I enthusiastically read Daniel Klein‘s earlier book Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, and was looking forward to reading his new effort, Travels with Epicurus. The Platypus was a delightful set of philosophical concepts explained briefly and then illustrated with jokes. It made hilarious reading, and probably even for philosopher types brought up some points worth gnashing. Unfortunately, at least for me, this Travels book didn’t appear to explore anything in much depth and was little more than a diary-like reminiscence of his long vacations in the Greek islands.
Those lovely Greek ideas fondled made the ancient way of life quite appealing, at least the way Klein projects those people’s present way of living back into Classic Greek times. He is probably hallucinating when he does this because the quiet, friendly, passive lifestyle of the old codgers he associates with in his island paradise is made possible by the modern Leviathan of law. That creates a stability that makes this harmonious life possible. Without it, dropping back into the real olden times, we would have the constant threat of pirates, local waterborne thieves, and nation-state thieves too. These could appear over the horizon at any time, and a quiet life on an island could be totally ruined in an hour. That might sound a bit overwrought, but consider the beautiful old castles that were built at enormous expense. Ask the local architect to build one for you these days, and even with the help of machines, they would be almost impossible to build because of the cost. And yet, they were built, and they were built by hand when the relative cost of labor was much greater. Those castle-building laborers had to be fed with food created by other laborers’ hand labor tilling little more than gardens, and not by modern machines that till whole sections of land almost without human labor. Those fortifications were built at tremendous cost of time, effort and money.
The people living then were expending a huge amount of their time and effort to protect themselves from predation. Once that is realized the idyllic life that Klein is projecting back into history vanishes, and thus for me the premise of his book and world philosophy he espouses evaporates. Because the lovely lifestyle these people are currently living is so peaceful, he thinks it was ever thus. Now, keep reading and I will await your gagging response and howls of derision. – The reason there is such peace on the Greek islands and throughout the rest of the world too is because of American military power and especially in this case American sea power. There are no pirates in the Mediterranean because American weapons can be brought to bear upon pirates before they can escape with their booty. With an American aircraft carrier just over the horizon there are no pirates, and one can live a life of leisure on a beautiful remote little island. Take that protection away and those idyllic spots would soon be stripped of their valuables.
This lovely book is a modern form of fantasy fiction. As Tosh says – Enjoy!