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Posts Tagged ‘Dominic Cummings’

A country divided; politics becoming ever more partisan and extreme; increasingly violent rhetoric, with knee-jerk defence of your own side and a refusal to accept the slightest possibility that your opponents – now branded as ‘enemies’ or ‘traitors’ – might be speaking or acting in good faith. Not (only) Britain in 2019, or 1930s Germany, but ancient Greece. (more…)

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I for one welcome our new Thucydides-quoting overlords… Well, no, not really. Back in 2013, when Dominic Cummings publicly expressed his love for Thucydides and his belief that there is no better book to study for understanding politics, I expressed concern that this was one more data point for the proposition that studying Thucydides can be a Really Bad Thing that leads people to Terrible Conclusions. I decided then not to spend any time developing a detailed analysis of the role played by Thucydides (and Pericles) in his essay ‘On education and and political priorities’, aka the ‘Odyssean Education’ piece, as on first reading it seemed that Cummings was mainly taking Thucydides as a model for critical thinking, something with which I wasn’t inclined to disagree too much, even if this idea clearly then led us in very different directions. A few years later, when Cummings resurfaced in the Vote Leave campaign, there seemed more important things to do than re-read the essay – though in retrospect, as discussed below, I now suspect that there were a few clues in there about his approach to politics that could have been worth discussing.

And now? (more…)

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Would it be better if Thucydides had never written, or if his work had been lost altogether? (Not an entirely impossible scenario, given that nothing of his work was available in Western Europe before the 14th century, and any number of Greek works may have been lost when Constantinople fell). I’ve mused on this before, in the context of the stupid Thucydides Trap idea (which, insofar as it’s a well-intentioned policy intervention, seems just as likely to prompt aggressive war preparations as the de-escalation that its author urges), and one might have asked the same question about the US Neocons and their apparent belief that Thucydides licensed a new US world order, in which the Sicilian Expedition would have the right outcome. (more…)

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I have, now and again, made the jokey claim that if only I were pursuing my research project into the modern influence of Thucydides in the US rather than in Bristol, I would be deluged with offers from well-funded think-tanks and the like, and would have no problem at all in demonstrating Impact. It’s certainly the case that, for any number of different reasons, Thucydides is far more widely cited in public life over there, and there is an obvious precedent for a Thucydides-focused academic getting involved in policy debates in the case of Donald Kagan, whereas here in the UK I’ve been confronted by complete indifference (and a lot of unanswered letters and emails) in attempting to interest anyone in my project to use annotated extracts from Thucydides as a basis for debating key issues about citizenship in schools. The project pre-dates the Impact Agenda, so I was never required to produce an Impact Plan or build any outreach activities into the design; the Thinking Through Thucydides idea was a late and spontaneous development, and I don’t know whether it might have got off the ground if I’d been working at it from the beginning, or whether the lack of interest in Thucydides in the public sphere in the UK would have been grounds for rejecting the whole project. The application I’m developing for Phase II (strictly speaking, Phase III) of the whole enterprise has the TTT project fully integrated into the plan, so perhaps this is the opportunity to test that counterfactual.

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