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Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Since it more or less coincided with his decision to read the whole of that old warhorse, Tennyson’s Ulysses, at a meeting of the Bruges Group, hard-line Brexity Spart Mark François’s quotation of Pericles – “Freedom is the sole possession of those who have the courage to defend it” – at a Brexit rally on Official Leaving Day has gone relatively unnoticed, except of course by me. It did seem significant that this is the A.S. Way version of the Funeral Oration, as featured on various war memorials but not in any published translation of Thucydides (see Liz Sawyer‘s account); rather as the most obvious source of the poem is Judi Dench from Skyfall, so it seems more likely that the MP has been visiting the Bomber Command memorial rather than leafing through the Peloponnesian War.

Two minor additions this morning. The first is to note that it’s actually a mis-quote, and perhaps a significant one: Way’s original has “freedom is the sure possession…”, whereas François makes the more exclusive claim that only those who fight for freedom are entitled to it. He’s not the only person to do this on social media, and one might suggest that in the military and veteran circles where this line is often quoted, it’s a readily comprehensible mental step. The second is that, as I discovered in checking this, François has used the line several times in Parliament, in his erstwhile role as Armed Forces Minister. This was too late to appear in Liz’s survey of Thucydides quotes in British and US politics; I’m not sure if she’s done an update that I’ve missed, but given that her main conclusion was the marginal status of Thucydides in the UK compared with the US, it is interesting that at least in this context things are changing slightly. I am not saying that it’s a good thing…

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It’s the annual meeting of the International Society for Dinosaur Research. Concerned by a fall-off in student recruitment, as young people increasingly look to more relevant, future-orientated degree programmes that offer a better chance of a job at the end, and shaken by its image as a hotbed of sexism and dodgy relationships with students (as seen on Friends), the Society has organised an open discussion of the future of the discipline. One delegate takes the microphone. “Our discipline was founded on the exploration of God’s miraculous creation, but we’ve increasingly abandoned those sacred values, and put off many students, through an emphasis on autonomous natural processes and time-spans of millions of years in a way that directly contradicts Scripture!” As members of the panel interject, and someone tries to take the microphone away: “You are betraying our heritage! We are the dinosaurs!” (more…)

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We Belong?

Everybody so often, a student will come up with something that is simply perfect – they may not do it perfectly, but the idea is just so right. This week, it was the student in my Greek Political Thought class who organised their short presentation for a seminar on citizenship around the UK citizenship test; yes, they could have put more emphasis on the analytical side, comparing and contrasting the assumptions inherent in the questions with the assumptions we see in ancient sources rather than just working through the whole of a practice quiz, but it still raised so many important issues in interesting and accessible ways – as well as, for me, offering an insight into how young people think about such things. The complete incredulity among the students that anyone should need to know about Boudicca to qualify for citizen rights – let alone their reaction when I sketched out the old Tebbit Cricket Test – suggests a radically different conception of Britishness from that which continues to dominate public debates. (more…)

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The Thucydides Paradox is the way that all the authority of a complex, ambiguous author is used to legitimise a simplistic, reductionist account of his work. The high reputation of Thucydides in historical, political and strategic thought was founded on the opinions of people like Thomas Hobbes or Leopold von Ranke who had meditated long and hard on the intricacies of his account and its relevance to the present – but it’s largely used to confer truisms and dubious sound-bites, like “the strong do what they will”, “there is justice only between equals” or “a rising power always threatens an established power”, with an undeserved gravitas. It’s as if the whole weight of David Bowie’s cultural significance was presented in terms of Let’s Dance; yes, it’s part of the oeuvre, and not exactly unrepresentative, but it’s not the central point or the only thing you really need.* Those Thucydides quotes are likewise genuine enough (unlike some), but at best (the last one) they offer a drastic simplification of his understanding of events, and at worst (the other two) they make the basic error of confusing the artist with his characters. (more…)

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A brief survey of recent British history as reflected in the changing title of my putative next Thucydides book…

2015: Thucydides and Modern Political Thought

2016: The Human Thing: Thucydides on Politics and its Failings

2017: Faction, Populism and the Politics of Truth; Hope, Danger’s Comforter

2018: It’s the Melian Dialogue, Stupid (And You’re the Melians)

2019: History Repeating: the Self-Inflicted Death of Democracy; The Human Thing: Why People Make Idiotic Decisions; A Possession for All Time (If Anyone Bothered to Pay Attention)

2020: Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You

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It’s been one of those years… As far as the blog is concerned, I’ve managed to keep up a reasonably steady routine of posts – it does help that the WiFi on South Western trains is pretty reliable, so I can get things written on the commute down to Exeter – and the viewing figures have been pretty steady (no weird public controversies, and I managed to resist the temptation to launch unprovoked attacks on any prominent media figures during the slow weeks). I have at various points wondered whether it’s worth it; on the one hand, this remains a great opportunity to write about things that would never make for a proper academic article (or which perhaps might count as groundwork for something more substantial in due course – I am committed to giving a paper about Thucydides on Twitter in February), but on the other hand it is a time commitment, and in a year when it feels like I’ve lacked both time and energy even for the regular work stuff, sometimes it’s felt like that ‘one more bloody thing’ which could turn out to be that one thing too much. (more…)

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Considering how far the Twitter is full of bots or sock puppets pretending to be people, so that’s become the automatic accusation against someone you don’t know spouting stuff that you don’t like, it’s interesting how far proclaiming oneself to be a bot is taken completely at face value. Especially when winding up angry, ill-informed neo-Nazis. (more…)

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