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Posts Tagged ‘politics’

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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We Need To Talk About Classics

Today seems like a good day to talk about the culpability of Classicists in the ongoing horror clown saga that is the Brexit process. Partly, I think that it might be good for everyone in the UK, whichever way one voted (or didn’t), to admit to some degree of responsibility for the mess in which we now find ourselves, as a principled counter-example to the unedifying spectacle of those who do actually bear a considerable amount of responsibility merrily distancing themselves from the shambles and pretending that it’s nothing to do with them and if only people had listened to them we wouldn’t have all this trouble (I mean, how can anyone have the brass neck, or total lack of shame, to repudiate an agreement that they were involved in negotiating, less than twelve hours after they’d accepted a collective cabinet decision to endorse it?). Partly, with a bit of luck there’s so much else going on that no one will notice… (more…)

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This year of all years, one might hope that Remembrance Day would encompass all the dead of the First World War – not just in the carefully orchestrated public ceremonies at national level, where diplomatic protocols will play a role, but across Britain. Judging by the flags around the town where I live, that’s a bit of hopeless liberal idealism. I’m not actually objecting to the waves of union jacks, with a sprinkling of the flags of the home nations; of course this will be primarily a commemoration of ‘our’ dead – and it still always strikes me how many of the surnames on the war memorial are familiar from the locality today.

No, it’s the other flags. (more…)

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The past is political is personal is political. It offers a wide range of resources for different political purposes: slogans, battle-cries, values and ideals, costumes, exemplary figures and actions, a stand-point from which the present can be viewed and held to account. Of course all such analogies and appropriations drastically simplify the complexity of the actual past, and even of later understanding of it – that’s how they’re able to operate, by emphasising resemblances and erasing differences. But this process is never wholly under the control of the one making a connection between past and present; the awkward bits of the past that get smoothed over or whitewashed for the purposes of making the comparison plausible have an awkward habit of re-emerging regardless…

FB9F8AEF-8D73-4CEE-8A9F-987A5E864340 (more…)

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Atrocity Exhibition

Things happen out in the world, and someone, somewhere, then tweets a bit of Thucydides. (I’m aware that my perspective on this is skewed, because I actively monitor it, but it does happen). Over the last week, two different events have prompted such a response. The murders at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, brought this thoughtful post from the ever-interesting Sententiae Antiquae, quoting 7.29-30 on the massacre of schoolboys in Mycalessus by a gang of Thracian merceneries who’d been let go by the Athenians. As SA notes, when we think about this passage in relation to school shootings in the US, it is the differences between the situations that seem most productive and disturbing. (more…)

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Once again, I’ve remembered to keep track of the blogs I’ve especially enjoyed over the last year (with the curious exception of April – I don’t know, at this remove, whether I was too busy to read anything, or not much was published, or I was feeling hyper-sniffy at the time so didn’t think there was anything worth recommending. Very happy to get suggestions in the comments of great things that I’ve missed). This doesn’t claim to be a definitive list, just the stuff I came across – often via the Twitter, which continues to be a great way of keeping up with what’s going on in different regions and fields, despite all the management’s efforts to ruin it and drive everyone away – that deserves a more than ephemeral readership… (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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