Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

Boris Johnson has vowed as mayor to emulate his hero Pericles, turning London into 'an education to Britain' as Athens was (Pericles claimed) to Greece. In one sense this will be difficult since the mayor has limited responsibilities, mainly transport and police, none of which feature in any known Periclean policy document.

But if Mr Johnson is referring to a generally Periclean tenor to his period in office, there is much he could usefully achieve.

First, Pericles (like every other Athenian citizen) wielded power over the decision-making Assembly (all Athenian males over 18) only by his ability to persuade it that his policies were best. He was, in other words, a master orator. But he did not try to fine-tune the Assembly.

He ignored routine issues and saved himself for the big occasions. Nor was he a populist. In the contemporary historian Thucydides' judgment, he was a man of 'high integrity and intelligence', who 'saw no necessity to flatter the people; in fact he was so highly respected that he was able to contradict them and provoke their anger'. Bar election time, the art of public political persuasion has been killed by the point-scoring party system. …

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