Sparta in Babylon: Case studies in the public philosophy of soldiers and civilians

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Grant Reeher


Public philosophy, Soldiers, Civilians

Subject Categories

American Politics | Military and Veterans Studies | Public Administration


This dissertation examines the veracity of longstanding claims that military leaders develop a coherent public ideology that is, first, distinct from those of their parent society and, second, that this belief system is predictably conservative in character. In the American case, these claims depict self-selected and socialized military leaders as sharing in a conservative "military mind" that remains isolated from the mainstream of the American liberal tradition. Using a combination of Q-method public values sorting exercises followed by semi-structured, in-depth interviews, these arguments are tested through an intensive examination of the public philosophies of forty-five mid-level and senior U.S. Army officers and forty-five civilian community and business leaders. The result was the organic construction of four primary public belief systems, labeled here as Triumphant Individualism, Communitarian Democracy, Traditionalism, and Neo-Traditionalism. Each of these public narratives is described at length. When matched to the conventional wisdom on military beliefs, however, the basic claims of distinction, coherence, and conservatism are not supported. In place of ideological solidarity, one finds a diversity of value orderings and descriptions that do not easily fit the typical military-civilian categories. These findings challenge existing shibboleths regarding the prospect of a "military mind," while questioning attendant claims regarding the capacity of military service to shape individuals' public values. The dissertation closes with an examination of how these findings fit with the existing literature on the empirical study of political ideology and recent public opinion data on military partisanship.


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