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    In the conflict between Athens and Sparta, the Melians tried in vain to maintain their neutrality. As Thucydides apprises us, the Athenians were rather blunt about the issue: “Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” As the Athenians succeeded in the siege of Melos, all Melian men were executed, the women and children sold to slavery.

    That the “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must” is one of the many nuggets of wisdom accessible in even a rudimentary reading of Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War. For a deeper reading, we might turn to renowned classicist Jacqueline de Romilly, who shows how and why Thucydides chose to write. But we don’t read Thucydides anymore, nor do we read someone like Romilly.

    If an undergraduate encounters Thucydides today, it is through the prism of race and gender. Consider the case of a Princeton academic who the New York Times said “has been speaking openly about the harm caused by practitioners of classics in the two millenniums since antiquity: the classical justifications of slavery, race science, colonialism, Nazism and other 20th-century fascisms.” The subtitle of that Times piece was “Dan-el Padilla Peralta thinks classicists should knock ancient Greece and Rome off their pedestal — even if that means destroying their discipline.”

    Destruction it is, all right. If a barbarian were to encounter the ruin of a Roman aqueduct, we may surmise that he felt some confusion, but also awe and wonder at the sight of it. Wokeism would demand taking that very same barbarian and teaching him to feel disgust for and moral superiority to the remains of that edifice. The last time Western academics developed a discipline that made people less and less knowledgeable about reality was eugenics, in the early 20th century.

    Added news   to  , Democracy

    The recent ignominious departure from office of Andrew Cuomo is the latest act in New York’s sad saga of political decline. Cuomo fell because of his private life, such as it was; the right thing for the wrong reason.

    The standards applied to him would have victimized, among others, the state’s 49th governor, Nelson Rockefeller. Cuomo’s manipulation of nursing home statistics would have been an appropriate ground for forcing his departure; groping was not, unless we are to make of sexual harassment law a blackmailer’s charter. The facts of these matters cannot be accurately determined, especially when time has passed, and in any event they are largely irrelevant to performance in public office, though the greatest leaders, e.g. Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle, avoid such hazards.

    One reflecting on the downfall of the New York Democracy must call to mind the words of the railroad president Charles Francis Adams in his “Chapters of Erie,” quoting the third act of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, on the decline of the New York judiciary from Chancellor Kent to the satraps of the Tweed Ring: ”Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed. And batten on this moor?”

    Added news   to  , Democracy

    Government technocrats, billionaire oligarchs, Big Pharma, Big Data, Big Media, the high-finance robber barons and the military industrial intelligence apparatus love pandemics for the same reasons they love wars and terrorist attacks. Catastrophic crises create opportunities of convenience to increase both power and wealth. In her seminal book, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism,” Naomi Klein chronicles how authoritarian demagogues, large corporations and wealthy plutocrats use mass disruptions to shift wealth upwards, obliterate the middle classes, abolish civil rights, privatize the commons and expand authoritarian controls. A consummate insider, the former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel is known for his admonition that vested power structures should “never let a serious crisis go to waste.” But this treadworn strategy — to use crisis to inflame the public terror that paves the road to dictatorial power — has served as the central strategy of totalitarian systems for millennia.


    It’s a bad omen for democracy when citizens can no longer conduct civil, informed debates about critical policies that impact the vitality of our economy, public health, personal freedoms and constitutional rights. Censorship is violence, and this systematic muzzling of debate — which proponents justify as a measure to curtail dangerous polarization — is actually fueling the polarization and extremism that the autocrats use to clamp down evermore draconian controls. We might recall, at this strange time in our history, my father’s friend, Edward R. Murrow’s warning: “The right to dissent … is surely fundamental to the existence of a democratic society. That’s the right that went first in every nation that stumbled down the trail to totalitarianism.”


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