Innovation and Endurance

In every field, economic, political, and cultural, Athens welcomed the new and was ready for any adventure.

After the defeat of Persia at Salamis, Athens could not return to the old ways. Taking immediate advantage of the fleet which had been built up for the war, she went on to establish her commercial empire in the eastern Mediterranean. When the tribute from the alliance was no longer needed for war, it was used to build the wonderful temples and statues. Philosophers and poets were honored for attacking the old, traditional ways of life.

But her glories were comparatively short-lived. She was always weakened from within by the numerous Class I individuals who were constantly forming factions, plotting with internal or external enemies, and organizing rebellions […]

Sparta, in extreme contrast, was a nation where Class II residues were wholly predominant both in the general population and in the élite.

Innovation in Sparta was a crime; everything was regulated by ancient custom and religion and time-sanctified tradition. The individual counted for nothing, the group for all. Adventure was always to be distrusted. From these roots Sparta derived a tremendous power of endurance when faced with adversity.

But she always stopped short of anything spectacular. She produced no philosophy, no liquid wealth, and little art. She never tried to establish a great empire. Her own armies went home after the Persians were defeated.

In spite of defeats and crushing hardships, she finally conquered in the Peloponnesian Wars; but in the 4th century, when the conditions of life and warfare greatly changed, she too was lost. Because of her lack of Class I residues, Sparta could not adapt herself to new ways; so, defending the old, she perished.

The social combination that is strongest against external enemies, and at the same time able to bring about a fairly high internal level of culture and material prosperity, is that wherein (1) Class II residues are widespread and active among the masses (the non-élite); (2) the individuals with a high level of Class I residues are concentrated in the élite; (3) a fair percentage of Class II residues nevertheless still remains within the élite; (4) the élite is comparatively open, so that at least a comparatively free circulation can take place.

The meaning of this optimum combination can be translated as follows into more usual terms: (1) The masses have faith in an integrating myth or ideology, a strong sense of group solidarity, a willingness to endure physical hardship and sacrifice. (2) The best and most active brains of the community are concentrated in the élite, and ready to take advantage of whatever opportunities the historical situation presents.

[James Burnham]
The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom, p.192-3

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