Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

The Tory MP for Henley, accused of belittling Liverpudlians by claiming that their outpouring of grief for Ken Bigley (brutally murdered by terrorists) was nothing but mawkish hysteria, has been ordered by High Command to go and appease them. Aristotle had views on such matters.

The MP's crime was, in Aristotle's words, 'speaking ill of things about which people are especially serious', i.e., Liverpudlians' sense of their own legendary compassion. But does that explain the severity of their reaction? It may do, but Aristotle goes on to say that people so treated will be all the more angry 'if they suspect they do not really have these feelings at all, or only insecurely, or are not thought to have them'. Aristotle's point is that, if Liverpudlians felt entirely comfortable in their superiority in the matters about which they were belittled, they would not become angry in the first place. The fact that they do become angry merely demonstrates their insecurity. One feels, however, it would be wise of the MP not to labour this point.

Aristotle dismisses one line of defence at once: that the MP was only being ironic. Aristotle points out that those who are ironic on matters about which people feel seriously are treating them with contempt, and therefore belittling them. …

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