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Here is Donald. Here is Vladimir.

Donald is scared. Donald is greedy. Donald wants everyone to admire his big red balloon.

Vladimir has a ruthless, clear-sighted sense of his personal interests.

What do you think is going to happen, children?

Pat the dog is hiding under the duvet.

Here is America. Here is China.

America is an established power. China is a rising power.

Are they going to fight?

Donald is strong.

Donald thinks the strong can do what they want.

Is he going to launch an expedition against Syracuse?

This is Sebastian.

Sebastian doesn’t really know anything about Thucydides either.

Holiday Snaps

In clinching proof that I am incapable of switching off the academic brain even when surrounded by beautiful countryside, unfeasible numbers of storks, fine food and excellent beer, I have been getting cross with an innocuous History of Croatia. The first 80% of the first chapter is more or less okay – the account of the Romans is unnecessarily confused by the fact that the author knows Octavian and Augustus are the same person but clearly isn’t sure why and certainly doesn’t see any need to explain it to the reader – but then we come to the arrival of the Croats. They came with other Slavs. Or not. Their language is Slavic, but other characteristics point to a different origin, according to some theories. They were a distinct group. Or perhaps they weren’t. Maybe they actually came from Iran. But we don’t actually have any evidence. It’s all a mystery. Continue Reading »

Apparently, pointing out to Trump fans or rabid Brexiteers that they’re being taken for a ride by corrupt, loathsome bastards may make them double down on their commitment to said bastards. Clearly this precautionary principle has been adopted wholesale by Goodreads, to judge from their policy on correcting fake Thucydides quotes; anything that has lots of ‘likes’ from users of the site is not to be deleted, regardless of its proven falsehood. Yes, my occasional mission to give F.B. Jevons and William F. Butler their proper due for ‘Of all manifestations of power…’ and ‘The nation that divides its soldiers from its warriors…’ respectively has a new target. Those two have been sorted out – Jevons gets credit now rather than Thucydides, while somehow the Butler has been deleted as insufficiently worthy, but apparently nothing can be done about ‘peace is an armistice in an endless war’, ‘justice will not come to Athens’ and even, dear gods, ‘a collision at sea can ruin your whole day’.

”We are,” Goodreads tell me, “book review and recommendations site.” Well, yes. So what’s with the quotes?

While we do have quotes on the site, we consider them to be community-owned content and therefore we have strict rules regarding removing.

So, the people of Goodreads have had enough of experts, and resent being talked down to by people who think they know better and want to delete their favourite quotes. I find myself thinking so much more positively of Wikipedia and its editors than I did a few months ago…

Black Box

It’s widely recognised – at least among education professionals – that national debates around are unhelpfully shaped by anecdata, the extrapolation of personal experience into broader principles and the legitimation of such principles through lived experience. It’s the “I was beaten regularly and it made me the man I am today” approach to discipline, the “grammar school allowed me to escape my deprived upbringing so it must be best for everyone” policy, the “I learnt my times table and lots of dates so obviously it’s the lack of those that explains The Problem With Youth Today” school of curriculum reform. It’s a major source, if not the major source, of the nostalgia for the days when university was a minority privilege that pervades discussions such as this morning’s fuss about too many Undeserving People getting Inflated Grades, spoon-fed snowflakes and lax standards, nothing wrong with a Desmond ha ha in my day. Continue Reading »

A very minor footnote to current debates about the treatment of migrants on the United States’ southern border… The emotive phrase ‘concentration camps’ has been used a fair amount, and whenever that happens you can guarantee that someone on the Twitter will come up with the “well actually they were invented by the British in South Africa” line – not, I think, with the aim of relativising the Holocaust or playing down the outrage, but perhaps to side-step invocations of Godwin’s Law and emphasise that respectable Anglo-Saxon democracies can do this sort of this as well.

This week brought a new variant: well actually it wasn’t the British but the ancient Greeks, see Thucydides’ account of the Athenian prisoners kept in terrible conditions in quarries after the Syracuse disaster (7.87). Hmm. The obvious objection is that, however inhuman their treatment, these were prisoners of war, whereas the hallmark of the modern concentration camp is the internment of civilians. The obvious question is: What function does such a claim serve? In the actual Twitter exchange it comes across less as an attempt to exculpate the British than simply as the provision of yet more historical information. But it still feels like a distraction, a missing of the point, or at least a dissolving of the point into a general ‘humans have always done this to each other’ sigh of despair rather than a focused attack on the choices of a particular state.

In Central and Eastern Europe during the Cold War, academics who fell foul of the regime – merely for expressing ideas that didn’t fit the party line – were censored, silenced, forced out of their positions and even imprisoned. It’s no exaggeration to say that exactly the same thing is happening today, in the very countries which once stood for freedom and liberal values. Totalitarian regimes tolerate no dissent; we see academics once again being denounced simply for discussing inconvenient ideas, forbidden from organising lectures (and hounded by organised mobs if they do so), forced to hold seminars on radical ideas under conditions of the greatest secrecy, barred from publication in mainstream journals, and persecuted on trumped-up charges simply for trying to engage students with political issues.

These colleagues need our help and support – and we have the historical example of brave liberals like Roger Scruton and the Jan Hus Educational Foundation to show us the way. We need to show these beleaguered intellectual heroes that they are not alone, and make sure that their ideas can still be heard despite all these attempts at censorship. We propose the formation of a new organisation, the Conservative Academic Network Trust, to coordinate the activities of the academic underground. This will, for example, arrange plausible cover stories for those wishing to participate in clandestine seminars on imperialism without attracting the attention of the authorities, make and distribute homemade YouTube videos of inspirational lectures and interviews, and ensure the publication of forbidden ideas – preferably in multiple copies, to evade the censors.

We have already recruited academics willing to travel to ideological wastelands like Oxford and Stanford, ostensibly to deliver lectures on cultural Marxism and post-colonial gender theory, where they will be able to meet secretly with persecuted academics and hand over vital supplies of paper, green ink and tweed. But this requires money – more money than our few supporters among the proprietors of international media empires are able to provide. Please donate whatever you can. If simply being a conservative apologist for racism, sexism and imperialism is a thought crime, then we should all be Spartacus!

8 Chansons

I’ve been re-watching Francois Ozon’s magnificently silly comedy 8 Femmes – a wonderful means of relaxing, that can be enjoyed just as a bit of fun but offers so much more if you’re in the mood. If Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven offers one sort of hommage to the films of Douglas Sirk, revealing the real darkness and painful secrets within such stories, Ozon revels in the melodrama and visual sumptuousness. One of its glories, and of course the major selling-point, is the simple fact that it packs eight great French actresses into a snowed-in house with a murder mystery and eggs them on into acting off against one another in contrasting styles. I can’t help wishing for a Hearts of Darkness documentary in which we discover the real dynamic behind Catherine Deveuve hitting Danielle Darrieux with a bottle or wrestling on the floor with Fanny Ardant, or the multi-layered stares exchanged between Emanuelle Beart and Virginie Ledoyen. Continue Reading »