March 11, 2007 3 Comments
To the extent that I had any impression from my schooling of ancient Spartan political philosophy, it was that their society was authoritarian and militaristic — and therefore certainly anti-individual.
Athenian culture, on the other hand, was supposedly very pro-individual.
It was only in my recent reviews of ancient history (as preparation for eventual homeschooling) that I started to encounter contrary claims. Not that anything I’ve read has made contrary claims; rather, some of what I have read has been arguing against published claims to the contrary. There seem to be Western historians who think the Spartans were part of the Western liberal tradition. This idea baffles me. You can’t have a coercive centralized authority promoting liberty in anything but rhetoric. That fact seems so obvious to me, I’m amazed it needs to be stated explicitly.
So I’m disappointed to learn from Dan D’Amico that this Spartan ahistoricism is Frank Miller’s take on the matter in his new movie, 300:
Read “Were the Spartans neocons?” at Austrian Addiction.
A parenthetical thought: I haven’t seen the movie (nor read the comic book) so I’m only guessing here, but maybe Miller is doing the same thing with Spartan rhetoric that Tolkein did with Middle-Earth human rhetoric (presumably reflecting Medieval European rhetoric), which is to conflate a collectivist concept of “liberty” and “freedom” with what classical liberals and libertarians are talking about when we use those same words.
“A free people” means, for individualists, a collection of free individuals. “Our liberty” means the individual liberty of a bunch of us, not some liberty that applies instead at a group level.
If you’ve seen the movie, please let me know: could the Spartans have meant by “liberty” something like, It is my right to be coerced by fellow Spartans rather than by some damn Persian!?