Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Boris Johnson’

Leadership for Dummies

Suddenly the idea that political power should be allocated on the basis of legitimate descent from generations of ruthless thugs, or even on the whim of a strange woman in a lake handing out swords, doesn’t seem so bad, because apparently the alternative – the unanswerable reason why Labour politicians are unfit for government – is the ability to recite a large chunk of material in a foreign language, learnt by heart back at school.

Not just any material, of course. (more…)

Read Full Post »

There’s a persistent belief that simply describing contemporary political figures in classical terms automatically furthers understanding; Trump is depicted as a Roman emperor, Johnson as Pericles, Cleon or Alcibades, as if this offers us vital clues to their personality or to the situation we’re in. I’m not referring to the passing comments or allusions – the endless evocation of Caligula supposedly making his horse a senator, whenever one or other of these modern autocrats makes an especially egregious appointment, for example – but to the longer-form discussions, the essays and op ed pieces, where the classical frame is clearly intended to illuminate (or at the least to indicate the illumination of the author; the audience may simply be expected to nod admiringly at their erudition). (more…)

Read Full Post »

There are times when – if I was completely confident that he is human, rather than a papier-maché marionette enchanted with a spirit of pure ambition and entitlement – I could almost feel sorry for Boris Johnson. How to answer questions about one’s self, when either it doesn’t exist or it has been firmly suppressed in favour of an attention-seeking public persona? Brexit? Easy: optimism, boldness, do or die, codswallop, no surrender, blah blah. Domestic policy? Tax cuts and infrastructure investment for everyone! Private life? That should remain private, so there. Okay, which figure from history would you like to be…? (more…)

Read Full Post »

The great advantage of classicists getting involved in the analysis of contemporary political rhetoric, given that it seems to be full of classical references at the moment (Johnson going on about Punic terms, the die-hard fanatics of the E”R”G – yes, the lunatic fringe’s lunatic fringe – going under the name of the Spartans, a Tory MP called David Jones citing chunks of Tacitus, including Latin, in a meeting of the influential 1922 Committee) is that they’re highly sensitive to nuance, allusion, and the history of reception of different figures, ideas and phrases. The disadvantage of classicists getting involved is that they’re highly sensitive to nuance, allusion etc etc. In other words: it’s not that these references are imaginary, but perhaps they aren’t as important as we tend to think they are. Or at least not as important to others, including those who made them in the first place, as they are to us, seeing classical antiquity yet again being besmirched by its appropriation by people with distasteful and dangerous politics. (more…)

Read Full Post »

How should we evaluate the Roman Empire? It’s an important question, given the role that the image of Rome has played in modern imperialism, both as a model for imperial powers and as a source of legitimisation for the whole enterprise (echoes of this recently in reports of Mark Zuckerberg’s reputed obsession with Augustus, which bears a striking resemblance to the sorts of claims made by IR theorists like Michael Doyle about the ‘Augustan moment’ when hegemonic power becomes accepted and welcomed by its subjects). It’s difficult to buy into the “and don’t forget the wine” discourse of What The Romans Did For Us without getting entangled in similar claims about the bringing of Civilisation (i.e. European Culture) to the benighted primitives of South America, Africa and Asia.

Fortunately the great scholar-politician of our time has the answer: it’s complicated. (more…)

Read Full Post »

I think it would be fair to say that the idea of Boris Johnson as a national figurehead for classics was problematic long before he started deploying far-right dog whistles in his newspaper column. I actually don’t intend this as a criticism of the charity Classics For All for having invited him to be one of their patrons; I can entirely understand the logic of seeking the support of a prominent public figure who not only studied classics but who continues to make classical references at every opportunity. But the benefits of such an association inevitably come with a potential cost, especially in today’s febrile culture where every controversy is immediately magnified and accentuated, and especially with a political figure who actively courts controversy, in the form of throwaway remarks that can always be excused as a joke if the consequences look like becoming too serious – the current burka fuss is by no means Johnson’s first foray into vulgar racism.

But this goes beyond the sort of embarrassment produced by, say, having a patron convicted of financial irregularities (more…)

Read Full Post »

The next generation of politicians, all as mediocre as one another, and competing with one another for primacy with little concern for the good of the state, abdicated the control of affairs to the whims of the people. They concentrated on their personal intrigues and ambitions instead of exercising any sort of leadership; they undermined any influence they might have had overseas, and plunged their own societies into factional conflict.

(Thucydides 2.65, very loosely adapted)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »