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Posts Tagged ‘European Union’

How should we evaluate the Roman Empire? It’s an important question, given the role that the image of Rome has played in modern imperialism, both as a model for imperial powers and as a source of legitimisation for the whole enterprise (echoes of this recently in reports of Mark Zuckerberg’s reputed obsession with Augustus, which bears a striking resemblance to the sorts of claims made by IR theorists like Michael Doyle about the ‘Augustan moment’ when hegemonic power becomes accepted and welcomed by its subjects). It’s difficult to buy into the “and don’t forget the wine” discourse of What The Romans Did For Us without getting entangled in similar claims about the bringing of Civilisation (i.e. European Culture) to the benighted primitives of South America, Africa and Asia.

Fortunately the great scholar-politician of our time has the answer: it’s complicated. (more…)

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Brexit negotiations. Yes, we’re still replaying the Melian Dialogue, with the UK still stuck in the attitude of the Melians, offering the equivalent of “Surely there’s advantage to both of us in being friends rather than enemies?” and “Can’t you see that this will damage you as well as us?” as if these are knock-down arguments. My final-year Thucydides class has been having some really interesting discussions over the last couple of weeks about Pericles’ manipulative rhetoric and parallels to the Leave campaign – offered spontaneously by the students, before anyone puts me onto that government watch list – so I’m tempted to skip forward to the Melian Dialogue while these issues are still fresh. But, realistically, the negotiations aren’t likely to be going much better in February, when we’re scheduled to get to Book V, so the issues will still be fresh enough… (more…)

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Goodbye Europe!

March 2015. While his mother, a typical liberal academic, heads off to an evening of European cinema sponsored by the German embassy, young Alex joins a UKIP rally. Unfortunately she sees him waving a Nigel Farage placard, and has a heart attack that puts her into a coma. She sleeps through the election of David Cameron’s Tory government, the referendum campaign, the vote to Leave and the final departure of Britain from the EU*; when she regains consciousness, Alex is terrified that another shock will kill her (and also wracked with guilt), and so endeavours to conceal from her the fact of Brexit. (more…)

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European Echoes

OldenburgWhere is Europe? It’s perhaps not the most obvious answer, but one possibility is: sitting in the elegant Kulturzentrum PFL in Oldenburg the week before last with a mixture of academics, activists, trade unionists, students and regular citizens, listening to an elderly trio playing 1950s British trad jazz a la Chris Barber and Ken Colyer as the introduction to a podium discussion on the theme Wo ist Europa? And, yes, I should have got a photo of the band, rather than this rather off-putting one of the panel. (more…)

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Full of future thoughts and thrills… Published in last week’s The New European.

Europe was invented, or at least first defined, by the ancient Greeks. In the sixth century BCE, geographers like Anaximander and Hecataeus imagined the world divided between Europe, Asia and Libya Africa; their successor Herodotus turned this division into a great historical drama with the confrontation between the Persian Empire, rulers of Asia, and the heroic little Greeks at Thermopylae, Marathon and Salamis. (more…)

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“The future is dark, the present burdensome. Only the past, dead and buried, bears contemplation.” Thus G.R. Elton in The Practice of History, a book that I read at an impressionable age and so can still quote large chunks verbatim despite disagreeing with most of it. This line has always struck me as particularly, but interestingly, wrong; it encapsulates, tongue in cheek, the essentially conservative view of history as a means of escape into a past that is always conceived as preferable to the present – if only because it’s already over, so human suffering is more bearable (echoes again of Hegel’s account of history as the view from the shore of a distant shipwreck). It’s also linked to an explicit anti-determinism; there is no underlying logic to historical development, so the past speaks only to itself, not to the present, let alone to the future. Stuff happens, and we can grasp it properly only in retrospect. (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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