Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The 25th anniversary of Nick Cohen’s ‘The Pub Philosopher’

Twenty five years ago, on November 18, 1989 Nick Cohen wrote in ‘The Pub Philosopher’ (published in The Independent Magazine): ‘The judgments passed by Oxford dons on Julius Tomin seem outrageously brutal … Jonathan Barnes, Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Balliol College, Oxford, impatiently brushed aside the suggestion that the Conservatives’ reduction in funding for British philosophy since 1980 might explain why there was never an academic post for Tomin at Oxford. “That’s not the point at all,” he said. “He would not be accepted as a graduate here, let alone be given a teaching job.” … His [Tomin’s] most serious accusation is that British classical philosophers cannot understand Ancient Greek … Tomin’s work has raised a second controversy. He has revived an ancient tradition that The Phaedrus was Plato’s first dialogue, written soon after Socrates’ trial and death [the italics are mine, J. T.]. Barnes thinks that even if Tomin’s views were not “baloney”, there are no interesting consequences. Tomin believes that they could change utterly philosophers’ understanding of Plato … Tomin does not want academic charity. He thinks Oxford should “help itself” by recognizing that he is right. There is not the faintest possibility that this will happen.’

Cohen knowingly misrepresented me when he wrote that Tomin ‘thinks Oxford should “help itself” by recognizing that he is right’. On March 14, 1989 I wrote to the Editor of The Independent: ‘Your Education reporter Simon Midgley wrote on Saturday 20 August 1988: “An exiled Czech philosopher claims that he is being denied opportunities to promote his view that the Phaedrus is the first Platonic dialogue.” The report is incorrect. It is an ancient tradition going perhaps back to Plato’s days that claims that the Phaedrus is Plato’s first dialogue. I merely insist that this ancient information should be examined and in my studies of Plato I try to see how Plato and his thought would look like on this basis. Having made a considerable progress in this quest, I claim that Oxford philosophers, in their own best interest and in the interest of the subject of Ancient Philosophy should provide an opportunity for discussing and thoroughly scrutinizing the results of my investigations.’

There never was ‘an ancient tradition that The Phaedrus was Plato’s first dialogue, written soon after Socrates’ trial and death’. According to the ancient tradition Plato wrote the Phaedrus prior to the death of Socrates, and it is this dating of the dialogue for which I have found telling arguments, as I did my best to explain to Nick Cohen. (I have devoted three chapters to the dating of the Phaedrus in The Lost Plato on my website: Ch. 2 ‘A critical review of doctrinal arguments for and against the late dating of the Phaedrus’, Ch. 3 ‘Stylometric arguments for and against the late dating of the Phaedrus’, Ch. 4 ‘The dating of the Phaedrus: Ancient Sources’.)

Barnes’ words that ‘even if Tomin’s views were not “baloney”, there are no interesting consequences’ deserve to be confronted with what David Sedley, who was at that time the Editor of the Classical Quarterly, said in his interview for The Daily Telegraph (August 25, 1988). Asked why Tomin ‘cannot get his controversial work on Plato published in Britain’, he replied: ‘He holds that the Phaedrus is Plato’s first dialogue, which is contrary to the beliefs of pretty well all scholars in the field in this century … It means he is asking people to give up nearly everything else they believe about Plato’s development, but he is not telling us enough [the italics are mine, J. T.] about why we should give up all these other views.’ I was not interested in depriving Classical Philosophers of their views. What I wanted then and what I want now is a scholarly confrontation of their views with my views on Plato in a free and open discussion. I could not ‘tell them enough’ for I was given no opportunity to do so.

The ‘controversy’ concerning the dating of the Phaedrus came to light on the occasion of the World Congress of Philosophy held in Brighton in 1988. References to it could be found in The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Financial Times, The Economist. I put ‘controversy’ in quotation marks, for controversy means ‘public discussion and argument about something that many people disagree about, disapprove of, or are shocked by’ (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary). No ‘public discussion and argument’ worth that name concerning the dating of the Phaedrus took place. This was my complaint; not one of the papers named put this point to their readers. And, to use Cohen’s words, ‘there is not the faintest possibility that this will happen’.

