Tag Archives: Pericles

The belief that dare not speak its name?



It’s an old story, a very old story. Who rules? The Greek city states were torn by strife between the Aristocracy (a term which comes from the Greek, aristokratía. Aristos means “excellent,” and kratos translates as “power”) the rule of the Excellent, and Democracy, which again is from Greek, demokratia, or “rule by the demos or common people”.


And then I read this blog http://quillette.com/2016/07/08/remain-vs-leave-elite-technocracy-vs-liberal-democracy/ where he discusses Elite Technocracy versus Liberal Democracy.


Both sides have good antecedents. The democrats can look back to Cleisthenes, Pericles, Locke and the English Whigs. Their stance is the citizen is central and the state must govern with the consent of the citizen. Without consent there is tyranny and the right of rebellion.

The aristocrats, or in more modern terms the technocratic elite follow Plato, Thomas Hobbes and Georg Hegel. These stress the authority and wisdom of those in government as the only ones who really understand what is going on and are the only ones equipped to make the decisions about the future.


In Greece the conflict between the two ideologies led to strife within the state between the competing groups. As always it is more complicated than a simple ‘class’ war because the leaders of the demos were often men drawn from the same wealthy class which provided the aristocracy. Personal feuds and factions complicated and intensified the battle.

Obviously personal feuds and factions are unlikely to have a part in our modern politics, doubtless the dispute between Boris Johnson and Michael Gove was over the deepest philosophical conjectures. Similarly within the Labour Party, the current bickering between Jeremy and virtually everybody else has nothing to do with the fact that his MPs see little chance of re-election with him at the helm and again is a nuanced dispute over high political principles.


The last couple of weeks have thrown the fault lines into high relief.  We have those for whom the will of the demos, the common people is sovereign. (Even when they disagree with it.)  We have others who believe that some people are just too stupid, or too ill-educated to be allowed to decide matters of any importance. I’ve seen suggestions that persons over a certain age should not be allowed to vote, or that there be IQ tests before people are allowed to vote. (Or in extreme cases restricting the franchise to nice people like us who live within the M25)


The Greeks had many faults, but one they don’t seem to have suffered from was political correctness. They were perfectly happy to give something the label it deserved. I think we would start seeing things far more clearly if we were to do that. Let the believers in the rule of a technocratic elite proudly stand for their principles, let them boast of them, let them flaunt them in the market place of public opinion. “The man from Whitehall knows best, trust us to look after you.”


Or we could try democracy. The problem with democracy is that it’s difficult. It demands a lot of hard work from both the leaders and the led. Leaders really have to make a constant effort to keep in touch with people, not merely to know what hoi polloi are thinking and saying, but also to educate them and explain. Leadership is a two way process, where both sides listen and are changed.

And for the led, democracy cannot work alongside the cult of celebrity and a culture which emphases me, me, me. It also works best when you have a population that have been educated, not abandoned in sink estates and sink schools.


There again, what do I know, you might as well ask the dog


As one reviewer commented “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”

A touch of class

What is a ‘touch of class?’ Indeed why do we want to know? It was Voltaire who said; “By appreciation, we make excellence in others our own property.”
It seems that whatever this touch of class is, we all want it.

It’s very much a case of it being something you recognise when you see it. For example walking back from the hospital, on the busy pavement that runs round the back of little Tesco, I met a young lady walking in the other direction. She was bonny enough, but she’d managed to raise her game. I’m male; don’t ask me exactly what she was wearing, a skirt of some sort, a three-quarter length coat, and a scarf/cravat to finish the ensemble. But whatever the individual items that went to make up the whole, it worked, a month or so after the event a chap who passed her in the street still remembers that there was a young lady with a touch of class.

Trying to pin down this whole touch of class thing, it’s more than something to do with fashion. It seems to be something that we recognise in other aspects of life.
I was watching a three ordinary young men sitting around in a hospital ward. I put them in to try and create a base line. You cannot be excellent without a baseline to be ‘more excellent than’. Anyway stuck on a ward, they hadn’t got a lot to do. They were a mixed bag, a collection of manual labourers, long term unemployed, skilled craftsmen, self employed entrepreneurs, ex-prisoners. The fact that they managed all these careers yet there was only three of them shows that they are actually a pretty ordinary cross-section.
What were they talking about? Women? Football? Actually it started with one who was wary of the painkillers he was getting. Yes he was grateful for the care but he didn’t trust drugs and tried to limit his exposure. This led on to science, Voyager 1 got an honourable mention (I’m not sure any of them were old enough to remember the launch) and then that led them on to religion. As one guy (with a fabulous set of tattoos) said, “I don’t know who God is or what he’s called, but he exists, someone had to make all this.” His argument seemed pretty reasonable to the rest of them and then the conversation moved on to trying to organise a life home for the two guys who were being discharged to save them the cost of a taxi. There aren’t any ‘ordinary people’; we create ‘ordinary people’ as a cliché to help us cope with the stunning diversity that exists around us.
Across in a side ward is a chap who has lost it. Physically he’s getting stronger but in his conscious moments he knows, absolutely, that he’s trapped in a bed in a strange place and all he wants is rescuing and helping to get home. He’s in a room of his own so he doesn’t drive the ward mad, but they can hardly shut the door on him so the rest of the ward still get to hear him. Everyone who passes the door gets asked to help him. For hours at a time he’ll call for his wife. One of our perfectly ordinary men spent a lot of time just sitting with him, talking to him. Just being company, a bridge to reality.
Is that a touch of class, something above the ordinary?
The Apostle Paul talks of the striving for excellence, Peter mentions it as well. Some translations use excellence, some goodness. The old King James uses ‘Virtue’ but back then they knew what Virtue meant. The word both Peter and Paul used was Arête or ἀρετή , which I found translated as “Sometimes translated as “virtue”, the word actually means something closer to “being the best you can be”, or “reaching your highest human potential”.
Is that ‘a touch of class?’
Perhaps to finish with another Greek, Pericles, and his funeral oration;

“Take these men for your example. Like them, remember that prosperity can
only be for the free; that freedom is the sure possession of those who have
the courage to defend it.”

Have we the arête, the virtue, the excellence, the ‘touch of class’ necessary to defend what we have and build on it to leave something better?


A collection of anecdotes, it’s the distillation of a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. I’d like to say ‘All human life is here,’ but frankly there’s more about Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep.

As a reviewer commented, “

This is a delightful collection of gentle rants and witty reminiscences about life in a quiet corner of South Cumbria. Lots of sheep, cattle and collie dogs, but also wisdom, poetic insight, and humour. It was James Herriot who told us that ‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet’ but Jim Webster beautifully demonstrates that it usually happened to the farmer too, but far less money changed hands.

I, for one, am hoping that this short collection of blogs finds a wide and generous audience – not least because I’m sure there’s more where this came from. And at 99p you can’t go wrong!”