This week: my new book, Lotus, published this Friday and; What would a Politics lesson from Aristotle for Cameron, Miliband, Farage and Clegg be like?
Lotus published this Friday
Just a reminder that my new book, Lotus, will go on sale on FRIDAY but is already available for preview on Smashwords http://bit.ly/lotusswds and Amazon http://bit.ly/amlotus
What would a Politics lesson from Aristotle for Cameron, Miliband, Farage and Clegg be like?
Picture the scene; Aristotle, Athens’ great teacher of philosophy, from which politics was an offshoot, is late to teach his four new students and rushes into an annex of the Parthenon, out of breath. Farage is, as usual, sipping Egyptian beer and expounding on the virtues of the lusty maid he bedded the night before:
(If you are living in a democracy outside the UK, substitute Cameron for any republican candidate, Clegg for a liberal, Miliband for a socialist and Farage for any nationalist.)
“Farage!” Aristotle bellows. “Shut up boy! Now, it says here, on my contract with your guardians, that I am to compile an end-of-year report for you all before the end of today. To help me do this, you will each debate whether the actions of the 300 Spartans in the pass of Thermopylae was a success, and I don’t simply mean in strategic terms. In half an hour, you will each take the floor to put your point for four minutes and then there will be open discussion for thirty minutes. Go!”
Cameron, wearing a fetching, sky-blue, Romanesque toga, smiles at the simplicity of the problem. Every student of Athens knew the story; Greece was being invaded by 100,000 Persian soldiers and had no time to assemble an army. King Leonidas of Sparta took his own 300 personal bodyguards to defend a narrow pass at Thermopylae. Spartans were renowned for never surrendering and they fought until all 300 were dead but they bought Athens the time it needed to arm itself. Cameron thinks it was a resounding success.
Miliband frowns. He can see that the action was successful in military terms but, to the families of the soldiers who died, it must have felt like an unmitigated disaster. He is torn.
Farage, wearing the traditional toga of the aristocracy, picks up his beer, which he had strategically hidden behind a rock, and looks towards the Aegean to consider his response.‘Of course the deaths were hard, but that is War,’ he tells himself. ‘One simply has to accept harsh realities.’
Clegg mills about, gravitating like a wayward pendulum, alternatively between Cameron and Miliband, hoping that he will overhear their ruminations. He has rolled his yellow toga up to his armpits, to signal that he is a man of the people.
The presentations are to begin. Aristotle asks for a volunteer to go first. Cameron is on his feet, knowing that first impressions count and that, even if he has a weak argument, going first will give him credit from the others for his courage.
“Thermopylae was a complete success,” Cameron announces. “It gave Athens time to respond and the families of those, brave, 300 men, were honoured and raised to the level of nobility whereas before they had simply been of the fighting class. In military, strategic and sociological terms, it was a success!” He beams in self-satisfaction and offers the floor to Clegg, who is on his feet.
Until now, Clegg wasn’t quite sure what his stance would be. But he has seen a chink in Cameron’s armour and he means to exploit it.
“I would have to put the success as about 80%,” he begins. “Militarily, it gave Athens time, yes, and of course, to the families, it was tragic, simply tragic. But in the long-term, it undermined the strength of Sparta. Later, at Sphacteria, the Spartans finally had to surrender to Athens rather than be completely annihilated. Their resolve to never surrender had been undermined by Thermopylae, thus signalling the downfall of a great nation.”
The other three contestants nodded, signalling that they hadn’t thought of Clegg’s angle at all.
Farage takes the floor, looking somewhat hesitant, but then he smiles broadly.
“Thermopylae was a resounding and complete success. 100%, no doubt about it. Who can deny that for the lives of the average Spartans, freedom had been bought? They could go on farming their crops safely and drinking a nice pint of Egyptian ale, or local wine if they preferred, in peace. Men die in War and that is a fact. Every soldier knows this and they are prepared to pay the consequences. After all, who wants foreign invaders to run the show?” He looks pleased with himself and sits down.
Miliband takes the floor. He is the least certain of the four.
“I would ask you to look at Thermopylae from the perspective of a young woman, the wife of one of the 300 brave men who fought in defense of Sparta. She has a young son and a younger daughter to look after. There is no welfare state. She also has no primary healthcare and she is suffering from malnutrition, pregnant with her third child. She comes home from the fields, where she has been working among the slaves, simply because she has no choice. A runner tells her that her husband has died but that Sparta is safe!
“Does she rejoice? Can she rejoice? Will promotion to the nobility come soon enough to save her and her unborn baby? The answer to all these is a resounding, ‘No!’”
The other three contestants look fearfully at Miliband, knowing that he only has to add something like, “To three quarters of the population, the women, children and old folk, who had lost a loved one, it was not a success,” but he doesn’t say it. They breathe a sigh of relief.
Aristotle takes to the floor. He looks at Miliband, wearing a rather dapper red toga, and smiles indulgently. Aristotle thinks, ‘If only Miliband had Cameron’s killer instinct. I never thought about the slaves before. Perhaps I have to think again.’ He looks at Cameron briefly and looks away. ‘If only Cameron had one drop of compassion in his soul.’ He looks at Clegg and shakes his head. ‘If only Clegg had a single idea of his own and could stand up for it.’ Finally, his eyes light on Farage. ‘If only,’ he thinks, ‘Farage knew what it was like to be discriminated against.’
“Now,” Aristotle announces, “I would like to introduce you to the fifth member who will be joining us for the debate. She is the great, great, great granddaughter of one of the men who fought at Thermopylae.”
A woman, dressed in slave’s rags, enters the annex and Aristotle bids her sit among the four students. Cameron looks nervously at her clothes.
“I have listened to each of your speeches,” the woman announces. “To David, I would say that you are wrong; many of the soldiers’ families were not ennobled. Mine wasn’t because we were considered third-generation immigrants. To Nick, I would say your point is an interesting one but you denigrate my ancestor’s achievement. To Nigel, I would say that you are ignorant of many basic facts of life. Finally, to Ed I would say that you are a nice man but you should stay out of politics.”
The open debate begins but nobody has anything to say. Farage tries desperately to think of something to mitigate his blunders but can think of nothing. Clegg keeps his mouth clamped closed because he knows he has insulted the woman. Cameron wants to argue but now he is not sure of the text books his father bought off the back of a wagon. Miliband is the only one to say anything at all to the woman. He takes her hand and says, “I am very sorry.”
If you had been Aristotle, how would you have marked each of them?