Cohen speaks of two controversies. What was the first one? Cohen ‘quoted’ me as saying that Oxford dons ‘all pretend to their students they can read and understand Ancient Greek, but none of them can’. This is a serious misquotation. I took great pains to explain to Cohen that Oxford dons must translate Greek texts in order to understand them. They know how to translate, but they do not understand Greek in Greek. Concerning this ‘controversy’ I wrote to Jonathan Barnes on November 26, 1989: ‘You deny my claim that you and your colleagues classical philosophers in Oxford do not understand Greek Greek, which means that when you read Plato in the original you translate it into English in your head. Nothing would please me more than if I learnt that I was wrong and you were right. That would put you in a position of being able to help us transform radically the teaching of Ancient Greek and Ancient Philosophy in Czechoslovakia and put it on a sound footing. Since the matter is of paramount importance, would you to submitting yourself together with myself to a test that would establish the truth about it?’ – I received no reply from Barnes to my suggestion.

Concerning the second ‘controversy’, on August 18, 1990 in an Open Letter entitled ‘Poison and remedy’ addressed to Jonathan Barns I wrote: ‘I cannot return to Prague and present students with views rejected as wrong by Oxford academics, not before I obtain an opportunity to defend them in an open discussion. As you are well aware, I have been asking for such an opportunity since I arrived at Oxford in 1980. In the years of my lonely reading of Plato in Czechoslovakia behind the Iron Curtain I came to the view that the ancient tradition according to which the Phaedrus was his first philosophic work was worth exploring. This view had resulted in a conflict with the modern view according to which the dialogue belongs among Plato’s later writings. I have devoted the subsequent ten years to examining Plato’s works to find out whether I was wrong. But from year to year evidence had accumulated in my hands, which strongly supports the ancient tradition. At last I came to the point when I began to dare to consider how the structure and the development of Plato’s thought would look like if we considered the Phaedrus to be Plato’s first dialogue. The Sub-Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford University presented me with an opportunity to give a series of lectures at the Philosophy Centre on this theme in the forthcoming Michaelmas Term. Each of my lectures will be followed by an hour of discussion. May I hope that you and other Oxford academics whose views I shall challenge will come to my lectures and challenge my views? There would be nothing shameful for me if you proved me wrong; on my return to Prague I would tell my colleagues and students that no books in twenty years of intensive study could achieve what an open and live discussion did.’

I sent the Open Letter to all Oxford philosophers and classicists, inviting them to my lectures, but no one came. Jonathan Barnes replied on August 21: ‘I am afraid I am not prepared to enter into a series of debates with you about the dating of Plato. I am – as you must realise – very busy; and the dating of Plato is not in any case one of my central interests.’

As the first anniversary of ‘The Pub Philosopher’ was approaching, I sent ‘The Early Plato’ to Professor Blumberg, the Master of Balliol, asking him to allow me to present the paper at Balliol College. The Master of Balliol replied: ‘I am not in a position to evaluate your papers on Plato’ (November 15, 1990). On November 18 I wrote to him in response: ‘Before writing to you I had been informed that neither classics nor classical philosophy was your speciality. I hoped that you would consider it to be in the interest of Balliol College, its classicists, classical philosophers, and its students, if the principle of scholarly discussion, especially of open and public discussion in the sphere of Platonic studies replaced innuendo and misinformation. I believe that Nick Cohen’s article ‘The Pub Philosopher’ published in The Independent Magazine on November 18, 1989 with the pronouncements of Jonathan Barnes, Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Balliol, concerning my approach to Plato entitles me to expecting it.’

In all three lectures I had in the Beehive, the Swindon pub – ‘Time for Philosophy’, ‘Let us discuss Plato’, ‘The demise of Marxism’ – I emphasized that I wished and hoped that Oxford dons would discuss Plato with me. In May 1989 I met Noel Reilly, the owner of Beehive, in Oxford. He told me: ‘Julius, I shall hire a lecture hall at Oxford where you shall present your views on Plato. Oxford dons will be invited. They will have to come; they will be ashamed to refuse the invitation.’ After this, I heard not a word from him for more than five years; I received no further invitation to lecture at Beehive, although I had a contract for nine lectures. Noel nevertheless paid the promised grant to my bank account for another year, until the Spring 1990.

