Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

AND so the internecine warfare in New Labour rumbles on, with its dreary jockeying for position in the promotion stakes, and the inevitable fall-out (Mandelson, Robinson and assorted parasites). But what does one expect of an oligarchy? For we are an oligarchy and not a democracy, as this column endlessly argues. Those few in power in Parliament set out to do what they want to do, regardless of even their own party's wishes, let alone the people's. That is, indeed, the rule (Greek ark) by the few (oligoi).

The point is that there is nothing new about the endless squabbling of oligarchies. Their quarrels have been documented ever since the ancient Greek historian Herodotus (c. 490-420 Bc) introduced the topic into what he claims is a discussion between Persian aristocrats about the best form of rule. The Magi, the ruling Persian clique, have just been slaughtered, and the three speakers, who led the revolt against them, consider the various options. The first speaker, Otanes, argues for democracy -- power to the people, with open debate and universal accountability (an opinion most unlikely in any Persian, let alone a Persian aristocrat, but there it is). Megabyzus speaks next and he plumps for oligarchy, the rule of the few. …

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