Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

THE two main political parties have announced that they are jointly going to attack cynicism. So that's the end of Prime Minister's Question Time, then. More urgent, however, is the cynicism of the electorate. Or is it merely idealism?

The inventor of the philosophy known as Cynicism, Diogenes (c. 410-320 BC), would certainly have said that he was an idealist. Admittedly, he and his followers were called Cynics because the Greek kyn- stem means 'dog', and dogs were renowned for their shamelessness, but shameless behaviour was simply part and parcel of Diogenes' idealism.

Diogenes took the view that true values and moral standards were to be found only in animals, primitive man, barbarians and the gods. These held the key to the ideally virtuous existence, and civilisation had wrecked it by imposing its own un-ideal conventions like marriage, family, politics, the city, all social, sexual and racial distinctions, reputation, wealth, power, authority, literature, music, and so on.

As a result he tried to live, as he put it, 'according to nature'. He learned to inure himself to all hardship, kept his possessions to the bare minimum and lived off water and vegetables, begging and stealing as necessary. He lived, not in a barrel or tub, but in a large clay jar used for storing wine. …

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