Posts Tagged ‘immigration’

One of the ways in which the Athens of Pericles is a terrible model for how to manage a just society is the ultra-restrictive citizenship law he introduced in 451, reserving full legal and political status only for those whose parents were both Athenians. At least in part because of a shortage of sources, the context and purpose of this law is much disputed; Aristotle’s suggestion (Politics 1278a) seems as plausible as any, that this is a means of restricting the numbers of citizens in a polis that is expanding, presumably in order not to spread the benefits of citizenship (and, in Athens, of empire) too widely. In other circumstances, the benefits of immigrants are widely recognised; we can see this in Xenophon’s proposals in the Poroi for revitalising the Athenian economy by attracting more foreign traders and other entrepreneurs – though without actually opening up citizenship – and still more in Thucydides’ account of the way early Athens grew through offering a safe haven to refugees from other parts of Greece: “by becoming citizens from the very earliest times they so increased the city’s population that Attica could not contain them and the Athenians later sent out colonies to occupy Ionia as well” (1.2.6). Immigrants as an asset – but sometimes a state decides that it wants all the benefits of their contributions without offering anything much in return, however long they’ve lived there and however much they’ve done for their adopted home…


Read Full Post »

There’s been a minor flurry of references to Thucydides in the context of the BBC’s bizarre decision to give Enoch Powell’s notorious 1968 ‘rivers of blood’ speech the historical monument treatment. It’s an interesting variant on the argument put forward by opponents of ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ and similar campaigns to protect the legacies of racism and imperialism, that something can be simultaneously incredibly important for historical understanding (and so must be preserved) and yet absolutely separate from contemporary concerns (and so shouldn’t be attacked). The claim is that Powell’s speech matters because of its role in history (so celebrating it now has nothing to do with contemporary politics, honest, and we’re going to be really critical of it), and yet the only reason anyone pays any attention to the racist pronouncements of a failed politician is the persistence of such racism as an undercurrent in British society ever since, with the increasing tendency of mainstream political parties to treat it not as a problem and source of shame but as Very Real Concerns that Should Be Addressed. A healthy, modern society would be one in which Powell’s speech was of purely historical concern – in which case this anniversary would be of interest only to a tiny number of specialists. Ours clearly isn’t – but that doesn’t mean the BBC should be pandering to such tendencies. (more…)

Read Full Post »

We appear to have reached a tipping point, where future historians of this period – not necessarily human – will simply refuse to believe what they find in their sources on the grounds of plausibility. Just as with the Julio-Claudians, we can discuss the discourse of polemic and invective, and the values and cultural assumptions it reveals, but not the historical reality that lies somewhere behind it; we cannot study Boris Johnson as a real historical individual, but only the image of him as cartoonish buffoon constructed by hostile sources… (more…)

Read Full Post »

Rome for the Romans!

Someone – sorry, can’t for the moment recall where I saw this; maybe in commentary on Jon Hesk’s recent blog post on the ‘Challengers’ debate and ancient political rhetoric – recently noted in passing that they knew of some school students studying Aristophanes’ Knights with Nigel Farage playing the role of the Sausage-Seller, the rogue who out-bids even the shameless Kleon in his rabble-rousing. Fair enough, one might say, apart from the fact that it does let other politicians off the hook by attributing manipulative and shifty rhetoric to Farage alone; arguably they’re all Sausage-Sellers, or at least – and this is perhaps a more reasonable interpretation – they’re all being encouraged by highly-paid advisers to bury their decent instincts and reservations in the interests of victory, in the spirit of the end justifying the means.

This is most obvious in the case of the repulsive discussions of immigration as the Great Spoken issue of the election campaign, where even Labour is producing souvenir merchandise of their capitulation to, at best, profound moral feebleness.


Read Full Post »