Party Over Principle

Listen, I don’t spend my time concocting spurious parallels between ancient history and contemporary events so that I can indoctrinate my students and subvert society under the guise of teaching. I open up my copy of Thucydides to prepare for this week’s seminar, the topic of which was set three months ago, and there parallels are…

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Some years ago, when my grasp of German was at a level of competent-but-not-idiomatic, I used the word Selektion – I can’t remember the exact context, but it may have had something to do with the British system of university admissions compared with the German – and was taken aback by the reaction of the people I was talking to. “You can’t used that word! Yes, it means ‘selection’, but that’s not what it means…” Because the Selektion of people into different categories is what happened on arrival at concentration camps; if you’re going to talk about dividing people into different categories, for example with admissions to university courses with restricted numbers of places, you definitely need to find a different word for it. Continue Reading »

Anticipating Disaster

To be absolutely honest, I’m struggling to focus this morning. Partly, it is simply that there are Too Many Things even for a normal week, let along for the penultimate week of term, and my ability to choose between different priorities other than those which actually have to be done more or less immediately has evaporated – they’re all important, none of them is so important that it’ll be a catastrophe if I don’t do it until tomorrow, and my head hurts. No, I know this isn’t a sensible strategy and will end in tears, but that doesn’t help.

I imagine, in my more sympathetic and understanding moments, that this is probably how David Davis feels. Mostly I am lacking in either sympathy or understanding Continue Reading »

China Crisis

Who owns the classical tradition, and who has the right to develop new interpretations of its significance for the present? As you might expect from someone who spent twenty years in Bristol, chanting “Meaning is realised at the point of reception!” and holding aloft my copy of the Little Red-and-Black Book*, my habitual answers are everyone and anyone. Yes, we can and should argue furiously about individual interpretations and appropriations, on political or moral or aesthetic or historical grounds, but what we can’t do is argue that certain people(s) have a special right or privilege, to the exclusion of others.

I’m thinking about this at the moment because the Tacitus Trap, China’s great contribution to the storehouse of snappy classical memes, is back in the news Continue Reading »

Aristotle dreamed of the robot revolution. A slave is a living tool that serves multiple purposes; likewise a craftsman’s assistant (Politics 1253b). This is demonstrated by the fact that, if every tool could perform its own work when ordered, or by seeing what to do in advance, like the statues of Daedalus or the self-moving tripods of Hephaestus, craftsmen would have no need of assistants or masters of slaves. Tools are an essential component of the state; workers, maybe not so much. Continue Reading »

Presumably there are people who specialising in studying the philosophy of the European far right, or even the more specific theme of their appropriation of classical antiquity, as Donna Zuckerberg and others are doing in the US. I wonder how they prevent their brains dribbling out of their ears on a regular basis. Continue Reading »

Brexit negotiations. Yes, we’re still replaying the Melian Dialogue, with the UK still stuck in the attitude of the Melians, offering the equivalent of “Surely there’s advantage to both of us in being friends rather than enemies?” and “Can’t you see that this will damage you as well as us?” as if these are knock-down arguments. My final-year Thucydides class has been having some really interesting discussions over the last couple of weeks about Pericles’ manipulative rhetoric and parallels to the Leave campaign – offered spontaneously by the students, before anyone puts me onto that government watch list – so I’m tempted to skip forward to the Melian Dialogue while these issues are still fresh. But, realistically, the negotiations aren’t likely to be going much better in February, when we’re scheduled to get to Book V, so the issues will still be fresh enough… Continue Reading »