Magazine article The Spectator

A Dose of Classical Medicine

Magazine article The Spectator

A Dose of Classical Medicine

Article excerpt

Philip Howard ANCIENT AND MODERN by Peter Jones

Duckworth, L10.95, pp. 184

Ronald Reagan was sensible to use astrology to formulate policy, given the alternative. Politicians such as David Mellor who fancy a bit on the side could do the country some good by cosying up to the lovely Mrs Arafat or exotic Mrs Saddam Hussein. Why should we pay any attention to (say) an actress like Glenda Jackson about politics? Should she listen to us about acting? Why is culture in New Britannia represented by drivelling mobs of crooners, celebrity chefs and restaurant decorators?

Such propositions and questions sound like the work of a mischievous journalist in the style and premier division of Auberon Waugh. But when he goes on to compare the Widmerpool/Kinnocks rising effortlessly to the top of the EU Admin at Brussels with Roman provincial government, and suggests that the dreary Millennium Dome should be enlivened by gladiatorial contests and hecatombs of wild animals, readers of The Spectator will recognise someone even rarer than a witty journalist. Of course, he is your own Peter Jones, whose `Ancient & Modern' column is the first thing (well, jolly nearly the first thing, Editor) we turn to each week.

Dr Jones is that very rare animal: one who straddles the opposed worlds of scholarship and journalism. All journalists have to pretend that they know more than they do, and many of them can make a good bluff at being knowledgeable, or even learned. Most (some) academics can write, and envy journalists their public exposure and allegedly vast salaries. But academics are concerned with truth, or at any rate a new shot at it that might merit publication in an obscure learned journal. By definition journalists deal with the ephemeral and the sensational. They must have a peg on which to hang their opinion of the day. …

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