I’ve travelled a lot this year, and everywhere the question has been the same: what would Aristotle have made of Brexit? He didn’t write much about confederacies between sovereign city-states, so I don’t know how he would have voted. But I’m sure he would say that the first referendum had been so inadequately deliberated that it was as good as completely invalid.
There was so much wrong with the first referendum: the Electoral Commission says that the Brexit campaign broke the law, and what should have been a lengthy process of public deliberation, informed by cool-headed journalism, was a hate-filled bawling-match marred by cynical lies and misinformation and appeals to base prejudices.
|When Mind-Changing is Virtuous|
Aristotle was a fan of democracy, but only when decisions were properly deliberated according to his 8-point formula for decision-making: calibrating all likely outcomes, verifying all information, researching all precedents, etc. He used a tragedy by Sophocles to show how important it was to revise one’s opinion in the light of new information. When Neoptolemus in Sophocles’ Philoctetes comes to understand the inhumane consequences of abducting the disabled hero, Aristotle praises him for his openness to revising his views.
|Antigone & Haemon: Young Adult Victims|
In another play, Antigone, Sophocles showed that error-laden, precipitate lawmaking can be corrected if the ruling powers are persuaded to rethink. Creon does change his mind about executing Antigone, when given new information by Tiresias, but he changes it too late. She is dead already. That play also insists on the importance of listening to the opinions of young adults, and large numbers of our own, who are the ones who will have to face the long-term consequences, did not have the opportunity to vote in 2016. They include my two daughters.*
Another Athenian writer, Thucydides, describes the fiasco when the Athenians vote in too much hurry, on the basis of passion, to execute all the men of the rebel city of Mytilene. The very next day a second Assembly is called, which rescinds the brutal decision.
All three men had direct experience of the Athenian democracy, and supported it. They had absolutely no problem with the idea of a second vote on important matters. Neither do 86% of the Labour Party and many Tories, including my own in-the-wrong-party MP Heidi Allen, who always talks good sense.
So let’s continue pressure, by any peaceful means possible, for a second Brexerendum, accompanied by a public enquiry led by disinterested experts on the likely consequences of a choice either way. I happen to be a Remainer, but I have many rational, benevolent and well-informed friends who are not. If the mass citizenry of the UK really wants Brexit, it will vote accordingly. So what are those who refuse to consider an idea that Aristotle, Sophocles and Thucydides would all have supported, really so afraid of?
*See the excellent new book by my former PhD student, Dr Matt Shipton, The Politics of Youth in Greek Tragedy (Bloomsbury).