Euripides, Spartacus and the Middle Class


There are three classes of citizens. The first are rich, who are indolent and yet always crave more. The second are the poor, who have nothing, are full of envy, hate the rich, and are easily led by the demagogues. Between the two extremes lie those who make the state secure and uphold the laws.

— From Euripides’ “The Supplicant Women.”

Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona) Mar 17, 1944

Spartacus To The Gladiators

When William Allen White spoke at Chicago last week his present hearers were the members of that city’s Executives Club, but his remarks were addressed to the small business men of the entire country, who everywhere are figuratively on the Mareth Line, otherwise call the “little Maginot.” Despite his great distinction and national following, as a publicist, White is both the apotheosis and the Spartacus of the little business men — a big man who owns a relatively small newspaper published in a relatively small Kansas town. His views of matters in the large are therefore projections of things in the small.

Spartacus, as you know, was a Roman gladiator, who fought without benefit of union rules and without the protection of a grievance committee in the arena, and he later rallied the Roman slaves in a considerable rebellion, which finally was put down. So for analogic purposes we may compare the present time, in the concerns of the small businessman, with the rebellious phase of the Spartacus “Fighting Rome” movement.

“The little guy,” said Spartacus White, “has always been battling with the encroachments of power. He struggled with insatiable power in the Roman Empire. He fought with the power of an ignorant and corrupt religion in the Middle Ages. It was this poor little middle-class guy who has overthrown embattled kings and routed feudal barons .  .  .  Time and again in human history we little guys have won our battles.”

As Spartacus the Roman said, “Ye do well to call me chief.”

But the little guy is not out of the woods and he probably never will be able to remit the price of liberty (including the liberty of initiative in enterprise), which is eternal vigilance. The immediate prospect is threatening. Said the embattled sage of Emporia:

“I see on every hand, whether I look toward the totalitarianism of Europe, whether I look toward the establishment of a real economic democracy in America, or whether I look toward the concentration of gigantic power in the minds of the men who are not owners, but who have absolute control — I say, wherever I look about me, I see real danger of extinction for the owner-executive. I don’t see how he can survive in this machine age. Yet if we are to live as a free and happy nation, we little fellows, you and I, must some way survive.”

Spartacus White’s reconstruction of the battle is historically correct. It is as clear as that of Gettysburg, the field of which is virtually a memorial map. There is no grand strategy for the future, for “the little guy does not know where he is going — he steps out in the dark.” His touchstone in all ages has been his native wit, sharpened by the instinct of survival and perseverance, and in the present exigencies Spartacus White in closing adjures and encourages him to “brace up, pull your vest down, and show your collar button even if it is brass.”

Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona) Mar 26, 1943

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