The demonstration took place outside the Clarendon Building on Broad Street, Oxford, 1960s.  
One of many demonstrations that took place outside the Clarendon Building in the 1960s 

By Dr Paul Cartledge 
(New College, 1965)

I belong to the late ‘60s Oxonian generation – 1965-1969, reading ‘Greats’ at New College. I therefore also belong to the ‘Hart Report’ (1968) generation – and indeed had more than my fair share of engagement with that Report one way or another. As my undergraduate Greek History tutor (a major contributor to the Hart Committee’s deliberations) was fond of saying, a report that was self-styled as being to do with relations between ‘The University’ and ‘The Junior Members’ seemed to suggest that they were two distinct, and possibly even antagonistic entities or corporate bodies. 

The demonstration took place outside the Clarendon Building on Broad Street, Oxford, 1960s.The great lawyer Herbert Hart (himself a New College ‘Greats’ man originally, whom I got to know and admire deeply when I was a junior research fellow of Univ. from 1970 to 1972) told me that Geoffrey de Ste. Croix (for it was he) was one of the most extraordinary persons he had ever met, possibly the most extraordinary. I can confirm that from my own experience, and it was he who persuaded me and a couple of  my fellow New College undergrads to write a letter to the Oxford Magazine (then edited by my future best man, Ewen Bowie of Corpus) demanding – in effect – that the University (‘The University’!) democratise itself. I converted word to deed personally too: both by picketing All Souls on the High, bearing a placard to that effect, and by attempting with others to secure rights of representation (note: not effective power) for students both graduate and undergraduate on New Coll.’s major decision-making bodies. We were met with what we liked to dismiss as mere ‘repressive tolerance’ by the eminently tolerant and gracious Warden of New College, Sir William Hayter. I even indulged in ‘direct action’, not just in demonstrations of one sort or another but also in an ‘occupation’ – or ‘sit-in’ as they were called then, more of a sleep-in, actually - of the University’s then chief administrative hub, the Clarendon Building. We were left undisturbed overnight but woken unceremoniously in the early morning by Marshals – an office that until then none of us students knew existed – and had our names taken, but without any further express consequences that we were aware of. Repressive tolerance, again.

That brief foray into personal reminiscence is meant to convey the fact that I’ve been preoccupied with democracy pragmatically as well as theoretically, and with contemporary democracy as well as ancient Greek democracy, for almost half a century now. Over the years the fact that I am a subject, not a citizen (except in the extended sense conferred by the incorporation into UK law of the European Convention on Human Rights), has weighed ever more heavily upon me, such that the gaping gulf between my own political experience and that of a fully empowered citizen of the ancient Athenian democracy has become ever more painfully apparent. Towards the end of my career as a fully paid-up member of the ‘C Caucus (Ancient History)’ of the Faculty of Classics in the University of Cambridge, in some sort of act of compensation I suppose, I delivered over four academic years (2009-13) a series of 24 lectures on ‘Ancient Greek Democracy and its Legacies’. It is those lectures that form the bedrock of my latest book, published by O.U.P. New York (and Oxford – but the heavy lifting has been done in the Big Apple): Democracy: A Life

Paul CartledgeThe book is quite short – I tend to the laconic anyway (well, I would, wouldn’t I, as an honorary citizen of Sparta) - and has three main aims: 1. to describe and explain the emergence and development of demokratia (people-power) in the ancient Greek world between about 700 BCE (emergence of the polis or citizen-state and of politics and the political) and 322 BCE (death of old-style demokratia, assassinated by an unholy combo of Athenian oligarchs, their Macedonian overlords and Roman imperialists,), emphasising the reforms attributed to Cleisthenes at Athens in 508/7. 2. To describe and explain the decadence, decline and disappearance of demokratia in antiquity and mediaeval Europe. 3. To account for the re-emergence of the 'people' as a potent political force in the early-modern period (especially in the three great 'moments' - the Levellers’ Debates during the Civil War of seventeenth century England, the American and the French Revolutions) until by the mid-nineteenth century versions of ‘democracy’ were considered 'ok' in the developed West . (A subsidiary, fourth aim is to trounce the touchy-feely 'inclusive' view that democracy wasn't a peculiarly ancient Greek invention. It was.)

But – and this holds throughout - the emphasis in this last part of the book is, as it has to be, on difference rather than similarity: it was only a tamed, representative version of democracy, not the full-blooded ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ notion of ancient Greece, that surfaced in the late eighteenth and more particularly the first half of the nineteenth century. I tout a bookshop/book festival/schools talk called something like 'Ten Things You Really Ought to Know About Democracy in Ancient Greece'.  This is the basis of an article commissioned by Paul Lay, the estimable editor of the monthly, popular-history  magazine History Today. For further detail of my -  I hope controversial – views, that might be a plausible first port of call. 

