee, Knoxville, on Warriors into Traders, The Power of the Market in Early Greece, University of California Press, 1997

Editorial Note

Professor Tandy never answered this letter. My treatment of the "warriors into traders" theme may be seen in the essay "Why the Greeks?", which includes discussion of the long disaffection of intellectuals, from Plato to Professor Tandy, with Greek, or any, commercial culture.

Tuesday, 21 October, 1997

Dear Dr. Tandy,

It was with great anticipation that I ordered your book, Warriors into Traders, The Power of the Market in Early Greece, from the University of California Press some months ago. Then today the book arrived, hot off the presses, and I began looking through it and read the conclusion. I already have some observations and questions.

On the very last page of the body of the book, page 234, you use the term, "late capitalism." This is a Marxist buzzword, and the Marxist impression is reinforced by the last statement in the book, that the Greek market was "nothing other than the beginning of a historical trajectory that may finally now be coming to an end," which leaves one thinking that there will be something coming after "late capitalism." You evidently don't agree with Francis Fukuyama that market democracy is the "end of history."

Why are you pushing this kind of thing? It does not even make for a coherent conclusion, since on the very same page you refer, disparagingly, to "a world that appears hellbent on allowing the market to drive communities, cultures, societies, and nations without restraint..." You are doubtlessly aware that various nations are now "hellbent" on the market because for decades they tried to run their economies through non-market, i.e. political, forces and discovered that the result was poverty, dictatorship, and, indeed, a decline in the standard of living from what it often had been when the same nations were European colonies. In one of the few holdouts for a command economy, North Korea, we now have spectacle of actual widespread starvation, which doesn't even happen in India anymore.

The situation today, in other words, is not one in which our response needs to be to "the plight of individuals and communities that are oppressed by the force of the market," as you say, but one in which the market is rescuing people from oppression by the political forces and poverty unleashed by socialists, Marxists, and the dictators who curry favor with Western intellectuals by mouthing leftist cliches.

So how can a world "hellbent" on the market thus represent a system "that may finally now be coming to an end"? This is perverse in its unexplained, oracular obscurity--the kind of thing that Karl Popper referred to as the "high tide of prophecy." One is simply left to assume that you are still some kind of True Believer that capitalism will fail nevertheless.

It is also perverse that you pick the society of the Greek Dark Age to present as one with some kind of idealized "peasant values, urging his [Hesiod's] neighbors to continue their commitment to fairness, generosity and sharing, and, in general community" [p. 231]. There is, indeed, no greater contrast in the history of civilization between the brilliance of classical Greek culture and the obscurity, ignorance, illiteracy, and poverty from which it sprang in the Greek Dark Age. Even Marx, although idealizing peasant life himself in strained contrast to capitalism, nevertheless spoke of the "idiocy of rural life"; and, it turned out, Hesiod could only speak his reactionary resentment through the Phoenician alphabet that trade brought to Greece in the first place.

Indeed, one suspects that Hesiod sold his produce to traders rather than to the local market just because he could get a better price that way. The local market was unlikely to be free, since no one believed in, or had ever heard of, the "free market." Price fixing was as common in local markets for most of European history as it has been in African countries that refused to allow farmers to "exploit" urban populations by seeking a market price--which resulted in the decline of much of African agriculture.

Thus, you may be just as confused about whether market prices really existed in Greek cities as you may be about whether they have in African economies since independence. The redeeming circumstance for the Greeks, as it was through much of European history, was the fact of the political fragmentation of Greece (as of Europe), which prevented individual cities from imposing their own price fixing on the general economy.

Therefore, it is astonishing that you would choose to disparage the very mechanism by which the brilliance of Greek civilization was produced. I find your approach, your conclusions, and your agenda disturbing, although it is [they are] conformable to the reactionary and totalitarian recommendations of Plato's Republic and Laws, which were equally alienated from Greek commercial and democratic culture. Your statement on page 231 that, "Production is ideology," is, of course, another false Marxist slogan. The value of the Greek example is that it was free of ideology, and of the kind of complex, agenda-driven second-guessing that you now represent. If I am mistaken about this, I would be happy to be corrected.

Kelley L. Ross



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