Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern

Article excerpt

Frenzied outrage from Leavers and comical paeans of praise from Remainers greeted the High Court's decision to instruct government that Parliament had to agree to the triggering of the clause that will initiate the UK's exit from the European Union.

In 406 BC, the Athenians demonstrated just how dangerous such hysterical reactions could be.

The Athenians had defeated the Spartans in a sea battle off Arginousai, with the loss of 25 ships. Against all usual practice, their sailors had been left to drown, either because a storm had made it impossible to pick them up, or those in charge were at fault. The eight generals were dismissed, and six of them returned to Athens. They were 'remanded in custody', and the matter referred to the sovereign Assembly (all male citizens over 18).

At the first hearing, when the severity of the storm was the key issue, no decision was reached. At the next hearing, sentiment seems to have hardened, and it was proposed that, all the evidence having been heard, the Assembly should vote at once on a capital charge applying to all the generals en bloc. …

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