In March 1995 I met Reilly in Oxford. I greeted him: ‘How are you? What are you doing? How is the Beehive?’ Reilly replied:  ‘I don’t have the Beehive any more. I am now studying English literature at Oxford University’. About a week later I read ‘Philosophy for grown-ups’, in which Hester Lacey wrote: ‘Philosophy has not always been the people’s choice, as landlord Noel Reilly discovered when he engaged the dissident Czech academic Dr Julius Tomin to deliver nine half-hour lectures in the beehive pub in Swindon in 1988. … Unfortunately, Dr Tomin delivered only four lectures. [I remember delivering only three lectures. J. T.] “He was a nervous man. I think the hurly-burly of the public house upset him,” said Reilly, whose attempts to turn his pub into “a place of culture” sadly ended in bankruptcy.’ (The Independent on Sunday, 19 March 1995) Let me correct Hester Lacey’s report with what Cohen wrote in ‘The Pub Philosopher’ on November 18, 1989: ‘[Tomin] is able to continue his work in Oxford’s libraries solely because Noel Reilly, the landlord of the Beehive pub in Swindon, read of his plight and decided to pay him £5000 to deliver three lectures a year to regulars. The talks are very popular. About 350 came to the last lecture at the Beehive.’ My last lecture was on ‘The Demise of Marxism’, held in the early spring of 1989. In the discussion that followed I was asked: ‘What is the future of the East European countries?’ I replied: ‘Thatcherism. The moment you realize the beauty of selling what’s not yours, it’s irresistible.’


I was engrossed in Plato and Aristotle during the first half of this month (see the previous entry in my blog ‘Plato as a critic of Aristotle’, November 14). I stopped thinking about Cohen’s ‘The Pub Philosopher’. Far from my mind was last year’s ‘Appeal to Oxford students and academics’, which I opened with the words: “Early in September I asked the Master of Balliol for permission to present my lecture on ‘Human Spiritual Nature and the X of Neurophysiologists’ at Balliol. On October 4 the Master replied: ‘It is not I fear possible to give you a platform in Balliol’. I have therefore decided to reinforce my request by action. On November 18 I stood for two hours in front of Balliol with a poster ‘A philosopher from Prague appeals to Oxford academics: LET US DISCUSS HUMAN NATURE’. A series of appeals/protests is following, which will culminate on November 18, 2014, the 25th anniversary of the events to which the date is related.”

I did begin to write my blog at the end of October in an attempt to be true to the ‘Appeal’, and the first 6 entries are in line with this intention. But then I needed a break. I invited the Master of Balliol to view my blog and in the ‘Invitation’ I wrote: “I interrupted my work on Aristotle in the middle of the 4th chapter of the 3rd book. I have now decided to return to Aristotle and finish recording the 3rd book, and only then revert to the blog. This work will take four or five days. It would be great if in the meantime you reconsidered my offer of ‘Socrates, Plato, and the Laws of Athens’ and of ‘Self-knowledge as an imperative’ and allowed me to present these two lectures at Balliol. It would mean that I could end my blog on a happy note and fully return to my work on Aristotle, which is closely connected to my work on Plato.” The entry ‘Break’ in my blog (October 6) ends with the words ‘My blog is now in the hands of the Master of Balliol’.

Unexpectedly, my reading and recording of the closing chapters of the 3rd book of the Metaphysics opened for me a completely new view of the relationship between Plato’s Parmenides on the one hand and Aristotle’s 1st and 3rd book of the Metaphysics on the other hand. I felt I had at last the key to the late Plato. Finally I began to see the second volume of The Lost Plato in clear contours in front of my eyes.

The Master of Balliol did not reply to my invitation, and it became clear to me that whatever I may do, I shall never be permitted to present at Oxford University my views on Plato, Aristotle, or on Human Nature. But I did not mind; not only that, I felt profoundly liberated.

