Boris gets his Roman history wrong (again)
The PM keeps cherry-picking the wrong parallels
The last time Boris Johnson invoked the Roman past as a lesson for the present was when he attributed the fall of the Roman empire in the fifth century AD, and the ‘dark age’ which followed, to the effects of ‘uncontrolled immigration’. By failing to explain that the fifth-century immigrants came in the form of large armies, which dismembered the Roman empire by force or by the threat of force, he implied that they were similar to today’s immigrants arriving in their small boats or in the back of lorries — thereby suggesting that the latter are as threatening to our well-being as were the invaders of the fifth century to that of Rome
This week he treated us to another dubious comparison with ancient Rome by suggesting that we should seek a Mediterranean-wide political and military alliance that mirrors the Mare Nostrum of the Roman empire:
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So far so good: the Roman period was indeed the last time the Mediterranean was a political unit completely at peace, and, for that matter, the last time that economic well-being was spread fairly equally around its shores. But is the Roman parallel helpful in the present day?
Leaving aside the question of what to do with the states of the Near East — Syria, Lebanon and Israel (all integral parts of the Roman empire) — we should remember that the unity of the Roman Mediterranean was created not by its different peoples suddenly deciding to get on well together, but by brutal military conquest.
Given this, ‘Mare Nostrum’ is not a neutral term that can be straightforwardly evoked in the cause of present-day unity. The last time it was used extensively was by Mussolini’s Italy in its attempt to dominate the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean. During this period, the Italian and French colonial rulers of Libya, Tunisia and Algeria constantly pointed to the great Roman monuments in North Africa as parallels for their own achievements. But there is very little sense amongst the present-day inhabitants of the Maghreb that their Roman past was ever truly theirs. Nor will suggesting to Erdoğan that he rules Asia Minor instead of Turkey do much to bring him into a pan-Mediterranean fold.
Johnson’s evoking of ‘Mare Nostrum’ thus isn’t quite what he seems to think it is. And if the Roman past is his vision, it seems reasonable to ask whether that includes other defining aspects of the empire, such as its single currency and its free movement of people, or the return of its northern boundaries, namely Scotland and Ireland, which were never ruled by Rome.
Cherry picking parallels from the Roman past is a dangerous game.
Dear God preserve us from journalistic cherry picking.
He’s got to earn money somehow – but I’m surprised that Unherd publish such nit picking nonsense.
Interesting that Johnson once touted arguments against inward migration. Under his “leadership” vast numbers have settled in Britain and the southern shore remains porous. How typical.
‘Vast numbers’ is a bit overstated isn’t it? After all you’re losing more than you’re birthing (Covid helps in that).. so unless you make up your net losses with fit, healthy, young, resourceful men (!) who’ll pay your pensions? Merkle saw that in Germany and imported 1 million all at once! It’ll take you 20 years to match that! ..a lot more if you rid GB of such a valuable resource sending ’em to Rwanda!
The simple fact is that Alf Garnet is a very poor breeder and so your dream of a white Protestant GB is pie in the sky! Why not let these guys stay provided they learn to speak fluent English, convert to CofE and join the Tory party. In no time you’ll have more Richi Sunaks than you’ll know what to do with.
When we in Ireland had unwanted migrants, ie you English, we made ’em more Irish than the Irish themselves! So.. either breed or get with the program!
The rate of net migration to the UK is approximately equal to the rate of abortions.
What complacent nonsense.
It’s a bit rich accusing England of being full of Alf Garnett racists when Ireland is a much whiter and less multicultural nation, with much higher statistics of racist abuse to minorities
The truth is that Boris Johnson says the first thing that comes into his head, regardless of any apparent contradictions or anomalies. Hence his thinking out loud recently about whether he should continue as prime minister into the mid thirties when he is probably not even likely to last until the middle of next year.
It went over your head as well as the writer too?
I think the writer has missed the joke.
I don’t think so. He knows Johnson is a joke.
Wow great wit!
He was being funny to underline an interesting concept, not giving a learned lecture!
I hesitate to take issue with the author of a distinguished study of the Fall of the Roman Empire, but I thought that the current thinking in Vienna was that the Germanic immigrants to the Roman Empire arrived not with large armies but actually with rather small ones.
Were the Goths Germanic?
Yes. It was the Huns who were not – and they were not there to stay. Priscus’s account of an embassy to meet Attila in the mid-5th century is one of the most gripping pieces of Byzantine ethnography.
Was there a serious point being made here? If so, it passed me by. Usual ramblings of a buffoon, given credence by another?!
Nope: you got it right. If you’re looking for serious points my advice is don’t listen to BJ.. If, on the other hand you want a good laugh, he’s a sound bet!
Rome imported vast numbers of slaves mostly from the middle-east. At one time it is estimated that 90% of Rome’s population was of slave origin. This may have been a contributory cause of Rome’s enfeeblement and collapse: so perhaps Mr. Johnson is both right (immigration is dangerous) and wrong political expansion around the ‘Med is a good thing?
Wouldn’t this be typical for Mr Johnson?
It’s funny how the writer refers to the Romans brutal military conquest – and yet those conquered areas didn’t want the Roman peace to end.
A bit like the evil British Empire.
The most recent aspirant to “Mare Nostrum” was Benito Mussolini (Il Duce), and look what happened to him!
Et tu Bryan?
The author sounds like a delight to work with.
Glad to see this piece by this author and look forward to more.
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