Are you now or have you ever been a supporter of Donald Trump?
I am wondering when we are going to have Congressional Committees grilling people about such matters. I suppose they could, in homage to a certain senator from Wisconsin, be called the House and Senate American Activities Committee. Nancy and Chuck should preside. They could share some of that expensive chocolate ice cream that the always well-coifed Nancy likes as they root out people who say things they don’t like and vote for people with whom they disagree.
I’m sure they would get a lot of academic support. Just a week or so back, one professor suggested that criticizing St Anthony Fauci or other government officials should be a federal hate crime.
Why not? If you object that such a move would be unconstitutional and therefore against the law, expect to be met with pitying looks. After all, the President of the United States, in flagrant violation of his oath of office, just extended the CDC’s eviction moratorium after it had been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. ‘The bulk of the constitutional scholarship says it’s not likely to pass constitutional muster,’ Biden admitted, but he decided to do it anyway. After all, this whole ‘separation of powers’ fetish is so, well, so 18th-century. We’re better than that now. We know about The Environment. And Systemic Racism. And Masks for the Little People. And the Evils of Donald Trump.
In the opening chapters of Hellenika, Xenophon tells us what happened after the Spartans obliterated the Athenian fleet on the beach at Aegospotomoi (‘goat rivers’) in 405 BC. Only nine Athenian triremes — out of some 180 — made it out of the Hellespont. One, the Paralos, was a ceremonial boat used for state occasions. It went to Athens to broadcast the devastating news. Word of the disaster made its way up the long walls from the Piraeus to the city. There was much lamentation, understandably since the Athenians were worried that the Spartans might treat them as badly they had treated their own enemies. Before peace terms had been hammered out, one Athenian, Archestratos by name, suggested that they tear down a couple of miles of their defensive walls. It would leave them defenseless, but might assuage the Spartans. Archestratos was promptly thrown in jail and a decree was passed that it was henceforth impermissible to debate such ideas.
The Athenians were out of grain, however, and could not resupply themselves. As the weeks passed, more and more were starving in the streets. When the emissary finally arrived with peace terms, which included tearing down the long walls, the Athenians set to the work of destruction joyfully to the accompaniment, Xenophon tells us, of music supplied by the flute girls — the courtesans who (as readers of Plato’s Symposium will recall) were engaged to provide various forms of entertainment at dinner parties. ‘They believed that that day would would be the beginning of freedom for all Greece.’
Next up, the Thirty Tyrants.
As I look around at the new McCarthyism sweeping this country and contemplate how institutions that had been forged to protect open debate and democratic liberties have gradually (and not-so-gradually) become like the firemen in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, dedicated not to putting out fires but to spreading them, I reckon were are about at that stage when the Athenians angrily tossed Archestratos into prison. I am not sure when we will get to compassing our own destruction cheerfully and to the accompaniment of obscene blandishments. Perhaps we’re already there.
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