Then I read Cohen’s article ‘Why western cynics lap up Putin’s TV poison’ (The Observer 09.11.14). Cohen writes: ‘Vladimir Putin is the world’s corrupt policeman. He finds the seediness in every country and nurtures it … Often he appears to fan corruption for the hell of it because that is all he knows how to do.’ It brought Cohen’s ‘The Pub Philosopher’ forcefully back to me. Was his portrait of Putin any less distorted than his portrait of Tomin? After publishing ‘Plato as a critic of Aristotle’ on my blog on November 14, I began to write “The 25th anniversary of Nick Cohen’s ‘The Pub Philosopher’”.

Whenever I think about Vladimir Putin, I think of the KGB in the ranks of which he had once been an officer. And then I think about Professor John Erickson, an expert on the East European armies and police, whom I heard speaking in January or February 1990 on the BBC World Service. He was explaining how it happened that the Communist Bloc dissolved so easily, without any fight. He maintained that in the late 1970s the top brass of the KGB realized that Communism had no future and began to cooperate with the MI6 and CIA on its dismantling.

Cohen’s article on Vladimir Putin made me think of Prague where I once almost got into the hands of the KGB. It was on August 22, 1968, the second day of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Russian soldiers and their armed cars were surrounding the monument of John Hus in the Old Town Square in Prague. I wrote a poster in Russian: ‘Soldiers of the occupation army, learn to think for yourselves, why we welcomed your fathers with flowers and love, while now you cannot get a piece of bread or a glass of water from us.’ I posted it on the wall of the Old Town Hall and read it aloud. I barely finished reading it, when I was seized by two Russian soldiers, dragged into the enclosure formed by the armed cars around the monument, beaten up, stepped on, my glasses broken. I was then forced to stand facing an armed car; a soldier was commanded to stand behind me with his rifle pointing at my back. Then came a new commanding officer and asked what was happening. The officer that had ordered my capture said: ‘Today we caught four Czech provocateurs and let them go, but this one must be handed over to the KGB.’ The new officer asked: ‘Are you the officer in command for today?’ He replied ‘No’. The new officer sent him packing and turned to me: ‘Explain what happened!’ – I did not reply. He obviously thought my throat was so dry I could not speak, so he ordered a soldier to bring me a flask of water. I refused to drink it. He ordered the soldier to have a sip, to show me the water was OK. I said: ‘I am not afraid it’s poisoned. The soldiers have beaten me up and now they do not even allow me to sit down.’ The officer shouted: ‘Sit down.’ I sat down, and then I said: ‘I will drink the water and talk to you only if you apologise for what your soldiers have done.’ He apologized. And so I told him what I had written on the poster. The soldiers had torn the poster to pieces and I must confess that instead of ‘Soldiers of the occupation army’ I reported to him ‘Soldiers of the Red army’.

I remember two highlights of the long talk that followed. I told him of the hitchhiking journey through East Germany I made with my wife in 1962 on our honeymoon: ‘We were in Dresden and were quite oppressed by the sight of German soldiers parading through the streets. Suddenly we saw a group of Russian soldiers; the sight warmed our hearts. Now, after what you have done to my country, I shall never again be able to look with pleasure at a soldier in Russian uniform.’ One of the soldiers that stood by shouted at me: ‘How can you say such a thing?’ I shouted back at him: ‘How dare you interrupt without permission from your officer!’ The officer told him off.

I was speaking about the Prague Spring and about our endeavour to combine socialism with freedom. In all this, a soldier standing on guard duty fell asleep and dropped his rifle. The officer shouted at him, the soldier woke up, picked up his rifle and resumed his guard duty. I said: ‘You are an old soldier and I think you fought in the Second World War. I am sure you never saw your soldiers in such a bad psychological state, so utterly demoralized and exhausted, as they are now. Why? You were led to believe that you were going to liberate us from counterrevolution, and there is no counterrevolution in this country. An officer should be properly informed about the situation into which he is leading his soldiers. When you get home, have good look at the people that misinformed you in this way.’ The officer said: ‘When we get home, we shall grab them by their throat and throttle them.’ I said: ‘I’ve been here for almost three hours. My wife must be worried. Let me go.’ – He let me go.

Then my memories carried me to Oxford of 1989. On April 3, 1989 I wrote to Mikhail Gorbachev: “May I use the opportunity of your visit to Britain to express support for glasnost and perestroika in your country, and to protest against the lack of both in Czechoslovakia? In an attempt to give my support and my protest more weight, I shall begin on Wednesday, the day of your arrival, a ten-day hunger-strike.

