Posts Tagged ‘David Cameron’

Thucydides citing Pericles (2.37.2): “We show no animosity at our neighbours’ choice of pleasures, nor cast aspersions that may hurt even if they do not harm.”  Even if you don’t go so far as to change the final word to “ham” (thanks for that, @JohnPowersUS), the relevance of this line to today’s wild-fire of an unsubstantiated rumour seems obvious. But we could take it in different ways. Read straight, as an accurate reproduction of Pericles’ noble rhetoric, this can seem like a judgement on our own trivial. tabloid-driven society, in which the idea that ‘the personal is political’ becomes an excuse to ignore serious debate in favour of gossip; it’s only a day or so since people, largely the same people as are now giggling about this story, were denouncing the tabloid attacks on things that Jeremy Corbyn said or did decades ago. But then one might reasonably reply that someone who was quite happy to join in presenting Corbyn in the most lurid terms as a threat to national security has given up his right then to get huffy about other people’s muck-raking and occupy the moral high ground. And that’s before we get to the fact that Pericles was someone with an obvious reason for wanting to insist on the irrelevance of private pleasures to public life – and that Thucydides was perfectly aware of those, and could imagine that enough of his readers knew about Aspasia to hear that line and, sniggering, think “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he..?”

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Interesting that, more or less the moment I finish writing a piece for Aeon magazine (due to appear 22nd October) on the use of Pericles’ Funeral Oration on war memorials and in remembrance services for the war dead (the short version: this happens a lot, and is somewhat problematic), David Cameron makes his announcement about plans for the celebration of the centenary of the First World War. Don’t I mean ‘commemoration’ rather than ‘celebration’? I wish I could feel more confident about that. Yes, that’s the word he used, but it’s a pretty odd sort of commemoration:

…a commemoration that captures our national spirit in every corner of the country, from our schools and workplaces, to our town halls and local communities. A commemoration that, like the diamond jubilee celebrations this year, says something about who are as a people.

Yes, he eventually gets round to mentioning the fact that people died – and the mention of 16 million shows that he’s not just talking about the British and their allies – but then he rapidly switches back to the national theme: their “sacrifice” was made for us, and made us what we are today. The notion that the whole thing was a senseless waste of life, exploiting the patriotic feelings of the populations of many nations for the sordid self-interest and over-weening arrogance of their politicians and ruling-classes – a version that is promoted by conservative historians as much as anyone – doesn’t enter the picture. Remembering the dead is an occasion for us to be persuaded to feel good about ourselves as a nation, not an occasion to curse nationalism. (more…)

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