Boris Johnson and Antisthenes

johnson

[Antisthenes] said that states are destroyed when they cannot distinguish fools from serious men.

τότ’ ἔφη τὰς πόλεις ἀπόλλυσθαι, ὅταν μὴ δύνωνται τοὺς φαύλους ἀπὸ τῶν σπουδαίων διακρίνειν.

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 6.5

We have had some discussion about this on social media.  The question would be how to interpret φαύλους and σπουδαίων, which are basically trivial vs serious, but can represent a number of related contrasts.  The original citation contains a number of discrete opinions on diverse matters and does not really help with interpretation here.

In the course of the discussion, Diarmaid MacCulloch described Johnson as Not a fool, and ultimately not very serious. Ambitious, and utterly untrustworthy.  Which may be the kind of person Antisthenes was thinking of–as far as we can ever tell…

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