Ancient and modern

Who'd join a club that punishes you for leaving?

Jean-Claude Juncker could learn a lot from the magnanimity of Pericles. But don't hold your breath

24 September 2016

9:00 AM

24 September 2016

9:00 AM

The hopelessness of the EU is well demonstrated by the current rhetoric issuing from its inner chambers: that Britain must be punished for the ‘crime’ of leaving it. What sort of message does that send out to the world, let alone other EU members, about the value that the EU places on liberality and freedom?

In his funeral speech in 430 BC over those killed in the war against Sparta, Pericles hymned not so much the dead as the city of Athens itself, describing ‘the way of life that enables us to pursue our objectives, and the political institutions and national character that made our great achievements possible’.

One of the central themes to which he returned again and again was the way in which Athens, in contrast to Sparta, fearlessly and generously left itself open to the world. The Athenian conduct of their public business, he said, was ‘open and free’; in their daily lives they did not react angrily or suspiciously if their neighbours indulged themselves. It was a matter of live and let live.


The difference was equally marked in military affairs: ‘Our city remains open, and we do not expel foreigners or stop anyone finding out what they want to, even if it may give them some advantage.’

As for doing good, ‘We are the opposite of most people. We make our friends by benefitting them, not receiving benefits from them. If you do good, you are better placed to keep the favour of the recipient, because he owes it to you out of gratitude; but if you owe someone, you are not as conscientious about it, because you know that, when you do them good, it will be not as a favour but simply as repayment of a debt. And we alone, when we help someone, do so not because we have calculated some possible self-interest but fearlessly, confident in the effectiveness of our liberal outlook.’

If Juncker and his chums wish to play the petulant schoolgirl, let them. Why they think this will stand to their credit is another matter.

 

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