Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Politicians don’t “get” Herodotos et al

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-01-07

The Grauniad published a great piece on Herodotos a few days back, which I heartily recommend.

There was one aspect of The Histories that Charlotte Higgins missed:

Herodotos posited that the local land and weather are significant determinants of a society (which is why he’d go all geographical at the start of a discussion many particular civilizations), and this would in turn drive the currents of history and the clashes between empires.

Our political leaders are yet to grasp this basic insight, even though according to many, we’ve already had our first climate-change war (in Darfur/Sudan) and rainfall patterns could be used to predict violent conflict (New Scientist, "Rainfall records could warn of war", 2007-05-30).

The de-facto climate-change denialism (despite his rhetoric) of KRudd for short-term political gain proves that the most critical person in Oz who should understand Herodotos for his job, doesn’t.

I know that Herodotos’ particular chain of logic had some flaws (e.g. assuming hot humid weather might make a society "laid back" and influence it’s development), but, like so many of the ancients, while there may have been errors in details, and even in some conclusions, the core insights and approaches were spot on, were lost after Christendom stultified intellectual life and the Great Library was lost, and haven’t been fully reclaimed.  (Sadly, although regaining technical knowledge, we’ve yet to get much of the wisdom into the general population, and even some of the "elites".)

This is all too sad, because the axial age (and up until around Constantine) produced a plethora of great thinkers, not just around the Mediterranean, and is documented far better than later years.  When you address the grand scope in the works of Herodotos and Gibbon, written when history was not viewed as political football, you cannot help but train your brain into addressing big-picture, long-term issues that impact multitudes, something needed for and claimed by politicians, but hardly ever demonstrated.

I pointed out some time back why conservative forces, despite being unable to repudiate (because they are traditional classics) the worth of Herodotos and Gibbon, won’t usually promote them or their insights.  (That post also contains links to downloadable versions of those works.)

For most on the left, the study of these authors is worthless, largely because of associations with the English elite education system of a century or more ago, and the difficulty that most of today’s secondary students would face given the extended concentration required because of the length of the works, and, in Gibbon, the wonderful prose using long latinate sentence structures, together with the subtle yet biting wit that makes the work so enjoyable.

Until our politicians can pick up the insights of the ancients, until they see the big pictures of history, because they won’t understand it, the history created by their decisions will be disastrous for us and our descendants.

See Also/Notes:


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