Ancient Sparta: A Template for Modern Dictatorships
Monday, April 27, 2020 - 6:45 p.m.
Marble figure of a Spartan, ca. 480 B.C. (Archaeological Museum of Sparta)
Among the ancient city-states, Sparta was the most feared. It had evolved over 700 years into a repressive oligarchic society that has been portrayed by political scientists as the model for the 20th-century totalitarian dictatorship of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Fascist Italy, and Communist China. In this century, it has become the template for the repressive regime in North Korea. John Prevas, an historian, classics scholar, and author, provides an analysis of ancient Sparta’s approach to governing, drawing parallels to the modern dictatorships that echo it.
The Spartan experience reveals one direction that the Greek city-state could take: demanding a total commitment by an individual in return for a stable environment and a defined, secure place in the social hierarchy. Life in Sparta was marked by consistency purchased at the expense of creativity and freedom. The philosophical foundation of society was that the whole is greater than any of its parts and that an individual can only find true happiness and fulfillment when he is a component of something larger. At the heart of the constitution was the idea that economic inequality is the cause of all problems in society, and to achieve that end Sparta abolished money and private property.
Spartans attained a level of political and social stability never seen in any other city-state. They were praised by Athenian philosophers Plato and Aristotle for their development of a stable system of government and a way of life that produced an effective military machine—but at the cost of stifling all artistic and intellectual endeavors.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)