Sunday, September 13, 2009

California is the Best of Classical Greece...

Something I spotted over at Rogueclassicism today caught my attention. It seems that Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor of California, is using classical references in his speeches (when I say references, I mean blatant comparisons). This one comes from his 2007 State of the State address:

“We are the modern equivalent of the ancient city-states of Athens and Sparta. California has the ideas of Athens and the power of Sparta.”

"What a bloody strange thing to say", I thought to myself when I first read this. It got me to thinking: is the Governator (I don't get tired of using that sobriquet!) aware of the possible implications of his comparison?

I wonder - when he says California has the "ideas" of Athens and the "power" of Sparta, does he imagine that they'll work together initially, under a common goal (drive out those damn Persians again!), then when that goal's been achieved (Ciao Xerxes), they'll start to bicker until it's full blown war (Elephant Vs Whale - The Peloponnesian War)?

I applaud that he realises Athens and Sparta were city-states, but he seems to have missed the idea that they were great rivals, and that their respective strengths (as he labels them) were what caused them to become such great rivals. Continuing his analogy surely means California is heading for a troubled time.

The (modern stereotyped) image of City-Hall having chiseled, red cape wearing Spartan musclemen arguing with the intellectual, pederastic Athenian philosophers about which direction the state of California should take does make for some laughs (I think!)

My final thought was - will the "ideas" eventually be subjugated by the "power" and will California have to endure 30 tyrants? If so, it'll need the Governator at his best to drive them out. Another potential upshot is - once they've fought themselves into weakness, who'll be the Thebes that runs in and takes over in the aftermath?

The Washington Post reports that he continues the comparison by labelling California a "nation-state". One hopes he realises the potential for comparisons by extension - the city-states of Greece were famous four, if anything!, their incessant bickering and fighting.

The potential pitfalls of using comparisons with the classical world are numerous and it seems that the Governator has fell directly into one, and in turn highlights the difficult nature of using the classical world to get a modern political foot up.

Reading into his analogy is all just a bit of fun and could probably be continued ad absurdum. For example, does he realise the "power" of Sparta relied heavily on her rigid class system that actively exploited all non-Spartiates? Or that Athens, for all her ideas, ruled over two naval Empires that heavily exploited those under her protection? I could go on, but I won't

All in all, a rather interesting thing for the Governator to say, and something which has, no doubt, provided a fair but of discussion among classicists as to whether he really knew what he was saying, or if some speech writer simply thought it weighty enough to appeal to the common Californian. There is of course the possibility that, among the Governator's staff, there is a closet classicist sneaking references into his/her bosses' speeches!

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