Monday, September 09, 2002

Sparta and Martha

A Spartan woman chastises a slave for reporting to her that her five sons were killed in a battle. When the slave tells her that Sparta won the victory, the news she really wants to hear, she runs to the temple and gives thanks to the gods. This is a female citizen, according the philosopher, Rousseau; and her likes are not to be found among us moderns.

Martha Nussbaum proves Rousseau’s point when she argues that after 9/11 Americans are now finally interested in the rest of the world, especially the plight of women in underdeveloped countries. Can one imagine the patriotic Spartan woman pleased that after suffering an attack, Sparta had gained knowledge of the outside world?

Now, to be a citizen in the sense of the Spartan woman is surely not possible today and perhaps not desirable either. Rousseau himself, despite his great praise of patriotism, uses the word “denatured” to describe the citizen. Indeed there is something inhuman about the Spartan woman’s response. But the same may be said of Professor Nussbaum‘s response. It is equally inhuman, even barbaric, to praise one’s country only for the openness gained after it has been savagely attacked without provocation. This perversity represents the official political position of the academic Left today, and it monopolizes the editorial page of the New York Times. Who else would care what Martha Nussbaum thinks about 9/11?


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