In Part I, we found that nearly eight hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ, Lycurgus toured the various governments of the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Combining their best features, he established a republican governing form in Sparta that lasted almost six hundred years. Such was the admiration of our Founding generation, their speeches and writings in the 1776-1788 period were peppered with references to Lycurgus and lessons to be drawn from the ancient Greeks.
Where Lycurgus made an actual tour of contemporary governments, James Madison and John Adams took literary tours of dozens of governments as related by the Bible, Livy, Polybius, Machiavelli, and the 17th and 18th century Enlightenment writers and philosophers. Our Framers knew that taken together, they stood as Lycurgus. As lawgivers, both Lycurgus and our Framers intended to leave behind long-lasting republican institutions suitable for a free people. Lycurgus was successful. What of our Framers’ bequest?
Features of Sparta and Spartan Government.
- Sparta was a small city-state.
- Citizens shared a common religion and traditions.
- An Oath rendered Sparta’s governing form static.
- All citizens were equal in society and before the law.
- Separation of powers.
- Bicameral legislature.
1. & 2. In his Spirit of the Laws, Charles De Montesquieu found that to remain stable, democratic and representative republics must be limited to small territories. Here, the people will share common traditions and religion. How else could self-government endure but among a single people united in their views, habits, religion, and outlooks? Didn’t history and current observation show that expansive empires of competing and diverse peoples were only suitable for authoritarian emperors, caliphs, and czars? The Anti-Federalists of 1787-1788 didn’t adequately latch on to this concept to argue that a nation so diverse, from Massachusetts to Georgia, of distinct peoples, traditions, and economies could never unite in republican government. Had notable Anti-Federalists like Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee focused their attack on the impossibility of republican unity, they might have prevailed and defeated ratification.
2. Like the Spartans, American religiosity was an essential societal ‘glue.’ From our Declaration of Independence’ appeal to the Laws of Nature/Nature’s God, and to God Himself as judge of the rectitude of the signers’ intentions, down to the First Amendment of the Constitution, the American system of self-government demands adequate public virtue rooted in Christianity to Secure the Blessings of Liberty.
3. Unlike the Spartan constitution, the US Constitution allowed for additional member states and peoples with traditions perhaps quite different from those of 1787. Had Article V not been incorporated, revolution and probable disintegration were all but guaranteed. Even with recourse to Article V, the 1861-1865 war illustrated the violence associated with peoples too diverse to remain united in free government.
4. The Spartan condition of simple republican equality in which no one was too rich nor too poor, and subsumed personal desires and avarice for the greater good, was the Utopian goal of many Americans after Independence. For instance, during the Revolutionary War, price controls suggested by the Continental Congress and implemented by the states and towns were not viewed as anti-republican, but rather supportive of liberty. Some Whigs advocated Spartan-like agrarian equality and sumptuary laws against luxury and extravagance.1
This aspect of stoic republicanism did not, of course, last very long. The acquisition of property soon supplanted agrarian equality in the American Republic. Yet the issue of inequality of wealth in our republic didn’t go away, but instead continues to this day.
5. Like the Spartans and the King-in-Parliament, the new American Constitution of government divided powers to prevent tyranny. However, its central feature isn’t the well-known horizontal separation among legislative, executive, and judicial powers, but rather the vertical division of authority between the states and the new government. Free government is impossible without repeal of the 17th Amendment and further strengthening the role of the states.
6. Where Solon’s democratic laws for Athens didn’t outlast Solon, Lycurgus’ reforms endured in large part because he divided the legislative power. Elders in the Gerousia drafted bills which became law only upon acceptance by an assembly of free citizens. Similarly, Roman senators and tribunes of the people, the King-in-Parliament, and a Congress of the people’s representatives and senators of the States wisely split the legislative between classes and interests. Additionally, these lawmaking bodies represented the whole of their societies, that is, until the 17th Amendment foolishly rendered a stable federal republic overnight into an increasingly unstable democratic form.
Spartan ideals of private and public virtue endured in the early American republic. No government is more beautiful than a republic, for its sole purpose is the good of the people. The very greatness of republics, its utter dependence on the people, is at the same time its weakness. As opposed to monarchal or authoritarian forms which ultimately rest upon fear, republics are built on the consent of the governed and voluntary compliance with the law.2 For conscience to supplant coercion, individual self-control of passions is paramount and can summed up in one word, virtue.
Lycurgus left behind a balanced republican government that encouraged public virtue in a tiny, homogenous society. Having taken the lessons of history and their colonial experience, our Framing generation likewise left behind a uniquely American, republican form of divided powers that encouraged public virtue. Alas, time and neglect has done serious damage to our governing compact and society. Such is the rot, that vice today is often exalted as virtue, and exceptional ability and determination are regarded as capital sins. Instability in the execution of laws and occasional anarchy increasingly haunt the remains of our republic.
While I don’t share the certainty among Article V opponents that America, circa 2017, is beyond redemption, I share with them some doubt. Yet, the election of Donald Trump and the rejection of Uniparty Globalists instill hope in me that sufficient virtue remains to return to the first principles that served our nation so well for so long.
As I asked in the opening paragraph, “What of our Framers’ bequest?” Shall the US continue its slide into anarchy and subsequent tyranny? Shall Sparta remain the world’s longest lived republic, or will the American people reassert their sovereignty and return to their first principles of free government?
We are the many; our oppressors are the few. Now, it is our turn. Be proactive. Be a Re-Founder. Join Convention of States. Sign our COS Petition.
- Wood, G. S. (1969). The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. 64
- Ibid., 66