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Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Wouldn’t it improve British politics (and probably the politics of many other Western democracies) enormously if we reintroduced the Athenian practice of ostracism – holding a vote to decide which disruptive and problematic individual should be packed off into exile for ten years? Actually my reaction when this was raised casually in a Facebook discussion this morning was: no, I can’t think of anything about this that isn’t deeply problematic – but, at the risk of using a sledgehammer to crack the proverbial nut, and not at all because I’m procrastinating about writing a lecture and revising a chapter, the reasons why it wouldn’t work are worth a brief discussion… (more…)

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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…)

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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…)

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Death. Death. Crisis. Death. Crisis. Death. Death. That was 2016, that was. Good riddance, apart from the uneasy feeling that it may have been just the overture, and next year we won’t have the all-too-brief comic relief of England v. Iceland to cheer us up.

It’s all been very serious German novel. One of the themes on the blog this year has been the avoidance, if not fervent denunciation, of crass historical analogies, so I’ll save my next discussion of Volker Kutscher’s excellent Krimi series set in 1920s and 1930s Berlin [pervasive atmosphere of impending doom and dramatic irony] until the Tom Tykwer adaptation starts next year, by which time I may have caught up with the latest volume. Rather, I’ve been reminded all too often of Jenny Erpenbeck’s brilliant Aller Tage Abend (and I still dislike the English title End of Days without having a good alternative suggestion), in which the central character dies again and again – as a baby, as a teenager, at various stages of adulthood – with a constant dialectic between the hopeful counterfactual (if only this, then she would have lived…) and the inevitability of death, against a backdrop of twentieth-century horrors. That was 2016, that was… (more…)

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The next generation of politicians, all as mediocre as one another, and competing with one another for primacy with little concern for the good of the state, abdicated the control of affairs to the whims of the people. They concentrated on their personal intrigues and ambitions instead of exercising any sort of leadership; they undermined any influence they might have had overseas, and plunged their own societies into factional conflict.

(Thucydides 2.65, very loosely adapted)

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So it begins. It seems a reasonable bet that the election of Trump will join Brexit in the category of Momentous Events of 2016, at least within the horizon of l’histoire événementielle, joining various developments whose significance we haven’t recognised yet in hammering an extra stake into the heart of that ‘End of History’ nonsense. But the beginning of what? Competing narratives before the election seemed to be offering a choice between the Return of American Greatness and the Rise of the New Nazis as the likely outcome; now that it’s actually happened, we can add ‘small earthquake, relatively little damage’ predictions like Trump as the new Berlusconi to the mix. History offers us a myriad of possibilities; we don’t know which one (if any) is the better comparison, or how far our choice is driven by emotions (fear, hope, desire, loathing) rather than any sort of reason. History offers comfort, if that’s what we’re looking for; it offers reasonable grounds for buying gold and a copy of The Zombie Survival Handbook. It doesn’t offer any kind of certainty. (more…)

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Words had to change their meanings in response to events. Mindless aggression became courage. Forethought and hesitation became cowardice. Moderation was unmanliness. Seeing different sides of the question was a sign of an ivory-tower academic ‘expert’. Real men said what they thought, the more extreme the better, and anyone who objected was not to be trusted. If an opponent said something reasonable, this had to be condemned as criminal nonsense. Cheating the system was a sign of cleverness, while honesty and integrity were condemned as simple-mindedness. Law and morality were an unacceptable restraint on the Will of The People.

(Thucydides 3.82.4-5, adapted)

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