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Boris Johnson was a long-term mistake

By Peter Bowden - posted Friday, 22 July 2022

Boris Johnson should never have been elected in the first place. He showed his full colours early, and we or at least the Brits, should have been warned. But they were taken in by an immense intellect, a clear ambition and obvious capabilities. Along with a huge ego. What we also did not recognise was a ruthless quest for power.

Born in1964 in New York, of well-educated professional parents who returned to England in 1969, via sojourn in France, Johnson won a King's Scholarship to study at Eton College and read Classics at Balliol College, Oxford. He was elected president of the Oxford Union in 1986, at just 24 years of age. He became the Brussels correspondent, and later political columnist, for the Daily Telegraph and was editor of the Spectator magazine from 1999 to 2005, after being elected to Parliament in 2001.

He showed his true colours early.


His book, The Dream of Rome, written in 2006, with a much younger Boris Johnson on the cover, tells us much about the British Prime Minister, his ambitions, his political tactics, and most of all his reasons for his many failures: Brexit, the covid pandemic, party gate.

He draws upon his analysis of the history of the Roman Empire to give us an insight into his personality.

The cover of his book tells us that European leaders throughout the ages have been "trying and failing to imitate the Roman achievement." The Romans were able "to weld together the peoples of Europe to create a single identity". He then gives us at least a dozen reasons, many drawn from the history of Rome, to tell us why that welding cannot be repeated.

He starts his story with an account of the battle of Teutoburg, in 9 AD, a massive disaster for the hitherto unconquered Roman armies. Rome never again tried to conquer the barbarians, as they described them. The result was romance languages on one side of the Rhine and guttural languages on the other. Never the two shall mix, claims Boris Johnson. He adds chapter and verse on his reasons for deriding the European experiment. If the legions had extended the Roman Empire beyond the Rhine, he states, 'the Rhine would not have played its grim role in the history of our continent", … "the scene of hideous slaughter between the German speakers and the French".

He extends his concept of barbarians, however, to all Europe, to all countries of the current EU: They were, Johnson claims "by the standards of Graeco-Roman culture, complete barbarians." (p.120). He repeats Tacitus' "contemptuous" description of the Fenni, a northern tribe identified with the Finns, 'who live in grotesque poverty" Boris sums it up by describing Europe under the phrase: "The whole thing is hopelessly uncouth."

Perhaps at the top in his experience with the concept of a European union was his experience at a Brussels international school. The English did not mix with the French (he claimed), and neither of them interacted with the Germans. That, we get the impression, was Boris' concept of the natural order of things.


His attack on the concept of the union of Europe is multi-pronged. One is its spending. Sitting Club Class in any European flight, he tells us, the chances are high that a person near you will be paid by the EU, attending some conference at a swank hotel, on a socially important issue – the climate, sexual harassment, etc and having a very enjoyable time, "entertained by gorgeous pouting interpreters."

Coming through the pages is Boris Johnson's high regard for Octavian, later the emperor Augustus, whom he describes as: "one of the most brilliant politicians of history" (p.63). His admiration for the emperor gives us an insight into Johnson himself. "Augustus was the first to understand the role of literature in organising political opinion." (p.74). Johnson has written five books. Of them, one on Winston Churchill, the media pointed to Johnson's "not so subtle" attempts to draw a parallel between himself and Churchill.

Augustus, along with Mark Antony and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, formed the second triumvirate on 27 November 43 BC, with the enactment of the Lex Titia, which is viewed by some as the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic. The triumvirate issued proscriptions on their enemies. These proscriptions resulted in the execution of 4,700 opponents and the confiscation of their estates.

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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