Michael Novak's latest article (Dec 22) on America as aSpartan Athens is a disturbing example of cognitive dissonance. Honestly, Athens needs a bit of Sparta in order to prevent democracy from becoming mushy? That's utterly disingenous; distuirbing even. Novak comes across a Southern European intellectual of the 1920-30s who advocated a similar martial spirit to innoculate the population against succumbing to 'weakness' 'softness', 'rootlessness' that democracies foster. While not fascist in tone; Novak's article certainly smacks of the discredited corporatism that Southern European and Latin American countries succumbed to during the 30s-40s
Why? Let's remember what Sparta represented. It wasn't a totalitarian state as some pundits have analogize but it was certainly was far more collectivist, militarized, regimented society than the other Greek city states of its time. The population was compelled to eat their suppers collectively, the public authouriries rand the schools and Spartan males were inducted into the military in childhood. There as also a slave population the helots who were mistreated far worse than those at other Grek city states.
Further, even back then, the ancient Greek philosophers were unimpressed by Sparta. It was a relatively underdevloped economically speaking, traditional and not especially creative society. The only thing that Sparta had of value was its army. Sparta was the Greek war machine par excellence and when it unleashed itself against other Greeks, the result was the carnage of the Pennopolesian war.The Spartans won that war but it was a pyrric victory as they couldn't stop the Roman legions a few centuries later; nor did the former contribute anything to the common Greek cultural heritage. Indeed, other than Thermopolyae, the Spartan military really hasn't had the impact of the Roman legions on Western military development, ethos and organization. I doubt very much that the American military, or any Western military had been influenced by Sparta and for good reason, it represents the antithesis of the civic militarism that Athens and Rome developped, nutured and passed on to the rest of the west. Which exposes another defect of Sparta: it cultural poverty.
What did the Spartans contribute to Western civilization? Once its military was broken it simply faded from history like Assyria.
Novak needs to re-read his history because American military might, ironically enough, originated from the 'soft' democracies of Athens and Rome; not from the militarized societies like Sparta.