I am not a gambling man – but I know a pretty sure thing when I see one. David Engels has written a substantial rejoinder to the critique of his ‘The EU Is Doomed, Because Rome’ argument written by Roland Steinacher and me, characterising it as an Althistorikerstreit, and concludes with the suggestion that time will show whether he’s right or not. Fair enough; if over the next 20-30 years Europe collapses into civil war – and it’s worth stressing that this is not about a return to warring nation states, according to Engels’ model, but about conflict between suburbs and districts within different regions of Europe – and then willingly surrenders in toto to a single charismatic autocrat, then he wins, and as the prophet of the new regime will presumably be in a position to have me locked up and my property confiscated. We win if it doesn’t. My real problem is deciding what the stakes should be; let’s say 10 litres of fresh water, as that will be worth its weight in gold in any post-apocalyptical wasteland you care to imagine, and will be perfectly serviceable in any case. (more…)
Posts Tagged ‘Europe’
One of the things I have always found rather weird and off-putting about German academia is the way that some professors include a section in their CVs about the Rufe – the offers of chairs at other universities – they have turned down. I understand, intellectually, why this happens: in many cases, especially in the past, a professor stayed at the salary level at which they were originally appointed, unless they could wave an offer from somewhere else at the university management and negotiate a better deal, so it was only rational to apply elsewhere on a regular basis – and clearly it continues to be a means of arguing for more support staff, more research money and the like, as well as a recognised indicator of social capital. Further, if everyone knows that every job will attract applications from a load of high-powered established professors who don’t really want it but will take at least six months to play this possible future university off against their current university before declining the offer – which is why, from a UK perspective, German appointment processes take a staggeringly long time – then the people who actually end up taking the jobs, two years later, won’t feel at all embarrassed that it’s all out in public: you weren’t competing on a level playing field, so winning by default, so to speak, isn’t an issue. (more…)
Where would you want to be when the world ends? I’ve had that phrase running around inside my head for the last couple of weeks, convinced that it must be the tagline for a film that I’ve never actually seen – but I can’t actually find it anywhere on the internet. Which is a shame, because what I wanted to do was start with that and then say, well, of course it isn’t the end of the world – although given everything that’s happened in the last month it’s difficult to avoid the feeling that history is trying to cram in as much as possible having realised that the deadline is rather closer than expected – but only Brexit, but it’s still a valid question. Where would you want to be when your country’s decided to go for self-immolation while jumping off a cliff? (more…)
Has Boris Johnson ever given a speech without throwing in a classical reference or two? It’s part of the brand, clearly – and always reminds me of Josh Ober’s classic study of Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens. Ober noted the surprising readiness of wealthy Athenians, especially those who’ve chosen an active role in public life, to parade their wealth and their difference from the mass of the citizens, even when faced with the task of winning over several hundred jurors drawn from the ordinary population. The ancient equivalent of a modern British politician taking off his jacket and tie, rolling up his sleeves and dropping a few aitches is conspicuous by its absence. (more…)
Do classicists and ancient historians have a particular relationship with Europe or special reasons to fear a British exit from the European Union, compared with other academic disciples? I’ve been asked this question in relation to the newly-founded Classicists for Europe, which aims to add our voice to the campaign for the UK to STAY, and my answer would be: basically, no. We may perhaps be more likely than some to feel an affinity to Europe, given that most of us work on material from other European countries in close collaboration with continental colleagues, while the cultural inheritance of classical antiquity clearly transcends national claims or identities. But even if this gives us a slightly different outlook from historians of early modern England or analytical philosophers, it’s clearly about Europe rather than the EU; when it comes to the latter, our fears are those of researchers, teachers and students in all the other sciences – the threats to mobility, funding and infrastructure, the consequences of prolonged instability and uncertainty – and so the message of the campaign is ‘Us Too!’ rather than ‘We’re Special!’ (more…)
The Melian Dialogue, with its fascinating insights into the dynamics of power imbalances and issues of might versus right, is one of the best-known episodes in Thucydides’ account, and continues to be drawn upon as a source of insight into contemporary events. Few people know that this is, strictly speaking, the second Melian Dialogue. Just over seventy-five years earlier, in 481, in the middle of the Persian Wars, a delegation from Melos had arrived in Athens and demanded to speak to representatives of the Greek alliance against Persia. In the standard version of Thucydides’ text, this event is mentioned only in passing, as it appears to have had no lasting consequences; however, one manuscript variant includes a more extensive account of the ensuing discussions, with some surprising echoes of the later episode – some of which may help explain the brusque response of the Athenians to certain Melian arguments in 416.
ATH: This isn’t really the best time – you know, major military threat from the East, refugees from Ionia, economic crisis, that sort of thing – but we’re always willing to talk to our allies. What can we do for you?
MEL: We want to leave the alliance. You jack-booted bureaucratic imperialists.
ATH: Okay… What exactly is the problem?
MEL: You take all our money and then order us around.
ATH: Well, every state pays a proportionate contribution to the defence of Greece against the Persian threat, and we reach collective decisions about strategy that we’re all expected to obey.
MEL: Just like we said. What do we get out of it? And don’t give us any of that nonsense about preserving peace or protecting workers’ rights or supporting scientific research. We don’t care about your values and ideals.
ATH: All right, if you insist on framing this purely in terms of expediency, would you not accept that there are benefits for all of us from solidarity and collective action?
MEL: What benefit is there for us in being your slaves?
ATH: But you’re not… Mutual support and security? Pooling of resources? The powerful are always going to try to do exactly what they want; the weak need to band together to become strong.
MEL: Are you suggesting that we’re too small and weak? Are you? Melos is Great. Melos is Strong and Uniquely Inventive and the Envy of the Aegean. We’re not being dictated to by a bunch of rootless cosmopolitan owl-huggers.*
ATH: All right, what about a looser form of alliance, in which you don’t have to do anything you really don’t want to do, so long as it doesn’t damage the rest of us?
MEL: Tyranny! Dictatorship! We might as well be in Persia!
ATH: Have you really thought this through? The risks in what you propose to do are considerable…
MEL: PROJECT FEAR!!!
ATH: You are going to need allies.
MEL: Everyone will want to be our friends once we’re free from your tyranny. Including you. Because we’re better than everyone else. And the gods will be on our side.
ATH: Hope is always a good thing, but if it’s all you’ve got…
MEL: It’s all we need – that, and our freedom from this imperialistic alliance of independent sovereign states that is oppressing us! Melians never shall be slaves! It’s time to take back control!
[At this point the manuscript breaks off…]
* Word otherwise found only in fragment of Aristophanes. Presumed sexual reference.
One major reason for the versatility of Thucydides’ account as a source of insight into the present, as noted before, is its lack of specificity. That is to say, we’re presented with a detailed, multi-faceted account of specific historical events, having been primed to expect that we’ll spot resemblances and analogies with later events and our own situation – but without any authorial direction as to what resemblances and analogies we should expect to see. As Hobbes observed, Thucydides doesn’t teach a lesson but simply makes us spectators of events, free to draw our own conclusions (but encouraged to do so). His work is not so much a mirror as a Rorschach blot; you see universal principles of inter-state relations that speak to tensions between the USA and China, I see a complex meditation on uncertainty and anticipation that is (as Simon Schama has been astute enough to observe recently) perfectly suited to a well-paid consultancy with the insurance industry. (more…)