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Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

Of course there’s a fine line between observing possible resemblances between classical antiquity and the modern world, and deploying arguable readings of classical antiquity in support of a specifically modern political agenda; on reflection, it is perhaps remarkable that Peter Jones’ Ancient and Modern column in the Spectator does the former so much more often than the latter. Today, however, is not one of those days. “Why do Greeks want to keep the euro, or remain in the European Union?” he asks rhetorically at the beginning. “The combative, creative, competitive, mercantile classical Greeks throve on independence.” The evidence for this is Hesiod’s Works and Days, and its praise of the good form of Eris, strife, which drives men to compete with one another in the race for riches. This then slides more or less imperceptibly into the depiction of democratic Athens as likewise ruled by competition, this time between politicians for the favour of the people, which is seen as the root of their confidence and of the Glory that Was Greece, until that was demolished by the arrival of Macedon and Rome. “No Greek should fear leaving the euro, or the EU.” (more…)

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The two most distinctive cries of the professional historian are “the simple answer is, we’re not sure” and “actually it’s rather more complicated than that”. This is how it should be: the past is complex, fragmentary and always in dispute, and it should go against all our instincts and training to pretend otherwise, however much this then annoys other people in dinner party conversations, let alone our colleagues in the social sciences. Of course, this does mean that our potential usefulness to others is strictly limited, unless we bite our tongues a lot; too much damned equivocating (I always think of the famous meeting of historians of Germany summoned by Margaret Thatcher to tell her whether reunification would be a Good Thing or a Bad Thing; well, of course it depends…). (more…)

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