A quick addendum to my previous post; it was reassuring to hear that Thucydides has indeed started to be cited in the context of the Ukraine and Crimea, in a letter to the Financial Times published in Wednesday from the former British ambassador to Russia, Tony Brenton. Final paragraph:
It will be argued that big states no longer decide the destinies of small states in this way, and that Russia’s action is a throwback to a now extinct era of “hard power”. I’m afraid it has always been a fond delusion that great power politics today operate any differently from in all previous times. Thucydides is still right.
Melian Dialogue revealing fundamental and universal principles of human existence, check. Thucydides as the pitiless, illusion-free analyst of the way things really are, rather than the way we wish they were, check. Thucydides as a stick with which to beat the optimistic “this time it’s different” brigade, check. All we need now is someone to point out what happened next; is Russia about to embark on its own Sicilian Expedition, drunk with the hubris exhibited in its treatment of the Ukrainians?
Incidentally, I was asked, after I’d mentioned this letter at the close of the recent Warburg conference on The Afterlife of Herodotus and Thucydides (on which I really ought to blog if I can find any time), why I found it reassuring that this letter had appeared. Not, I should stress, because I think we all ought to be discussing Thucydides at this time, but simply because it confirmed my predication. IR people (and, clearly, ambassadors) being what they are, Thucydides’ account will be found to be relevant and useful in more or less any historical situation in the future…