The lack of glasnost and perestroika in my country is for me not a matter of academic concern. In 1981, while visiting Oxford University to devote my time to Ancient Philosophy, I was deprived of my citizenship. The law which made this possible had been enacted in 1969 as a consequence of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by five Warsaw Pact countries. The responsibility for the decision to deprive me of my citizenship therefore falls on the Soviet Union as well as the Czechoslovak authorities.

Would you join the voices of hundreds of British students and academics who in recent years have petitioned the Czechoslovak authorities to restore my citizen’s rights?

When my citizenship is restored, I shall use the expert knowledge in my academic field acquired during my stay in Britain to the benefit of my country. My ambition is to open at the Charles’ University in Prague an International Centre for the study of Ancient Philosophy where academics from Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and other East European countries would regularly meet their colleagues from Britain and other Western countries to maintain our common cultural roots.’

On April 5, the day of Gorbachev’s arrival in Britain, Barry O’Brian wrote in The Daily Telegraph: ‘Dr Julius Tomin, the Czech dissident who won fame for his underground philosophy classes in the 1970s, has written to President Gorbachev and Mrs Thatcher seeking their help in regaining his lost Czechoslovak citizenship. He is starting a 10-day hunger strike at his lodgings in Oxford in support of his plea … In his letter to Mr Gorbachev, he writes … Dr Tomin, who has become a £5,000-a-year visiting philosopher to the Beehive public house in Swindon because he has been unable to get an Oxford post, tells Mrs Thatcher he is grateful to Britain for giving him refugee status. “If you would find time to bring to Mr Gorbachev’s attention the situation in Czechoslovakia, well exemplified by the case of my being deprived of Czechoslovak citizenship, my 10-day hunger strike will obtain meaning that nothing else and nobody else could convey to it.” Dr Tomin, 50, a prominent signatory of Charter 77, the manifesto of the Czech human rights movement, undertook three hunger strikes in Prague in defence of human rights in 1977-78.”

I just began my hunger strike when Noel Reilly came unexpectedly to my lodgings asking me to go with him to Swindon and hold the hunger strike in the Beehive. I accepted his offer. On the fifth or sixth day some TV reporters came either from the BBC or ITV, I don’t remember which. They made a few shots of me lying in bed, and asked me for an interview after the hunger strike. The interview was to take place on April 17.

On the last day of the hunger strike I received a letter from Reilly: ‘Greetings from Prague. Hopefully, if everything has gone according to plan, I am now protesting on your behalf in Wenceslas Square. At this moment, I am holding a poster, written in Czech and English, calling for the restoration of your Czech citizenship. If Glasnost and perestroika are to mean anything, surely these ideas must include the right to belong to one’s own country, the right to travel in and out of one’s own country and the right to speak in one’s own country.’

Reilly’s action was reported only in the local Swindon paper, no broadsheet took any notice of it. The Hillsborough Stadium disaster happened on that day. In Hidden Agendas, in the Chapter entitled ‘A Cultural Chernobyl’ John Pilger writes: ‘Eddie Spearitt and his son, Adam, went to a football game in Sheffield on April 15, 1989. They had been caught in traffic and had just enough time to find places in the allotted Liverpool terraces at Hillsborough stadium. Adam was fourteen and a devoted Liverpool supporter; and this was a critical FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. ‘We were so excited,’ said Eddie. ‘It was only when the crowd in the pen really began to build up that I got frightened.’ The ancient turnstiles became a bottle-neck as 5,000 Liverpool fans sought to gain entrance before the kick-off.  When the police eventually opened the main gates, instead of directing the fans to the open terraces they sent them into the crowded pen. Eddie and Adam were crushed in each other’s arms. Adam was one of the ninety-six fans who died.’ (Published in Vintage 1998, p. 445)

My hunger strike was forgotten; no TV crew arrived on April 17.


