Simon Goldhill, the Director of The Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) who invited David Willetts to speak in Cambridge in November 2011, has been quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying of Sophocles:
‘I think he’s the best analyst of extremism who ever lived. His plays show us how that when we try to reason with extremists, we get nowhere. The people who take the middle ground in his plays have no impact on anything. Sophocles wants us to ask ourselves what we what die for.’
Is this a retrospective public admission of the futility of reasoning with the ideologically-driven cabal of extremists currently wielding executive power which we commonly refer to as The Government? As Vince Cable himself has said of the Coalition: ‘There is a kind of Maoist revolution happening in a lot of areas like the health service, local government, reform, all this kind of stuff, which is in danger of getting out of control. We are trying to do too many things, actually.’
Is Goldhill now admitting that his naive invitation to ‘have it out with’ Willetts made about as much sense as Canute’s imperative to the tides? This would be surprising. The same Simon Goldhill recently facilitated the ‘trial’ of Owen Holland and his statement for the prosecution was given a privileged position as evidence over that submitted by the defence. More likely is that Goldhill, like many academics, has erected an intellectual cordon sanitaire between the lessons of the past and their applicability in the present; between the humanities and that which is genuinely human.
This sort of abstract dilletantism we repudiate and have nothing in common with. Not only do those who take the middle ground have no impact in the plays of Sophocles; those who who stay in the middle of the road in real life, as Aneurin Bevan warned, will inevitably get run down.