November 29, 2016


THE ATHENIAN LEGACY : Paul Cartledge talks ancient democracy, the English Revolution and the fate of people power. (spiked Review of Books, November 2016)

review: There's a great quote you use towards the end of Democracy, from your fellow classicist Moses Finley, which makes a very good pro-democracy criticism of technocracy: 'When I charter a vessel or buy passage on one, I leave it to the captain, the expert, to navigate it - but I decide where I want to go, not the captain.'

Cartledge: That's right. Moses was making the point that politics, in the richest sense, has an ethical dimension, which is above and beyond any purely technical question of how, in this case, you steer a ship so that it doesn't sink. Politics is not just about the means - it is also about ends. We're going to have very deeply divided views on those ends, for all sorts of reasons. So politics must also be a way of solving deep, personal and ideological disagreements in as harmonious a way as possible.

When Moses was making this argument, in the 1950s and 1960s, he was opposing those who said that because the world was changing so fast, and many people were ignorant, then understanding the world was only something very clever people could do. The masses shouldn't be invited to participate in policymaking. It should be left to the so-called eggheads. So political apathy and disengagement was the main problem Moses was warning against. Now we have less apathy, especially on social media, which entrenches and exacerbates antagonisms, and is replete in prejudice and animus, so I do wonder if Moses, were he alive today, might argue for much less mass involvement.

Posted by at November 29, 2016 4:42 PM