Then Cohen’s ‘The Pub Philosopher was published. The judgments passed by Oxford dons on me appeared to be final. Barnes said that I would not be accepted at Oxford University even as a graduate. Aware of the importance of Oxford for Prague, I applied for an undergraduate course in Classics and Classical Philosophy. In my application I wrote:

‘Classics and Classical Philosophy at Charles University in Prague are in a desolate state. The Oxford Classical Prospectus says: “The immense and persistent influence of Rome and Greece in almost every sphere of life is a fact of the history of the West, which by itself should put Classics at the root of any University worthy of the name.” Re-entering the Western World, Czechoslovakia needs to rebuild its classical studies. A direct experience of a full University education in Classics at Oxford will be invaluable both for me personally, and for my country. Charles University should reach for the best. The Classics Prospectus says further: “The pre-eminence of Oxford in classics is acknowledged throughout the world. Ask a scholar from Harvard or the Sorbonne or Toronto or Tübingen which he thinks to be the leading classics faculty, and the answer is almost sure to be Oxford.” This makes my application for the study of Classics at Oxford inevitable.’

Richard Brook, the Graduate Admission Officer and Adviser to Overseas Students wrote to me on 25.3.91: ‘I am writing to let you know that your application has now received full consideration, but I regret to have to tell you that it has not been successful.’


In my childhood, every boy in Czechoslovakia, that country behind the Iron Curtain, knew at least one English expression: fair play [férplej]. That's what England meant for us, and it was the firm belief that Oxford academics would respond positively to my invitation and that our mutual contacts would develop in the spirit of fair play that made me invite Oxford dons to my unofficial philosophy seminar in Prague in 1978. It was in that spirit that I introduced Oxford visitors to my students and critically responded to their views in my seminar.

What did my visitors think? Barbara Day writes in The Velvet Philosophers (published in 1999 by The Claridge Press, p. 45): ‘Scruton arrived on Monday 24th September … For his lecture to Tomin’s seminar, he spoke on Wittgenstein’s private language argument … he also wondered … the seminars were dominated by Tomin, and the young students were overwhelmed by his powerful personality … he also thought how much more effective they could be if the teaching were freed from the influence of personality.’

Roger Scruton wrote in ‘A catacomb culture’ (TLS, February 1990) how the ‘secret seminars’ began to flourish: ‘Tomin then emigrated and … we decided that, although our purpose was charitable … it should not be openly pursued, and that we could henceforth best help our Czechoslovak colleagues by working secretly … we won the confidence of a large network of people, none of whom knew the full extent of our operations … We therefore began to establish other, purely nominal organizations through which to pay official stipends, so that the names of our beneficiaries could not be linked either to us or to each other. In this way we helped many people … We also encouraged our French, German, American and Canadian colleagues to establish sister trusts, thereby acquiring an international dimension  … In the mid-1980s, thanks to a generous grant from George Soros (who will surely be commemorated in future years, not only as a great Hungarian patriot, but also as one of the saviours of Central Europe), we had expanded into Moravia … the organizer of our work in Slovakia, Ján Čarnogurský … was released under an amnesty and made Deputy Prime Minister … By then another of our beneficiaries was President, and within weeks we were to see our friends occupying the highest offices in the land … Among those who had worked with us we could count the new rectors of the Charles University, of the Masaryk University in Brno, and of the Palacký University in Olomouc.’


In 1980s I was allowed to give lectures and seminars at the Sub-Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford University. A parent of a student of Classics wrote to Jonathan Barnes in response to Cohen’s article: ‘I have the closest contact with some of the best of your students, and even now they are adamant that the man or woman who understands “Greek Greek” does not, with the exception of Julius Tomin, exist: certainly they do not recognize their students at Oxford as doing so. You yourself and your colleagues know this, you admit it among yourselves.’ Barnes wrote in reply: ‘What you say is a false and foolish calumny – had you made it public it would, I think, have been libellous.’

