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Ancient and modern

Become like ancient Athens — leave the EU

Britain has an opportunity to lay the foundations of an independent future

13 February 2016

9:00 AM

13 February 2016

9:00 AM

One feels that Sir Stuart Rose, leader of the EU referendum ‘In’ campaign, should really try a little harder. First he says that ‘the stats prove’ that being ‘in’ the EU is better than being ‘out’. Presumably the ‘out’ stats date from before 1973. Then he says that we do not know what the future will hold ‘out’ of the EU. So he knows about the future ‘in’ the EU, does he? So did Greece — once.

The ancients generally felt it to be better to stick with the devil you knew. Nevertheless, Athenian history provides many telling examples of radical decision-making that transformed Athenian life. By stabilising the Greek economy and spreading political power more widely among citizens, Solon (594 BC) began levering control away from aristocratic families and laying the groundwork for the invention of the world’s first (and last) democracy, created by Cleisthenes in 508 BC. As a result, Athenian citizens came not only to take all political decisions but also to fill (in turn) all executive positions too. Power, indeed, to the people.


In 482 BC, a rich vein of silver was struck in the mines at Laurium. Usually, this would have been distributed among the people. Themistocles, who ten years earlier had urged the development of Piraeus into a fortified dockyard and port, persuaded the assembly to put the money into building 200 ships to rule the Aegean seas with its c. 200 inhabited islands and extensive c. 1,800-mile coastline. The wealth and confidence thus generated arguably laid the foundations for Athens’ astonishing intellectual and artistic achievements in the 5th and 4th century BC.

One can quite understand why the now effectively retired Sir Stuart should prefer to stick with the old, comfortable routines with which he is familiar. But now Britons have a unique opportunity to do an Athens, laying the foundations of an independent future, free of EU management committees for bananas and cucumbers, and working globally with whom, and wherever, we choose — and they cannot stop us.

— Peter Jones

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