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Xenophon: A Greek dialogue discussing socialism


born 431, Attica, Greece
died shortly before 350 BC, Attica

Greek historian.

Born of a well-to-do Athenian family, Xenophon was critical of extreme democracy and for a time was exiled as a traitor. He served with the Greek mercenaries of the Persian prince Cyrus, an experience on which he based his best-known work, the Anabasis. Its prose was highly regarded in antiquity and exerted a strong influence on Latin literature. His other works include On Horsemanship; On Hunting; Cyropaedia, a historical novel about Cyrus II; Oeconomicus, a treatise on estate management; and his compellation on the works of the historian Thucydides.



DOCUMENT--I have emailed them several times about this and its removal of hyphens and apostrophes.  



I.[1] I once heard him discuss the subject of estate management in the following manner.

Tell me, Critobulus, is estate management the name of a branch of knowledge, like medicine, smithing and carpentry?

I think so, replied Critobulus.

[2] And can we say what the function of estate management is, just as we can say what is the function of each of these arts?

Well, I suppose that the business of a good estate manager is to manage his own estate well.

[3] Yes, and in case he were put in charge of another man's estate, could he not, if he chose, manage it as well as he manages his own? Anyone who understands carpentry can do for another exactly the same work as he does for himself; and so, I presume, can a good estate manager.

I think so, Socrates.

[4] Is it possible, then, for one who understands this art, even if he has no property of his own, to earn money by managing another man's estate, just as he might do by building him a house?

Yes, of course; and he would get a good salary if, after taking over an estate, he continued to pay all outgoings, and to increase the estate by showing a balance.

But what do we mean now by an estate?

[5] Is it the same thing as a house, or is all property that one possesses outside the house also part of the estate?

Well, I think that even if the property is situated in different cities, everything a man possesses is part of his estate.

[6] Do not some men possess enemies?

Of course; some in fact possess many.

Shall we include their enemies in their possessions?

It would be ridiculous, surely, if one actually received a salary for increasing the number of a man's enemies!

[7] Because, you know, we supposed a man's estate to be the same as his property.

To be sure--meaning thereby the good things that he possesses. No, of course I don't call any bad thing that he may possess property.

You seem to use the word property of whatever is profitable to its owner.

Certainly; but what is harmful I regard as loss rather than wealth.

[8] Yes, and consequently if a man buys a horse and doesn't know how to manage it, and so keeps on getting thrown and injuring himself by trying to ride it, the horse is not wealth to him, I presume?

No, if we assume that wealth is a good thing.

It follows that land is not wealth either to a man who works it in such a way that his work results in loss.

To be sure: even land is not wealth if it makes us starve instead of supporting us.

[9] And the same will hold good of sheep, will it not? if a man loses through ignorance of sheep farming, his sheep too will not be wealth to him?

I think not.

It seems, then, that your view is this: what is profitable is wealth, what is harmful is not wealth.

Quite so.

[10] That is to say, the same things are wealth and not wealth, according as one understands or does not understand how to use them. A flute, for example, is wealth to one who is competent to play it, but to an incompetent person it is no better than useless stones.

True--unless he sells it.

[11] We now see that to persons who don't understand its use, a flute is wealth if they sell it, but not wealth if they keep it instead of selling.

Yes, Socrates, and our argument runs consistently, since we have said that what is profitable is wealth. For a flute, if not put up for sale, is not wealth, because it is useless: if put up for sale it becomes wealth.

[12] Yes, commented Socrates, provided he knows how to sell; but again, in case he sells it for something he doesn't know how to use, even then the sale doesn't convert it into wealth, according to you.

You imply, Socrates, that even money isn't wealth to one who doesn't know how to use it.

[13] And you, I think, agree with me to this extent, that wealth is that from which a man can derive profit. At any rate, if a man uses his money to buy a mistress who makes him worse off in body and soul and estate, how can his money be profitable to him then?

By no means, unless we are ready to maintain that the weed called nightshade, which drives you mad if you eat it, is wealth.

[14] Then money is to be kept at a distance, Critobulus, if one doesn't know how to use it, and not to be included in wealth. But how about friends? If one knows how to make use of them so as to profit by them, what are they to be called?

Wealth, of course, and much more so than cattle, if it be true that they are more profitable than cattle.

[15] Yes, and it follows from what you say that enemies too are wealth to anyone who can derive profit from them.

Well, that is my opinion.

Consequently it is the business of a good estate manager to know how to deal with enemies so as to derive profit from them too.

Most decidedly.

In fact, Critobulus, you cannot fail to notice that many private persons have been indebted to war for the increase of their estates, and many princes too.

