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Ancient and modern

Plato and Aristotle would have understood Corbyn’s appeal to the young

Under 24s are compassionate, passionate and innocent of life – the perfect target for the Labour leader

24 June 2017

9:00 AM

24 June 2017

9:00 AM

Whether the youth vote had any serious impact on the result of the general election or not, Jeremy Corbyn knew how to exploit it in a way both Plato and Aristotle would have understood.

In his Republic, Plato argued that democracy resulted in rulers behaving like subjects and subjects like rulers, with teachers pandering to the young, and the young in turn despising them. As a result, youths make ‘every conversation or action into a trial of strength with their elders’, while their elders ‘patronise them, exuding bonhomie and a sense of fun, and imitate them, because they do not want to appear disagreeable or despotic’: Corbyn rapping with assorted ‘grime artists’ to a T.


For Aristotle, it was the young’s innocence that was an abiding characteristic. ‘They are not cynical but guileless, because they have not seen much wickedness; credulous, because they have not often been deceived; and optimistic, because they have not often experienced failure.’ His reasoning was that the young had lived only a short time and, lacking significant memories, looked only to the future.

Consequently, though they are easily deceived, they are also brave because of their optimism and confidence, and so lack fear. Not being worn down by life or held back by constraints, they are magnanimous, which is ‘to feel worthy of great things, and is characteristic of people with high hopes’. They prefer doing what is noble, rather than in their own interests, because they live not by calculation but by character. They also ‘insist that they know everything’; but being innocent, they are compassionate, believing everyone to be honest.

Easy meat for exploitation, in other words, by a fantasist like Corbyn, pandering with his giveaway, cloud-cuckoo-land politics to those with potential and many good qualities but no experience (usus) or memory (memoria), the two qualities which the Roman poet Lucius Afranius said were the ‘parents of wisdom’ (sapientia).

Meanwhile, for Aristotle, the old were the mirror image of the young — cynical, living in the past, small-minded, self-interested…


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