PERSPECTIVErnFree Greeks, Servile Americansrnby Thomas FlemingrnConservatives are fond of saying that the United States is arnrepnblic, not a democracy, and in their appeals to the nationalrnconscience, they invoke the sacred language of republicanrntradition, citing scriptures from Aristode and Cicero, fromrnEdmund Burke and George Washington: the ride of law, a virtuousrncitizenry, and ordered liberty. Like most Americans,rnhowever, conservatives prefer not to look too far beneath thernOlympian language down to where politics is practiced not byrnan assembly of demigods so much as by the termites eating therntimbers under the parquet floor.rnAlthough the Greeks, who bequeathed to us the languagernand the institutions of republican government, were among thernmost accomplished liars in the history of the world, they were alsorncapable of astonishing frankness about the nature of politicsrnand the moral frailty of human beings.rnThe brutal candor of Homer and Hesiod, to take only twornwriters at the beginning of the Greek literary tradition, isrnmatched (in my limited reading) only by the best of Icelandicrnwriting. I remember the shock experienced by some of my fellowrnstudents in a seminar on eariy Greek poetry when, in thernmidst of a discussion of Solon’s magisterial and dignified poetryrnon his political reforms, we were confronted with the evidencernof his pederastic verse. The professor (Douglas Young), lookingrnalternatively merry and stern, observed that you always had tornbe on guard against the Greeks. They would, on occasion, talkrnabout anything.rnThis alarming candor shocked many Romans, though it hasrngiven degenerate moderns an excuse for dipping into the badrnrecent translations of Greek literature. Greek writers could bernparticularly straightforward about the reality of power. ReadrnHesiod’s attempts to justify the ways of gods to men, and yournwill come across the story of the nightingale crying out to thernhawk that has captured her:rnOh what a fool to cry of right and wrong,rnA weakling in the clutches of the strong .. .rnThe moral, that only fools struggle with those who are stronger,rnis something that goes against the Horatio Alger grain of thernAmerican character.rnThe historian Thueydides is often overinterpreted as a precursorrnof Machiavelli, though it seems more likely that, in describingrnthe rise and fall of the Athenian democracy, he wasrnsimply a pious and patriotic citizen trying to tell the truth aboutrnthe age through which he had lived. His description of the argumentrnbetween the Athenians and the people of Melos (tornwhom Athens had given the choice: Desert the Spartans andrnjoin us—or die) is the sort of narrative that no prominent Americanrncould write in connection with, say, Madeleine Albright atrnRambouillet or Harry Truman about to obliterate Hiroshimarnand Nagasaki.rnAmericans are among the most churchgoing people in thernworld, but when they go to work or enter a polling place, theyrncheck their Christianity at the door. If we are sincere in ourrnworship of any deity, it is the service we pay to Mammon, fromrnwhom we expect to receive our daily 500 bucks. But even ourrnworship of money is sugared over with platitudes about higherrnthings.rnThe Greeks, by contrast, were very straightforward and regardedrnmoney as, on the whole, an unmixed blessing. Withrnmoney, you can pursue your passion for power and sex—forrnan^’thing you want. “To be wealthy,” sang honest Pindar in anrnode celebrating a rich patron, “when fate brings wisdom with it,rnis the best thing there is.” Though many aristocrats complainedrnlO/CHRONICLESrnrnrn