The publication of Yanis Varoufakis’ And The Weak Suffer What They Must? in paperback has been heralded by a short video in which James Galbraith, Noam Chomsky, Slavoj Zizek and Jeffrey Sachs offer their praise; the latter presents him as “the Thucydides of our time”, and Vintage have taken that as a key line for their publicity. It’s an interesting indication of the contemporary standing of Thucydides – but also a little puzzling. (more…)
Posts Tagged ‘Karl Marx’
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…)
The British media and political class don’t do really Thucydides in the way that he’s a fixture of public discourse in the US (and, it seems, is now making inroads into Australia), or we might by now have seen a rush of references from those horrified by the election of Jeremy Corbyn to “hope, danger’s comforter”, the irrational exuberance of the Athenians in the Sicilian Debate, the depiction of factional in-fighting in the Corcyrean episode, or the general “history repeats itself, people being what they are, so it’ll be 1983 all over again” pessimism of his methodological statements in Book 1.* We have already had lots of more general (and non-classical) comments in a similar vein, arguing that the ‘lessons of history’, and more particularly the lessons of the 1980s, demonstrate the foolishness of abandoning the middle ground, however far rightwards it’s moved, and however much one might yearn for a bit more principle.
It isn’t that history is necessarily a conservative discipline, (more…)