A prof named Greg from a place called the Gong advises Aussie Tony & Bill and Tassie’s Will & Bryan to read old Nic and even older Tac to avoid doing a Santa by heeding a “lesson for the ages from classic political sages”.^

He reckons that our years of plenty have come to an end and we have little to show for it except “an ever-burgeoning debt and the need to spend even more on an ageing population. That we are in this situation indicates a considerable failing on the part of our politicians.

“Roman historian [Publius Cornelius] Tacitus was right when he said: ‘Prosperity tries the soul with sharper temptations; while hardships may be endured, one is corrupted by good fortune’.

“Politicians in a democracy such as Australia find prosperity to be a temptation they cannot resist: to hand out largesse to voters and demonstrate their kind, generous natures.

“But, as [Niccolò] Machiavelli noted, ‘nothing uses itself up as fast as liberality’. When the money is gone, all a leader incurs is the ¬hatred of those who have grown used to the lavish spending and come to expect it as a right.

“Tacitus and Machiavelli both possessed a keen insight into the workings of politics, and our political leaders might not have made these mistakes if they had read them. They would have been wary of the prosperity Australia has enjoyed across 20 years and of its corrupting tendencies. They would have reflected on the fact good times have as many trials as times of dearth. And they would have resisted the idea that windfalls are there to be spent, regardless of future consequences.

“This is the problem. When times are good, politicians use public money to attain what is the highest goal, to be loved. But, as Machiavelli argued, it is far more important to be respected than loved, and the most important goal of all is to avoid contempt. As the money dries up, the contempt in which politicians are held increases. They bought our love, so how can we respect them?

“The problem is too many have learned the wrong lessons: how to spin, how to buy off the electorate with spending prom¬ises, how to win short-term battles with their opponents. They are brilliant with tactics but hopeless at strategy.

Partly this is because they have not read Machiavelli and Tacitus. Partly it reflects the fact they do not have an appreciation of politics as something other than a series of short one act plays. This is why, after so many good years, it is all coming to tears. So much squandered. One only hopes a few lessons have also been learned. “

And this is where ‘Santa’ comes in, as in Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás, aka George Santayana, because of what he wrote in 1905: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

^ Link – http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/a-lesson-for-the-ages-from-classic-political-sages/story-e6frg6zo-1227141310503

[Greg Melleuish is associate professor of history and politics at the University of Wollongong.]