The ancient Greek efflorescence was exceptional in premodern world history for its duration, intensity and long-term impact on world culture. It took place in a social ecology of hundreds of city-states. While wealth and incomes remained unequal in those communities — there were many slaves in the most prosperous of the Greek states — a substantial part of the Greek population experienced prosperity. The growth of the Greek economy was driven by an extensive middle class, by many people who consumed goods and services at a level far above subsistence.
The historically distinctive Greek approach to citizenship and political order was the key differentiator that made the Greek efflorescence distinctive in pre-modern history. It drove specialization and continuous innovation through the establishment of civic rights, aligned the interests of a large class of people who ruled and were ruled over in turn and encouraged the free exchange of information. The emergence of a new approach to politics is what propelled Hellas to the heights of accomplishment celebrated by Lord Byron.
I like the author’s stance as it shows the vital intertwining of politics and the economy, an important aspect of understanding society that libertarians prefer to ignore, at the cost of a distorted notion of freedom.
Though an amateur as for Ancient Greece, the literature that I have read on the subject matter leaves me somewhat sceptical as to the extent and continuity of wealth in Ancient Greece that Ober seems to insinuate. To tell from the rather short article, his story strikes me as a bit too smooth and idealising.
But the basic story line is fascinating and may well represent an important scholarly advance.
Ober’s approach may help libertarians overcome their unwillingness to extend the idea of spontaneous order from its “economistic ghetto” to social life in general, including the spontaneous order of politics and the state and its interaction with the narrower Hayekian spontaneous order.
Also, and perhaps of particular interest, it appears advisable to think through the concepts of division of labour and specialisation as naturally comprising politics and the state. Highly populous and productive societies are predicated on a fairly efficient political and governmental division of labour making possible and supporting (the beginnings of and later more fully developed) civil society.
No modern markets, no modern economy without a division of labour that encloses politics and the state.
For more on Greece:
On the Spontaneous Order of Politics and the State: