It Could Be You…

Once upon a time, there was a Good Boy. His parents told him to be polite and obedient, and so he was, not just to them but to everyone. They told him to work hard and always try his best, and so he did. They told him to be modest, and so he was, in the self-deprecating way that looks false to many people and irritates the hell out of them. And he came to believe, without ever really thinking about it, that if he just stuck to these principles his parents had taught him, everything would always be all right.

Mostly, it was, because Good Boys who work hard and toe the line, showing just enough imagination to get a little extra credit but never too much, tend to accumulate qualifications and go on – this being Once Upon A Time fairyland, where such things still happened with a degree of predictability – to get PhD funding and then a job. Continue Reading »

Free Range

As Abraham Lincoln once remarked, Thucydides is not the only historical figure to get regularly misquoted. One interesting example is the line that “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country”, regularly trotted out to epitomise a certain attitude prevalent within big business. At least in the UK, there is at best only a fuzzy sense of the original context – it was said by Charles Erwin Wilson in 1953, during confirmation hearings for his appointment as Secretary of Defense after being Head of General Motors – and little idea that it’s not completely accurate. What Wilson actually said, when asked whether he would be able to make a decision as Secretary of Defense that would be adverse to General Motors, was that he would, but that he couldn’t actually conceive of such a situation “because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa”. That’s a great deal more reciprocal, and less dubious – and hence less useful – than the usual version.

In universities – yes, I am going somewhere with this – there has traditionally been a similar assumption, all the way down to the individual level: Continue Reading »

Crooked Timber is running an online book seminar about Jo Walton’s ‘Thessaly’ novels, The Just City and The Philosopher Kings, and the main aim of this post is to point you in that direction forthwith. My contribution reflects on the books as meditations on different aspects of the classical tradition, and I would hope that most visitors to this blog with an interest in classical reception will need little persuasion to take a look at them. However, I had far more things to say than would fit comfortably into a more or less coherent blog post, and so I’m going to take this opportunity to try to persuade sceptical historians, ancient or otherwise, that they should be just as interested in a fictional exploration of Platonic political philosophy, its limits and its implications. Continue Reading »

Someone over on Crooked Timber asked if I could outline the debates about the nature of the ancient economy and its historiography, in the context of discussions about the contribution of Ellen Meiksins Wood; I was thinking of posting my response here anyway, just to keep the blog ticking over and to avoid these thoughts languishing at the bottom of a thread that no one’s following any more, but it’s taken me so long to get round to writing this that the thread has closed to comments, and this is the only outlet I have. Of course, if you’ve read much of my academic work these ideas will be pretty familiar, but for everyone else…

What Are We Talking About When We Talk About The Ancient Economy?
Continue Reading »

A Class Act

RIP Ellen Meiksins Wood (and see also here)

A week and a half into term, and I am already being forcibly reminded of why I didn’t manage to post more than once or twice a month for much of 2015. It’s not as if I don’t have a load of stuff I’d like to write about – not least because Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australian, has just produced a load more Thucydides references in a recent speech, on the (not unreasonable) assumption that this is how to communicate with US foreign policy types these days (cf. Xi Jinping) – it’s just the quantity of other stuff that has to take precedence. But some things do deserve recognition and comment, above all – despite the fact that this blog has started to look like an obituary column – the passing of yet another significant figure in my intellectual pantheon. I have got to find some younger, healthier people to get influenced by… Continue Reading »

Damnatio Memoriae

There’s a great scene in the 1990s Welsh teenage drama series Pam fi, Duw? [Why me, God?], where everyone has gone to London (can’t remember why) and the indomitable grandmother insists on dragging the family across the city to visit the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square – to their utter bemusement, as she’s a dyed-in-the-wool socialist, but you don’t argue with Mamgu. When they finally get there, she sticks up two fingers at it and says something to the effect of “That’s for Tonypandy, you bastard!” Continue Reading »

RIP Geoff Hawthorn

It has not been a good couple of months for people who have inspired me and influenced my intellectual development, to the point where I’ve been wondering about whether I should send out cautionary messages to others on the list (although receiving a “Better watch your step” from me might be open to misconstruction). In early November, one of my school classics teachers, Aubrey Scrase, died, albeit having reached the age of ninety; any idea of writing a blog post at the time was buried by the avalanche of other commitments that month, but I do say something about his role in my early encounters with Thucydides in the preface to my book on Thucydides and the Idea of History. At the close of the old year, on December 27th, Christopher Brooke died, as discussed in my last post – and in the early hours of New Year’s Eve we lost Geoff Hawthorn. I have no idea what the status of his work within political theory or international studies may be – at any rate the TLS review of his and my books on Thucydides seems distinctly equivocal – but I would certainly argue that he ought to be a significant figure for anyone thinking about the relationship between history and the social sciences. Continue Reading »


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