Grayling suffers from a particular disordering of the senses that seems oddly common amongst the academics of Britain: the idea that no one has had a good idea, anywhere in the world, since around the time that Marcus Aurelius died. Grayling’s encomium of Lycurgus of Sparta continues several of his previous themes:
- It is unabashedly patriarchal and hetero-normative
- It begins with the idea that ‘the glory that was Greece’ represents the finest ever flowering of civilisation – that it is not just a predecessor from which we can still draw wisdom, but that practically every change that has occurred since its day has been an error.
- There is much criticism of young people today, although mostly in the guise of praising the very different young people of Sparta and leaving the obvious conclusion as an exercise for the reader to draw.
- There is the unassailable belief that age does not merely confer wisdom, but causes it. (Grayling himself is 64)
Despite his injunction in chapter 1 of Acts to see the flaws as well as the virtues of his subjects, Grayling himself seems unable to do anything other than idealise Lycurgus of Sparta. Nor does he seem willing to look into the work of any historian of a more recent vintage than Plutarch – Grayling’s Lycurgus is that of Plutarch – Grayling even dares to disagree with Plato and Aristotle on the subject. And while Grayling is sufficiently realistic to note that the example of Sparta is not one that it likely to be restored anywhere in the world today, he cannot bring himself to criticise it with any real force – although 1 of the 14 chapters is devoted to criticisms, they are half-hearted at best, and their inclusion serves more to list them than to address them.