In the old days of Great Britain, the standard process was that a young boy would learn Latin and Greek at a posh school and then at Oxford or Cambridge before going out to rule some part of the Empire. I don’t know if a classics degree teaches you about governance. It should, at the very least, teach you about Greek literature. Daniel Andrews has a classics degree but shows astounding ignorance of both fields.
In Herodotus’ Histories, the advisor Artabanus warns King Xerxes not to invade Greece, saying that circumstances rule over men; men do not rule over circumstances. Xerxes ignores him. Leading a huge army, King Xerxes attempts to cross the Hellespont by building a bridge over it, but a storm destroys the flax cables. In a tantrum, he orders his men to whip the Hellespont (yes, the water itself) and to throw fetters into it. He eventually bridges the Hellespont and invades Greece. After some initial success, his army encounters stiff resistance at Thermopylae and is eventually defeated by much smaller forces at Salamis and Plataea.
Seemingly ignorant of all this, Daniel Andrews thinks he can eradicate coronavirus but, like the Hellespont, it won’t do what people tell it to. Unable to locate the microscopic virus and unable to explain how shutting down the economy will stop it spreading, Andrews is instead punishing the people of Victoria by taking their freedoms and destroying their livelihoods. Sadly, we have no Artabanus in Australia. The clearest warning came from a professor of epidemiology at the University of Oxford, Sunetra Gupta. In early July, she called Australia’s approach ‘selfish’ and ‘self-congratulatory’, going on to say that ‘there is no way lockdown can eliminate the virus’. A cursory glance at the coronavirus figures around the world will show that there is no correlation between house arrest, shop closures, and a reduced spread of the disease. So why does Andrews continue to implement failed policies?
Kings don’t admit mistakes. Kings don’t heed warnings. Kings don’t relinquish power. Andrews’ press conference on 6 August was revealing. Admittedly, he did say that ‘mistakes have been made and I will own those errors’, but this passive, non-binding language came with a refusal to answer questions about government decisions until the end of the hotel quarantine inquiry. A couple of days earlier, his health minister, Jenny Mikakos, refused to answer questions when the Legislative Council asked her about the details of Victoria’s genomic testing and when she was advised about hotel security issues. Having endured a gruelling day of accountability, the Andrews Empire earned some playtime with the lives of other people.
At the start of Aeschylus’ Persians, the chorus of Persian councillors boasts about the size of their army: we have men from every realm of Asia, we have ships in their thousands! Importantly, they mention nothing about government or process. The only reason the Persian Empire is so great is because of its size, not because of any political processes. The King is the process. Ruling by decree, violating the Australian Constitution and the freedom of its people, Daniel Andrews is the absolute monarch of Victoria. In the same press conference in which he avoided all accountability, Andrews said that the decisions to close businesses and impose a curfew were ‘completely necessary decisions – that’s why I’ve made them.’ The room was full of journalists. Not one asked why the decisions are necessary. Not one asked why a democracy is allowing one man to make such important decisions. But who dares speak against a king?
Few in the press seem willing to. Last month, the release of the Palace Letters proved that Queen Elizabeth had nothing to do with the dismissal of Gough Whitlam. Yet many journalists used the discovery to revive the argument for an Australian republic, arguing that Australia will never be free until it has a home-grown head of state. These same people are now quiet about the Andrews Empire or are actively supporting it. On 15 July the editorial of the Age, commenting on the Palace Letters, said that ‘Australia should one day become a republic’ and that ‘the political decisions we face in this nation should be taken in Australia by Australians.’ On 3 August the editorial of that same newspaper said that the newest Victorian restrictions are ‘devastating but necessary’. How many Australians had a say in deciding them? King Andrews did not talk to businesses before imposing new restrictions on them. One opinion piece in the pro-republic newspaper the Australian actually said that Andrews wasn’t suppressing enough freedoms: it said the biggest failure in Victoria ‘is the Andrews government, which has failed to put in place a mechanism to deter sufferers from leaving home,’ recommending ‘multiple daily checks plus phone monitoring, placing cameras in people’s driveways and even using electronic bracelets.’ I can’t deny the patriotism of the press: they want to give Australian politicians intrusive powers that the British monarch could only dream of!
The powers of our Queen are clearly limited. What are the limits to the power of Daniel Andrews? The Queen could not impose a curfew on her subjects even if she wanted to, yet it’s she, not Andrews, who is apparently the check on Australian freedom. The Australian republicans will support any king, so long as he eats Vegemite.
Herodotus and Aeschylus weren’t writing to mock the Persian empire they had defeated. They were writing to warn their fellow citizens. One of the most important and neglected lessons in Greek literature is that suffering is inevitable, all greatness is temporary and there is little we can do about it: ‘What mortal man can escape the subtle trick of God? Who with light feet can jump over it without trouble?’ asks the chorus in Persians. King Xerxes brought destruction and shame to his empire. Later in the play, the ghost of his father Darius bewails his son’s arrogance: ‘He in his mortal folly thought he could rule over the immortal gods, even Poseidon. Was not this some disease of the mind which gripped my son?’
In Australia, a disease of the mind, causing panic, bondage, and conformity, will harm more people than the coronavirus. We will become tillers of the soil, turning our masked faces away from each other while the king who brought us to ruin sits in his palace eating grapes.
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