And now an analogy from a classicist

Victor Davis Hanson is an accomplished classicist, and he regularly makes analogies between today's politics and that reported in Herodotus and Thucydides.  It's cool, but he's often wrong.  Here's he new analogy: recent college graduates are an indentured underclass in American society, just like the Helots of Spartan society. 

Ancient Sparta turned its conquered neighbors into indentured serfs — half free, half slave. The resulting Helot underclass produced the food of the Spartan state, freeing Sparta’s elite males to train for war and the duties of citizenship.

Over the last few decades, we’ve created our modern version of these Helots — millions of indebted young Americans with little prospect of finding permanent well-paying work, servicing their enormous college debts, or reaping commensurate financial returns on their costly educations.

Analogies are fine, so long as they are clear about where the analogues are, well, analogues and where they aren't.  And where there might be better analogues.  Here's where Hanson's analogy starts to fall apart.  First, how are recent college grads NOT like Helots?  Well, Helots were forced into that life.  They can't ever get out.  And the exploitation that comes their way is entirely determined by what state you were born into.  Not so for any of the American college grads.  Second, are there better analogues in America to the Helots than folks going to college?  Yes.  The poor — they bear huge burdens of debt, and it's not debt incurred for improving their lives, but just for living them within the standard of living.  Being poor isn't what you choose, it's what happens to you.  And you rarely escape.  The class of people upon whom the American economy and the rich make their lives isn't the recent college grad, but the poor sap working two jobs at minimum wage.  Those are today's Helots.  Or, at least, better candidates for it.  Here's Hanson selling the view:

Strip away the fancy degrees, the trendy fluff classes, the internships with prestigious employers, and the personal gadgets, and a new generation of indebted and jobless students has about as much opportunity as the ancient indentured Helots.

Yeah, take away their phones and their education, and, sure, you can make them seem a lot closer to slaves… but couldn't that be said of anyone?  If I take away Hanson's degree, his connection to NRO, and all his gagetry, but leave him with debt, he'd look a lot like a Helot, too.

3 thoughts on “And now an analogy from a classicist”

  1. The argument seems to be this: if you take away everything that makes them not analogous to the Helots, then they're just like them.  This is a handy way of doing analogies.

  2. Yeah, analogies between X and Y are much easier to make if you allow yourself the opportunity to say that were X a lot like Y, then…

  3. 1) Stumbled in here on another matter, but the silliness of the two comments above reuires that I mention Nordell's Hypothesis "If things were different, things would be different."
    2) My main comment is that everyone in America (and possibly Canada & Europe) is now an indentured servant, with no choice and no way out. The full U.S. National Debt run up by the fascist Republican Party is 25 TRILLION. That divides down to $80,650 for each and every man woman and child in America. How do you plan to pay that off?
    3) You too can join the United Federation of Indentured Servants by visiting The site explains the ceremony for joining, which is simple but very, very difficult: Speak up in a public place what you are doing and then burn a dollar bill to ashes. (Tip: Fold or curve the bill lengthwise.) Many readers will actually be unable to do so, which is something to ponder.

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