The Spartan Tradition in European Thought

By Elizabeth Rawson | Go to book overview

FRANCE IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY(I)

As THE reign of Louis XIV passed its peak, its critics increased in number and importance. Between the defenders of orthodoxy in Church and state on the one hand (who must at best, in the courtly words of Bossuet, doubt if Sparta's political ideas were "aussi solides que spécieuses', and her virtues not too proud and arrogant)1 and the discontented Utopian romancers, who had left antiquity far behind them on the other, there appeared a new kind of reformer. In one of the most famous can be traced a faint but definite tinge of laconism, both monarchic and, far more prophetic for the ensuing century, educational and social. Fénelon, who brings many famous figures of antiquity on to the stage in his Dialogues des Morts, can paint his only Lacedaemonian, Leonidas, as the perfect king, in conversation and contrast with Xerxes. In language that is essential Fénelon, the former explains that 'j'étois roi à condition de mener une vie dure, sobre et laborieuse, comme mon peuple. Je n'étois roi que pour défendre ma patrie et pour faire régner les lois: ma royauté me donnoit le pouvoir de faire du bien sans me permettre de faire du mal'; and the second is told 'si tu n'avois pas été un roi trop puissant et trop heureux, tu aurois été un assez honnête homme'.2

Not that Fénelon wished his king to be less than absolute; but he was to be closely associated with law. He was to be strictly bound by the natural or divine law, which above all else demands the welfare, taken in the widest sense, of the people. And he was to be a careful observer of the earthly laws, that he alone ordains, but which reflect the higher law. He was, also, to be far more closely associated and acquainted with his people, both by constitutional devices and in his way of life, than the French monarch had become.

____________________
1
Discours sur l'histoire universelle ( 1681) iii. 5.
2
Dialogue XL (Oeuvres completes ( 1851 etc.) vi. 248).

-220-

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The Spartan Tradition in European Thought
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • FOREWORD TO PAPERBACK EDITION v
  • Preface vii
  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS viii
  • Contents ix
  • List of Plates x
  • I INTRODUCTION 1
  • 2 - The Growth of Laconism 12
  • 3 - The Fourth Century in Greece 33
  • 4 - Laconism in the West 56
  • 5 - Plato and Aristotle 61
  • 6 - Laconism in the Hellenistic Age 81
  • 7 - Laconism Exported 94
  • 8 - Under the Empire 107
  • 9 - The Middle Ages 116
  • 10 - Sparta Rediviva 130
  • II - Kings and Ephors 158
  • 12 - In Utopia and Among the Savages 170
  • 13 - The Revolutionary Period in England 186
  • 14 - Spartans on the Stage 202
  • France in the Eighteenth Century(i) 220
  • 16 - France in the Eighteenth Century (ii) 242
  • 7 - The French Revolution and Its Aftermath 268
  • 18 - Italy in the Eighteenth Century 301
  • 19 - Sparta in Germany 306
  • 20 - England: from the Whigs to the Liberals 344
  • APPENDIX NOTE ON THE UNITED STATES 368
  • INDEX OF NAMES 371
  • INDEX OF SUBJECTS 387
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