Dr Paul Cartledge is A.G. Leventis Senior Research Fellow, Clare College, Cambridge and A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture (2008-2014), University of Cambridge, emeritus. His book Democracy: A Life is published through OUP. 

Images © Shutterstock, Oxford University Press

Comments

By Ian R Cox (Dr)
on

I missed the 1968" revolution" by a year - matriculating at Teddy Hall in 1969 and am firmly from the Sciences rather than the Arts
.The actions of '68 trickled down to us as simply as an apparent obsession with " files" being held on individuals rather than actual student participation in the University.
I have not had the opportunity of reading your book but am tempted to raise a simple question relating to the Greeks.
We hear ad nauseum the principles of " human Rights" being invoked these days without any corresponding requirements for a corresponding requirement for individual " Human Responsibilities" .How was this tackled in the days of the Greeks " democracy"?

By :
on

Thanks are due to Paul Cartledge for reminding us of the events of 1968 onwards. 1968 was a time when French students and workers showed how to resist police brutality and how to democratise the workplace. It was also the time when opposition to the brutal and ultimately futile US invasion of Vietnam was growing worldwide. In that context, students at Warwick University were outraged to find that secret files were being kept on students' (and potential students') legitimate political activity. As I recall, it was to obtain assurances that this would not happen (or would cease) at Oxford that the Clarendon was occupied in 1970.
Some may feel that "human rights" are invoked ad nauseam (note spelling) but there is at least some restriction on the keeping of secret information, possibly inaccurate, that could ruin careers and so on.
Also, universities are taking a lot more notice of students' views, though no doubt more could be done.

By Dave Postles
on

At SEH 1967-70. Member of the History Faculty Reform Group. The inspiration of May '68 soon diminished and passed by most of my contemporaries. What little we achieved in the History Faculty was reversed by our successors.

By Les Hearn (Kebl...
on

Thanks are due to Paul Cartledge for reminding us of the events of 1968 onwards. 1968 was a time when French students and workers showed how to resist police brutality and how to democratise the workplace. It was also the time when opposition to the brutal and ultimately futile US invasion of Vietnam was growing worldwide. In that context, students at Warwick University were outraged to find that secret files were being kept on students' (and potential students') legitimate political activity. As I recall, it was to obtain assurances that this would not happen (or would cease) at Oxford that the Clarendon was occupied in 1970.
Some may feel that "human rights" are invoked ad nauseam (note spelling) but there is at least some restriction on the keeping of secret information, possibly inaccurate, that could ruin careers and so on.
Also, universities are taking a lot more notice of students' views, though no doubt more could be done.

By Viktor C Andersson
on

I seem to recall a subsequent "sit-in" there in May 1970, led by a significant number of us Americans in response to the slayings at Kent State. It was a brief and uneventful display of our undergraduate remorseful disgust, being all those many miles from home. It ended unceremoniously when a dear UK mate from college drove up, arriving with great flair in his Morgan. He hopped out, heaving along a case of Veuve Clicquot. Corks a popping, he offered his condolences on behalf of our host country. We all sipped from (!) plastic cups as we slowly and somberly wandered back to our respective colleges; no names, no marshals, no proctors.

By John Hudson
on

Like Paul I had tutorials from Geoffrey de Ste. Croix while I was at the Queen’s College at the same time and like Paul I greatly treasure meeting him. I remember one tutorial when he was encouraging us to be more radical and started reminiscing about the protests he had been involved in in the thirties, advising us on how best to deal with police horses.

By Tim Cawkwell
on

I remember the Clarendon Building occupation of 1970, and the anxieties about files being held. Possibly undergraduates were right to be concerned - I know I was at the time - but looking back on it from 2016, at a distance of almost 50 years, I feel this view is rather akin to getting indignant about the statue of Cecil Rhodes, i.e. unimportant in the larger scheme of things. [Ch Ch Greats 1966-70]

By Robert Parkinson
on

I too recall the sit-ins at the Clarendon in 1968 and 70, and at another building on St Giles, near Little Clarendon Street. I went with friends from Balliol, including some Americans. The issues of representation merged with Paris and Vietnam, and later with the reaction to student action in the US, including Kent State. The sense of the extraordinary privilege to take part in the protests without sanction, remains with me to this day

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