Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Why Ostracism Beats Ukip

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Why Ostracism Beats Ukip

Article excerpt

For all Nigel Farage's appealing bluster, he is never going to be in a position to get us out of Europe or, indeed, achieve anything at all. He is, in other words, pointless. The sole consequence of his emergence on to the political scene will be that the next election stands a good chance of producing an Italian-style hodge-podge: no winners at all. Ancient Greeks would have demanded an ostracism.

An ostracism was a way of getting rid of a political troublemaker in order to clear the decision-making air for the democratic Assembly of Athenian citizens. It was not a legal process, with prosecution and defence and verdict; nor was it a punishment, affecting the honour, status or property of the citizen ostracised. It was a decision taken by the citizenry itself, against which there was no appeal, for that citizen to go into exile for ten years.

Every year, the Assembly was asked it wanted to trigger one. If it did, it was held two months later (a useful cooling-off period for reflection and discussion, if passions at the time were high). …

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