A student of mine wrote to the Editor of Oxford Today concerning ‘The Dons who went out in the cold’ (Hillary 1991): ‘You have suppressed in your article one of the most unsavoury episodes in recent Oxford history. I refer to the treatment of Dr Julius Tomin of Prague. It was on Dr Tomin’s invitation to attend seminars on Plato that the academics you describe (mainly from Balliol, one from Cambridge) went to Prague in the first place. On their expulsion, they let Dr Tomin understand that if he ever came to Oxford he would be welcome. He left Czechoslovakia in the early 1980s and since that time has been living in Oxford without ever having been offered an academic job of any kind. Indeed, he has been reduced to living in penury, surviving either on Social Security or on ad hoc charity hand-outs, as at present. He was even reduced at one stage to giving lectures in a pub to earn money. Not only this, but his colleagues in the Philosophy Faculty have completely cold-shouldered  him, or worse … The cause of this unbelievably callous behaviour is a deep-going difference of opinion between Dr Tomin and his fellow philosophers about Ancient Philosophy and the way it is taught in British and American universities today. This is no small topic, and yet instead of agreeing to meet Dr Tomin in frank and open discussion in public, the Philosophy Faculty has closed ranks and dismissed him out of hand … I must declare an interest. Dr Tomin gave me countless informal tutorials when I was an undergraduate and we have spent long hours together working on philosophical texts when I was a graduate. He is by far the best philosophy teacher I have ever had.’

On 4 December 1991 I received the following letter from M. R. Ayers, the Secretary of the Lectures Committee of the Sub-Faculty of Philosophy: ‘With respect to your offer of reading classes on Plato, starting next term, I should inform you that the Sub-Faculty deemed it inappropriate that such classes should appear on the University list.’


Shortly after my arrival at Oxford Professor Radovan Richta, the Director of the Czechoslovak Institute for Philosophy and Sociology wrote an Open Letter to Professor A. Diemer, the President of the International Federation of Philosophy Societies, stating: ‘Tomin is a man who is worth nothing in philosophy … it is self-evident that Mr Tomin would not find the means to live for a single week if he were interesting merely for what he did in philosophy … I think that people who supported and visited Mr Tomin will find themselves in a short time and on the basis of their own experience … that it was a case of one person who wanted to profit from the hopes of some circles to intensify the world crisis and to poison efforts at international cooperation.’. The letter was published in Tvorba, the Czechoslovak Communist Party cultural weekly on October 15, 1980.

I translated the Open Letter into English for Oxford dons who had visited my seminar in Prague – Kathleen Wilkes, Richard M. Hare, Steven Lukes, Alan Montefiore, William H. Newton-Smith and Anthony Kenny, the Master of Balliol – whose lectures to my students I had translated in my seminar into Czech, doing my best to translate correctly what they were saying, then challenging their thoughts in the discussions that each time followed (William H. Newton-Smith was taken away from my seminar by the Czech Secret Police before he could give his lecture). I did so in the firm belief that they would do their best to provide me with an opportunity to present to academics my contributions to philosophy and to defend my views in academic discussion.

How wrong I was!

In the wake of the student demonstration with which the Velvet revolution began in Czechoslovakia on November 17, 1989, Cohen could give the ‘The Pub Philosopher’ a ‘happy end’: ‘Last October Rude Pravo, the mouthpiece of the Czech Communist Party, happily reported Tomin’s story. Under the headline PAID TO MAKE SPEECHES, it said: “Even in a public bar words can earn money, or rather make money. The recipe for this was found in Britain by the Czech emigrant Julius Tomin. Since 1980, when he emigrated, he has struggled as hard as possible to keep going since no university has shown any interest in him. Only now he has found an audience interested in his disputations – namely a public house in Swindon. No other milieu will put up with him.”’

Early in September 2013 I asked Professor Bone, the Master of Balliol, for permission to present a lecture on ‘Human Spiritual Nature and the X of Neurophysiologists’ at Balliol. On October 4 he replied: 'Dear Professor Tomin, My apologies for apparent rudeness. You are unlikely to know that in a very small way I was involved in that struggle, as a visitor myself in odd circumstances, starting by talking about Byron and literature in general to some of those who had lost their positions in Charles after 1968, one of whom, Alois Bejblik, now sadly dead, became a close friend. It is not I fear possible to give you a platform in Balliol, but I do understand the significance of the 17th November.' – In reply I informed Professor Bone that I am not a Professor.

The text of Nick Cohen's 'The Pub Philosopher' is available on my website: http://www.juliustomin.org/images/Pub_Philosopher.pdf

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