Yesterday Matthew Parris wrote a column attacking Boris Johnson for his behaviour and his success. More importantly, he wrote about his success as a result of his behaviour. For many commentators, the column appeared devastating, cruel, well-deserved, destructive, and damaging.
We must save the conservative party and ensure my views prevail
Mr Parris claims no personal animosity for Mr Johnson as a politician. Instead, he attacks him for he fears that Mr Johnson will harm the conservative party’s chances for success in a future election. His article appears more as an opportunist attack; Mr Johnson is for leaving the EU while Mr Parris does not. More directly, Mr Parris is upset Mr Johnson had no shame in using the LBGT community to campaign for the EU exit even though he was previously opposed to them concerning Article 28.
An attack on a politician’s ethos, his soul, assumes such things matter.
The attacks would like to point to his marriage infidelity, his sexual partners one of whom bore him a child while the other had an abortion, as well as his inability to make a defining political project. Yet, none of these matter anymore in a UK political society devoid of any shame or standard. So long as Mr Johnson does not fiddle his expenses his personal behaviour seems unlikely to bar him from office or success.
Why does Mr Johnson succeed?
He embodies the Etonian ethos that has brought him success. As Dominic Lawson (who attended Eton for a year) pointed out in 2006, in quoting Nick Fraser,
“Nick Fraser, himself an old Etonian, has a different take on the matter: “Etonians are the ultimate pragmatists, totally free of ideology. Other than the means of getting and gaining power, no conspicuous motives inspire them. It’s not clear that Etonian politicians really believe in much except themselves…” ***
Mr Fraser may as well have been describing Boris Johnson. Mr Johnson has succeeded by applying what Eton has taught him. Eton’s clubs award entry by election which requires the ability to “oil” one’s peers and superiors.
“Aitken pointed out that Etonians compete for office within the school–even the Eton Scientific Society admits by election, rather than mere intellectual ability. According to Aitken, this “breeds a certain speciality of behaviour. You know how to get elected. You know how to please. You have to learn to oil. And at Eton you do learn.”” ***
Mr Johnson’s soul reflects the political regime that formed him and rewards him.
The attacks will not harm Mr Johnson for they show his success as well as the public’s appetite for, if not receptivity to, his antics. They show that despite his past, he only need to please, charm, and cajole the electorate to win. He does not need a vision, he does not need a manifesto, he does not need to be moral for politics has been drained of these in part by the efforts of commentators like Mr Parris. Boris only needs to oil the public, which he does so very well. He understands the public through the media. A media, dominated by Rupert Murodoch, which has shaped the public mind to be habituated to what he offers. The public have been shaped by the media to accept the immorality of such men so long as they charm. For he understands government as public relations. He succeeds by creating the image of charming competency. The media want him to succeed for it reflects their importance for politics.
Boris Johnson as an Etonian and Oxonian reflects the best training the UK political regime can provide. His behaviour, his success, and his ethos all reflect the education he has received. The Ancient Greeks approach to education, which Eton and Oxford have brought to the 21st century is based on the idea that character formation of children is reflected in their adult behaviour. Leo Strauss makes this point in his book The Argument and Action of Plato’s Laws.
“Education is guidance of children through play to the things which they are to be good when they have reached manhood; the playing must include the serious study of preliminary subjects without the command of which the very playing is impossible. Education must lead the soul of the child at play to passionate desire for that in which he must be perfect when he has reached manhood, i.e., in virtue, in being a perfect citizen who knows both how to rule and how to obey in accordance with right. The Athenian will have to show that education, as he delineated it, is greatly assisted by symposia and that symposia have this effect by promoting moderation.””P. 17