SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
Viewed in relation to its purposes, the law code of Lycurgus is a masterpiece in the art of statecraft and humanity. He desired a powerful, unassailable state, firmly established on its own principles. Political effectiveness and permanence were the goal toward which he strove, and he attained this goal to the full extent possible under the circumstances. But if one compares the purpose Lycurgus had in view with the purposes of humankind, then a deep abhorrence assumes the place of the approbation which we felt at first glance. Anything may be sacrificed to the good of the state except that end for which the state serves as a means. The state is never an end in itself; it is important only as a condition under which the purpose of mankind can be attained, and this purpose is none other than the development of all man’s power, his progress and improvement. If a state prevents the development of the possibilities which reside in man, if it interferes with the progress of the human spirit, then it is reprehensible and injurious, no matter how excellently devised, how perfect in its own way. Its very permanence in that case amounts more to a reproach than to a basis for fame; it be comes a prolonged evil, and the longer it endures, the more harmful it is….
At the price of all moral feeling a political system was set up, and the resources of the state were mobilized to that end. In Sparta there was no conjugal love, no maternal love, no filial devotion, no friendship; all men were citizens only, and all virtue was civic virtue.
A law of the state made it the duty of Spartans to be inhumane to their slaves; in these unhappy victims of war, humankind itself was insulted and degraded. In the Spartan code of law the dangerous principle was promulgated that men are to be looked upon as means and not as ends – and the foundation of natural law and of morality were destroyed by that law….
The state could endure only under the one condition: that the spirit of the people remained quiescent. Hence it could be maintained only if it failed to achieve the highest, the sole purpose of a state. Accordingly, although it is said in praise of Lycurgus that the state bloomed as long as it held to the letter of his law, in fact this was his worst deed…
The legislator alone works a self-assertive and difficult material: human freedom. He will never bring the Ideal to perfection, but the very effort to achieve that which he purely conceives in spirit with disinterested benevolence and diligently pursues is worthy of praise.
–Friedrich Schiller, Die Gesetzgebung des Lykurgus und Solon (1790) in Sämtliche Werke vol. 4, pp. 814-15 (Carl Hanser ed.)(S.H. transl.)
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp
Chance that an American would give up at least one week of life to avoid taking a pill every day:
Iowa urologists reported that only a minor portion of locker-room teasing arises from “the presence of excess foreskin”; most teasing targets small penises.
A pair of Russian film directors asked President Vladimir Putin to invest $18 million in a new restaurant chain intended to drive McDonald’s out of the Russian market. “Every project these days,” a Russian television personality said of the proposal, “must be smothered in patriotic sauce.”
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”