Johnson’s explanation for all these things is that he suffers from the classical vice of akrasia. He knows what the right thing to do is but acts against his better judgement through lack of self-control. He is, in Aristotle’s words, like “a city that votes for all the right decrees and has good laws but does not apply them”. But Johnson’s lack of so many of the other virtues listed by Aristotle – temperance, generosity (he is notoriously reluctant to reach for his wallet), realistic ambition, truthfulness or modesty – is startling. It is hard to accept that in every case he agrees on what is good, and intends it, but somehow frustrates himself from achieving it – rather than in fact having quite different beliefs, priorities and intentions.
Actually using it as an excuse is pretty special but that’s the guy we’re dealing with, and I’d completely agree with Stewart’s doubt that he knew the right thing to do. After all there’s this, also from Rory Stewart’s stinker review:
There are other compliments that could be paid to Johnson. Bower is not strong on his sense of humour, or flashes of learning. He passes quickly, for example, over the impressive lecture Johnson gave on the Latin poet Horace in 2004. There are some characteristic Johnson touches in that speech (he emphasizes Horace’s hypocrisies, cowardice and compromises over the more dignified and stoical elements in the Odes; and reduces the poetry to the question of whether journalists are more important than politicians). But it is impossible to deny the ease and enjoyment with which Johnson cites Latin verse. And few other public figures would have observed that “there is a final sense in which Horace is not just a ward and protégé of Mercury but also carries out the ultimate function of that divinity”.
Wasn’t he arguing that he, as a writer, was in fact a god? It’s the sort of thing that should be made explicit. You’d think.
That said, I call dibs on the whole thing. I tweeted this on the 2nd of October:
If there is a political tendency he represents, it's acracy, akrasia in the Greek. Weakness of will, lack of self control… https://t.co/Nb4iVOcfzB
— Alex Harrowell (@yorksranter) October 2, 2020
That’s 38 days ago. Unfortunately it took me that long to will myself to actually write the thing. There’s a lot of it about.