Further evidence of the ‘Thucydidean Moment’ of 2017 – and, yes, I’m aware that J.G.A. Pocock’s ‘Machiavellian Moment’ lasted rather longer than a fortnight – comes in this morning’s Financial Times Alphaville blog, with a post from Matthew C. Klein responding to last week’s Politico article and drawing on his own experiences of reading Thucydides in a class led by Donald Kagan. I rather liked this piece, for its cautions against simplistic readings – and not just because it included links to a couple of my recent posts.

However, it does offer as matters of fact a couple of arguable interpretations. Continue Reading »

European Echoes

OldenburgWhere is Europe? It’s perhaps not the most obvious answer, but one possibility is: sitting in the elegant Kulturzentrum PFL in Oldenburg the week before last with a mixture of academics, activists, trade unionists, students and regular citizens, listening to an elderly trio playing 1950s British trad jazz a la Chris Barber and Ken Colyer as the introduction to a podium discussion on the theme Wo ist Europa? And, yes, I should have got a photo of the band, rather than this rather off-putting one of the panel. Continue Reading »

When I first began putting together a research project on the modern reception and influence of Thucydides, and writing funding applications, the big ‘hook’ – the thing that was going to persuade reviewers of the contemporary relevance of the theme – was Thucydides’ infiltration of the G.W. Bush White House. Irving Kristol’s claim that he was the favourite author of the Neocons, the relationship between Donald Kagan and the Project for a New American Century, and – from a less bellicose perspective, Colin Powell’s love of the (fake) Thucydides quote about manifestations of power and restraint, were not intended to be the central focus of the project, but they showed the importance of understanding the context of such readings, the traditions of reception and reinterpretation that made powerful people think, or at least claim, that Thucydides speaks to the present.

Here we are again, with a new article on ‘Why everyone in the White House is reading Thucydides’ suggesting the Obama adminstration’s relative restraint in such matters (occasional references from Martin Dempsey when Chair of the Joint Chiefs) was just a blip.* Continue Reading »

I’ve written on a number of occasions about Graham Allison’s ‘Thucydides Trap’ idea and why I disagree with it – indeed, I imagine that this is why the viewing stats for this blog have risen appreciably in recent weeks – but there’s nothing like reading someone else’s critical but largely wrong-headed review to prompt a bit of reflection. Arthur Waldron’s review in the Straits Times (which I first encountered via SupChina – and is that the worst name for a site ever?) has been widely circulated on the Twitter (at any rate by the normal standards of Thucydides-related references) with a measurable atmosphere of glee and Schadenfreude. It seems that a fair number of people want Allison to be not just wrong but catastrophically wrong – Ian Buruma’s New Yorker review is just as critical of Allison but much more measured, and hasn’t been nearly so widely cited as a result – and Waldron gives them what they want.

Waldron’s opening sentences are brutal – and frankly bizarre: Continue Reading »

It is a bizarre but entirely undiscussed paradox that the alleged technological underdevelopment and primitivist mindset of the ancient world – see M.I. Finley and his followers – was often illustrated by the story (Pliny NH 36.195, Petronius Satyricon 51) of the man who brought to the Emperor Tiberius a goblet made of unbreakable glass, that did not shatter when dropped and could be made perfectly whole again if damaged – and was put to death for his pains. “Hostility to innovation!” they cry. “And isn’t it significant that an inventor went to the emperor for a reward, not to a hi-tech start-up for capital investment?” Well, maybe. But the most important questions are: what was this material, and where did it come from? Continue Reading »

[guest post from the official #CthulhuUK campaign]

If you are exposed to a vacuum, the tears that moisten and protect the outside of your eyeballs will evaporate within seconds. I therefore urge you: DO NOT attempt to read the Conservative Party’s 12-point Plan For Brexit! I, mighty Cthulhu, guarantee the continuing flow of tears over moist, succulent eyeballs. My 13-point Plan for Brexit is truly of the abyss, not merely abysmal.

1. Certainty and clarity that the land *will* be laid waste and your children and grandchildren will curse your name as they cower in makeshift shelters from the Fungi from Yuggoth.

2. End feeble attempts of EU institutions to ban noble British tradition of human sacrifice.

3. Unite all parts of the Union in suffering.

4. Restore historical tradition of wrecking Ireland as well.

5. Cut off all contact with so-called civilisation.

6. Foreigners will be treated in just the same way as natives [evil chuckle]

7. Worker’s rights. Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

8. Free cake.

9. Exciting new trading opportunities with Ulthar, Kadath in the Cold Waste and the Plateau of Leng.

10. A new technological revolution, as we return you to the Stone Age.

11. Full cooperation with global terror.

12. A smooth, orderly detachment of Britain from mundane reality.

13. Brexit means Brexit means Bragnarök!

A vote for any other party risks handing over management of the forthcoming apocalypse to weak, indecisive humans who are simply dying to backslide on the self-destructive instincts of the British people. Take back control from so-called experts and their rational calculations! #CthulhuUK

A new, and particularly useless, Thucydides misattribution; last night, a Twitter account largely dedicated to retweeting hard-line anti-Islamic and anti-climate change remarks from people like Richard Spencer and Paul Joseph Watson offered its own wannabe meme on the OneLove concert in Manchester: “THUCYDIDES said “while your houses are on fire, you sing.” Well, no, of course he didn’t, and there is precisely zero indication on the internet that anyone has ever suggested that he did – it’s actually taken from Aesop (no.54 in Perry’s index) – so this seems a clear-cut case of fake Thucydideana actually being created; Aesop much too fuzzy and associated with childhood to legitimise such a denunciation of modern liberalism, so let’s turn to the authoritative, hard-nosed Realist Thucydides. Thankfully the account has only 74 followers, and this tweet has been liked and retweeted only once each, so with a bit of luck it’s the last as well as the first we’ll be seeing of it…

Update: yes, I think we’ve nipped this in the bud. The account in question initially came back with an “indeed the quote is from Aesop but said to be quoted by Thucydides for the stupidity of the Athenians but nevertheless fits the British well”; on being asked for a reference, he blocked the Thucydiocy Bot (and described it as a “Jihadi-loving cuck”) – but corrected the quote. Victory!