Friday, April 04, 2008

Suitable heroes?

Kevin Maguire over at the aforementioned Staggers has an interesting insight into our Supreme Leader.

Gordon Brown views himself as Demosthenes, Lycra Lout David Cameron as Cicero. The well-read premier sees a modern "parallel". Cicero made good speeches, Demosthenes got things done. Thus reopens an ancient divide in 21st-century politics.

Now, I don't expect Maguire to have any real knowledge or understanding of Attic politics in the fourth century BC, but given Gordon's historical background, I'd have hoped he wouldn't have left quite such an open goal. But then, given his knowledge of Prime Ministers in Scottish constituencies, perhaps that's optimistic.

Demosthenes, 382-322BC, was famous both as an orator (his rhetoric was described as matchless by Cicero himself) and as a statesman. Given Brown's rather tenuous ability at public speaking, as well as the spin put on it by Maguire, one can only assume that it is as a statesman that Brown wishes to be associated with him. But the history of Demosthenes as a statesman is both unfortunate and, perhaps, insightful.

He devoted his political career to the opposition of Macedon, particularly its domination of Athens. However, his vision of re-empowered Attic democracy was doomed, partly because of the relative decline of Athens's prosperity since the fifth century, and partly as a result of the collapse of the network of alliances and suzerainities after the Peloponnesian War with Sparta. Demosthenes has also been accused (by Polybius, among others) of seeing Greek politics solely through an Athenian lens, accusing Greeks from other cities as being traitors to Greece if they did not support Athens - a conflation of the 'party political' interest with the greater national interest that resonates rather with Brown.
Demosthenes's great oratory and statesmanlike skills led to the battle of Chaeronea, where Athens (and Thebes) was thoroughly defeated, securing the very Macedonian hegemony that Demosthenes had devoted his life to preventing. Interestingly, Plutarch put the defeat partially down to the poor training and equipment of the Athenian forces.
So, Demosthenes dedicated himself to the prevention of Macedonian hegemony - which hegemony his policies did much to secure. It's rather in contradiction of Maguire's description of 'getting things done'.

On the Guido side of things, there's reason for sniggering too - Demosthenes was widely criticised during his lifetime (principally by Aeschinus [actually Aeschines]) for his overly enthusiastic pederasty, as well as for abusing his position as lover of a young boy Aristarchus by getting his hands on the boy's inheritance as well as other things.

All in all, he might not be such a fantastic role model as Gordon thinks, unless a pederastic failed politician with a line in nice speeches can be considered as such.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Crikey, I thought I was a political geek but you beat me hands down.

10:11 am  
Blogger Tim J said...

The perils of a quiet Friday at work eh?

11:42 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aeschines rather than Aeschinus.

4:28 pm  
Blogger Tim J said...

Apologies - put it down to my Latin education and non-existant Greek...

9:45 am  

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