Can we be Stoics?

In both its original Hellenistic and subsequent Roman iterations, Stoicism fastened onto reason’s decisive role in our lives. The compass of our rational faculties allows women and men — Stoicism, along with Epicureanism, was exceptional in its refusal to relegate women to an inferior position — to navigate a world in which we are carried aloft by vast and immovable forces. We cannot master these circumstances, but we can master our attitude toward them’ Robert Zareski in the LA Review of Books

At this moment in time we are certainly being ‘carried aloft by vast and immovable forces’. But as to mastering any attitudes towards them, this is proving far more difficult. There so many people whose actual attitude towards the current situation is impossible to discern. But we shouldn’t confuse attitude with opinion. There are plenty of people only too eager to give us their opinion, but does this reflect their attitude?

My attitude is clear to me, as a citizen of one of the world’s oldest and most stable Liberal Democracies, I believe that the referendum was a democratic vote, therefore the result should be honoured. The people voted leave so we should leave. Theresa May believed this even though, like me, she was a ‘remainer’. Subsequently, the politicians in Westminster have completely muddied the waters. The present Conservative Party is no longer recognisable. We might wonder what Edmund Burke (the so-called Father of Conservatism) might have made of the divisions and wrangling; for him the ‘party’ meant individuals coming together in “the national interest upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed.” Certainly the national interest seems to have gone by the board.

So here we are and there we go! Into the abyss – or maybe not. Reason seems have deserted the people who need it most. This leads to chaos. I am struggling to analyse it and to make sense of all the different views and attitudes floating around.

What I do know is this. In politics there are cataclysmic events from time to time. Politics is cyclical. Although the situation is serious, it will more than likely pass. Eventually something will be decided, by whatever means necessary. At the moment it seems unlikely that Boris Johnson will last long in his post but we will see. It seems unlikely that we will have a Labour government but we will see.

At this strange time there definitely more questions than answers and that means uncertainty and a feeling of instability. Leaving the EU was never going to be easy, but nothing in life ever is is it?

*Robert Zaretsky teaches at the Honors College at the Univerity of Houston. He is the author of numerous books and articles on French Intellectual history.