[16] Yes, so far so good, Socrates. But sometimes we come across persons possessed of knowledge and means whereby they can increase their estates if they work, and we find that they are unwilling to do so; and consequently we see that their knowledge profits them nothing. What are we to make of that? In these cases, surely, neither their knowledge nor their property is wealth?

[17] Are you trying to raise a discussion about slaves, Critobulus?

Oh no, not at all: I am referring to persons of whom some, at any rate, are considered men of the highest lineage. I observe that there are persons skilled in the arts of war or peace, as the case may be, who are unwilling to practice them, and the reason, I think, is just this, that they have no master over them.

[18] What, no master over them, when, in spite of their prayers for prosperity and their desire to do what will bring them good, they are thwarted in their intentions by the powers that rule them?

[19] And who, pray, may these unseen rulers be?

No, not unseen, but open and undisguised, surely! And very vicious rulers they are too, as you yourself must see, if at least you regard idleness and moral cowardice and negligence as vice.

[20] Aye, and then there is a set of deceitful mistresses that pretend to be pleasures--such as gambling and consorting with bad companions: even the victims of their deception find as time goes on that these, after all, are really pains concealed beneath a thin veneer of pleasures, and that they are hindering them from all profitable work by their influence over them.

[21] But there are other men, Socrates, whose energy is not hindered by these influences, in fact they have an eager desire to work and to make an income: nevertheless they exhaust their estates and are beset with difficulties.

[22] Yes, they too are slaves, and hard indeed are their masters: some are in bondage to gluttony, some to lechery, some to drink, and some to foolish and costly ambitions. And so hard is the rule of these passions over every man who falls into their clutches, that so long as they see that he is strong and capable of work, they force him to pay over all the profits of his toil, and to spend it on their own desires; but no sooner do they find that he is too old to work, than they leave him to an old age of misery, and try to fasten the yoke on other shoulders.

[23] Ah, Critobulus, we must fight for our freedom against these tyrants as persistently as if they were armed men trying to enslave us. Indeed, open enemies may be gentlemen, and when they enslave us, may, by chastening, purge us of our faults and cause us to live better lives in future. But such mistresses as these never cease to plague men in body and soul and estate all the time that they have dominion over them.


Greek Philosophers on the forces of the market place

Plato too was critical of capitalism, and in general, the Greek philosophers gave it a low rating, much as they did democracy, the religions of the common people, and excesses in physical pleasure.  Their argument against capitalism:  the purpose of a physician is to heal his patients.  When he functions well in that capacity, then he is fulfilling his function.  If he also practiced a second trade, say leather working, then he would not perform as well as the specialist—his attention and efforts would be divided.  {Plato makes this form of argument in his Republic concerning the Guardians of the ideal society}.  Similarly, if the physician compromises his performance by placing rewards ahead of service, then he would also not be performing at well as another physician who considered the well being of his patient his primary duty.  Even if there were some physicians who would not compromise their performance, such as by supplying herbal remedies for which their profit was greater than proscribing a superior treatment for which the profits were less, these noble physicians would be in the minority: it is human nature to maximize rewards.  Thus, in an ideal society the reward system must be closely tied to performance. 


In my opinion, a system of review and rating must be in place in order that performance is properly rewarded.  A group of peers ought to review (much like the way high schools and colleges are rated by those in the profession) the performance of each physician and issue a rating.  A second rated physician would get less rewards for the same service.  Accountability is the key to performance, and this accountability ought not be based on maximization of profits.

Xenophon, Works on Socrates

John Dryden, trans.

This text is based on the following book(s):
Xenophon. Xenophon in Seven Volumes, 4. O.J. Todd. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA; William Heinemann, Ltd., London. 1979.
OCLC: 7127629
ISBN: 0674991869



born Aug. 9, 1631, Aldwinkle, Northamptonshire, Eng.
died May 1, 1700, London

British poet, dramatist, and literary critic.

The son of a country gentleman, Dryden was educated at the University of Cambridge. His poetry celebrating the Restoration so pleased Charles II that he was named poet laureate (1668) and, two years later, royal historiographer. Even after losing the laureateship and his court patronage in 1688 with the accession of William III, he succeeded in dominating the literary scene with his numerous works, many attuned to politics and public life. Several of his nearly 30 comedies, tragedies, and dramatic operasincluding Marriage A-la-Mode (1672), Aureng-Zebe (1675), and All for Love (1677)were outstandingly successful. His Of Dramatick Poesie (1668) was the first substantial piece of modern dramatic criticism. Turning away from drama, he became England's greatest verse satirist, producing the masterpieces Absalom and Achitophel (1681) and Mac Flecknoe (1682). He also produced extensive translations of Latin poetry, including Virgil's Aeneid.

Philosophy teaches the skills to see how the world ought to be.  Mathematics is the Queen for science, and logical analysis the Queen for skepticism.