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Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

When I first began putting together a research project on the modern reception and influence of Thucydides, and writing funding applications, the big ‘hook’ – the thing that was going to persuade reviewers of the contemporary relevance of the theme – was Thucydides’ infiltration of the G.W. Bush White House. Irving Kristol’s claim that he was the favourite author of the Neocons, the relationship between Donald Kagan and the Project for a New American Century, and – from a less bellicose perspective, Colin Powell’s love of the (fake) Thucydides quote about manifestations of power and restraint, were not intended to be the central focus of the project, but they showed the importance of understanding the context of such readings, the traditions of reception and reinterpretation that made powerful people think, or at least claim, that Thucydides speaks to the present.

Here we are again, with a new article on ‘Why everyone in the White House is reading Thucydides’ suggesting the Obama adminstration’s relative restraint in such matters (occasional references from Martin Dempsey when Chair of the Joint Chiefs) was just a blip.* (more…)

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Whom would you rather have make a speech about the death of one of your loved ones, Donald Trump or Pericles? For Simon Schama over on the Twitter yesterday, there’s no contest: “Grief obliges eloquence or silence. Pericles. Lincoln. Then ‘evil losers'”. It’s certainly true that there’s no contest when it comes to eloquence and rhetorical skill, or even basic grammar – but the differences aren’t so stark when it comes to the ends of such speeches. For Trump, the deaths of children, teenagers and their older relatives in Manchester are fuel for his confused, ill-directed crusade against ‘radical Islwmic terrorism’, fuelling suspicion of Muslims in general. For Pericles, the deaths of Athenian soldiers were weaponised to urge the survivors to sacrifice themselves for the city as well, with the grief of their families waved away. The issue with Schama’s contrast isn’t that Pericles lost the war or was responsible for starting it, as various people responded to him; it’s that the contrast isn’t as stark as he implies. As for his “Thucydides would block you and so will I”, nice line, but would the man willing to face up to the full ghastliness of human weakness and violence really filter reality like that?

Meanwhile, if you’ll excuse the sub-tweet, I feel ever more disturbed by the sorts of people who choose to incorporate Thucydides into their Twitter identity, and the violent right-wing views many of them seem to hold – and what this says about the modern image of Thucydides, if not necessarily the work itself…

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I don’t have the time or the patience to look through more than a couple of pages of search results, so this is not a definitive conclusion, but Googling the phrase “hacking history” produces plenty of accounts of the history of computer hacking, and not a lot else. There’s a summary of a 2014 talk on how the rise of digital tools ought to have led to a democratization of the production of history, and an advertisement for a History Hacker’s Camp on a farm museum in Maryland in June (tickets still available!), where children can learn all about farm life in the early 20th century through practical activities; in both cases, “hacking” seems to be little more than shorthand for “new and exciting!!!” Finally, if you look instead for “history has been hacked”, you’ll find an Assassin’s Creed III tie-in where you have to identify how the historical record has been tampered with, and a collection of links to claims that history as we know it is all a lie, the Trojan War was actually the same event as the First Crusade, the Book of Revelation was written in 1486, and no life’s just too short to start on this nonsense.

Why am I worrying about any of this? Because of the opening sentence of an essay by Mike Davis in Jacobin, ‘The Great God Trump and the White Working Class’: (more…)

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Once upon a time, a mouse decided to cross a great river, because it looked sunnier on the other side, and she didn’t like some of the other mice in her neighbourhood. Unfortunately there was no bridge and no ferry, but there was a large crocodile thrashing about and making angry noises. “If that crocodile will help me,” thought the mouse, “this will be very straightforward, and I’ll be on the other side enjoying the sunshine in no time.” And so she went across to talk to him.

“I’ve got the biggest teeth,” yelled the crocodile to no one in particular. “Simply huge. Magnificent teeth. And don’t forget the jaws. And my hands are great. Really great hands.”

“I think we have many common interests, and are both at the start of programmes of national renewal,” said the mouse, and climbed onto his back to make the journey across the river. And was of course eaten, possibly by accident.

Moral: WHY NOT THINK TWICE ABOUT CROSSING THE BLOODY RIVER FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE?

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The idea behind a Toga Party is obvious: to elevate the conventional student pursuit of drinking to excess by associating it with the well-established image of Roman decadence. Vomiting down one’s front is legitimised by classical precedent! To paraphrase Marx’s 18th Brumaire, the participants find in ancient history the self-deceptions necessary to conceal from themselves the humdrum nature of their activities. In a similar manner, the spate of Roman analogies for the rise of Trump serves to present our current historical predicament in more elevated terms as the crisis of the Republic and the potential triumph of decadent autocracy, as historical events in the grand old manner, rather than any of that tedious or depressingly complex analytical stuff. We are living in time of Great Men and Terrible Villainy and Heroic Deeds and Grand Gestures! The fact that this all derives from a thoroughly old-fashioned and dubious conception of history, just as the toga party is based on multiple layers of literary representation and reception, is beside the point, except for pedants like me. No, the Romans didn’t spend their entire time eating honeyed dormice, shagging their sisters and changing the course of World History with their speeches or battles – but ‘The Romans’ did, and that’s what matters. (more…)

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This spring, I’m teaching on the Roman Principate, including the nature of political and social life under a capricious autocracy (think not only of the grotesque antics attributed to pantomime villains like Caligula or Nero, but also the air of casual menace in Trajan’s letters that prompts Pliny’s desperate, paranoid grovelling). I’m already wondering what to do about possible Trump analogies, given the prevalence of classical references in current discourse – all the Suetonius-style kinky stuff to add to Caligula’s horse references, consumption habits straight out of Trimalchio and so forth. I’m not (at least at the moment) planning to make any – given everything I’ve already written about the problems of seeing the world in such short-term, individualistic terms – but I can certainly imagine some of my students making such points or raising questions in discussion. Which could be tricky. (more…)

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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)

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