For much of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Germany hearkened after the example of Sparta. Orderly, obedient, ruthlessly disciplined, pious, self-confident, xenophobic and oligarchical -the Spartans appealed to successive generations of German elite. Though modern Germany may have shrugged off much of the militarism and the extremism of its predecessors -nevertheless, the love of rules and order is a noted feature of modern Germany and in many ways they are the modern exemplar of the Spartan model.
By contrast, much of the rest of Europe has come to uphold the ancient Athenian example of innovativeness, free thinking, wholistic justice and above all -democratic rule.
These two Weltanschauungs, which fueled the decades long Peloponnesian war of the 5th century BC, appear to be fueling much of the acrimony within the Eurozone today. The arguments are much the same:
- Unbreakable rules V. Free thinking
- Conservative V. Sudden acting
- Pious V. Liberal
- Orderly V. Lively
- Quiet V. Noisy
- Oligarchical/obedient V. Democratic/Free thinking
Just as in natural evolution different nuanced strategies persist alongside each other in a single species, so it seems humans retain these different strategies maintaining variations adapted to suiting different catastrophes. At present, the catastrophe of finance is favouring the Spartan/German model. But this will not always be the case. Different crises will arise and other countries will come to the fore. Rather than either strategy being better or best -they should be recognized as simply different, enduring and with periods of strength and weakness in both.
That both models persist is an asset to our species, but appreciating this could be a path to more understanding and less acrimony between neighbouring states. Rather than trying to impose either model on our neighbours through Fiscal Treaties, prescriptive policies and grandstanding referendums -we should see that each approach is in a cycle of ups and downs and try to accommodate both models at each point in that cycle. Compromise where possible and tolerate where necessary.
The ancient Greeks found it impossible to do this, the resulting wars lasted decades, sapping Greek strength and ultimately leaving them prey to outside conquest. Modern Europeans should make sure they do not follow a similar fate -there are plenty of forces outside of our continent who would love to see us argue like this indefinitely.