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The Plague of Athens

Athens

A number of comparisons have been made comparing the Wuhan Virus to earlier pandemics. Alongside the 1918 Spanish Flu, the Plague of Athens, which struck the ancient city between 430 BC and 426 BC, has also been evoked. Thucydides described it as a catastrophe “so overwhelming that men not knowing what would happen, became indifferent to every rule of religion or of law”, leading to “the beginnings of a state of unprecedented lawlessness”. Strangely though, despite the horrific symptoms enumerated, including diarrhoea, vomiting and spasms, the people of Athens increasingly indulged in hedonism: “they resolved to spend their money quickly and to spend it on pleasure”. Thucydides adds that “as for what is called honour, no one showed himself to abide by its laws”.

However this description of an afflicted society succumbing to its basest pleasures might appear familiar. Since the post-war period the West has been defined by its self-indulgence and pleasure. Duty and self restraint have been dismissed as oppressive and old-fashioned while the cult of self-actualisation has led to a campaign against our society’s most fundamental principles, even a demonisation of the biological categories of sex.

This leads one to the striking conclusion that the modern West is the inversion of Pericles’ Athens. For while Athens succumbed to nihilistic hedonism in the wake of an epidemic, the Wuhan Virus has seen the freedom expounded by and necessary for globalism and liberalism rapidly curtailed. The majority of us are now under lockdown and severed from the vices usually at our disposal. Forced into our families’ company, the fleeting delights of casual sex and clubbing may no longer distract us. Escape from our own thoughts is no longer possible.

As the pre-Wuhan West suffered from the same deterioration as plague-afflicted Athens, it seems hard to ignore the verdict that reigning liberalism is in fact a greater disease than any virus. Living in an era witnessing the unravelling of social bonds, the disintegration of all social consensus, the erasure of all past culture as well as national and European ethnic identities, the veneration of self-indulgence and excess, how can we dismiss such a conclusion? While Thucydides claims that “Athens owed to the plague the beginnings of a state of unprecedented lawlessness”, we today were already suffering the same social decay long before anyone coughed.

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