Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Article excerpt

As the Tories struggle to find a policy which might appeal to their traditional supporters and not simply ape those of Jeremy Corbyn, how about a reprise of Solon's law against idleness?

In 594 bc Solon was made arkhôn in Athens to deal with a number of problems, including debt. Solon ruled, for example, that if fathers did not find a trade for their sons, their sons would not have to support them in old age; and to boost trade and jobs, encouraged foreigners to settle in Athens with their families, and facilitated Athenian commerce abroad. He also passed a law (we are told) against idleness: every year every family had to account for how they made their living, and face penalties if they could not. This law, we are told by the essayist Plutarch, was driven by the fact that farming was traditionally the 'honourable' occupation, but the poverty of Athens' soil 'could not sustain the unoccupied and unemployed'. So Solon's proposal 'brought dignity to craft-skills'. The result of all this, Solon presumably hoped, would be that no man had any excuse for not finding work. …

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