Posts Tagged ‘analogy’

What can Thucydides tell us about the current state of global politics and the likely direction of future developments? As I’m writing a book for Princeton UP called What Thucydides Knew, it does suit me very well that people keep asking this question – even if they then keep offering the same tedious answers. I struggle to see, for example, what contribution this morning’s op ed in the New York Times makes to our understanding of anything, beyond the fact that it’s a Colonel in the People’s Liberation Army trotting out boilerplate Thucydides Trap stuff about tensions in the South China Sea, rather than one of the usual suspects.

It’s a bonus, therefore, when someone offers a new and potentially interesting take on the question, even if I disagree with a lot of it.* (more…)

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See Part One here.

July A month of very conflicted emotions. On the one hand, back in Berlin; on the other hand, Brexit. On the one hand, the remarkable pleasure to be gained from the Ablehnung of a Ruf, and an opportunity to reflect on the sheer weirdness of German academic appointment processes; on the other hand, Brexit, and the thought that a job in Germany might be no bad thing. On the one hand, some actual research into cheap translations of Thucydides (though not in a REF-able publication, unless the rules change dramatically in the near future); on the other hand, my most-read post of the year on, you guessed it, Brexit(more…)

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So it begins. It seems a reasonable bet that the election of Trump will join Brexit in the category of Momentous Events of 2016, at least within the horizon of l’histoire événementielle, joining various developments whose significance we haven’t recognised yet in hammering an extra stake into the heart of that ‘End of History’ nonsense. But the beginning of what? Competing narratives before the election seemed to be offering a choice between the Return of American Greatness and the Rise of the New Nazis as the likely outcome; now that it’s actually happened, we can add ‘small earthquake, relatively little damage’ predictions like Trump as the new Berlusconi to the mix. History offers us a myriad of possibilities; we don’t know which one (if any) is the better comparison, or how far our choice is driven by emotions (fear, hope, desire, loathing) rather than any sort of reason. History offers comfort, if that’s what we’re looking for; it offers reasonable grounds for buying gold and a copy of The Zombie Survival Handbook. It doesn’t offer any kind of certainty. (more…)

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There is a world in which the following would be a sure-fire hit… A panel of respected and yet suitably media-friendly academics: ancient historian, International Relations theorist, U.S. Naval War College person, Straussian. John Oliver as host controls the ever-spinning Wheel of Bewildering Succession of Events. It stops randomly on a moment – US Election! Brexit! European Economic Meltdown! Labour Party Crisis! Syria! Swift/Hiddleston! – and the panelists take it in turns* to show how a particular passage of Thucydides illuminates the situation. The key point is that each passage can be played only once, so no repetitive invocation of ‘The strong do what they want, the weak suffer what they must” as if the Melian Dialogue is the only thing Thucydides wrote**; you need to make a strategic choice whether to play one of the familiar passages as early as possible for low points, or hang back and risk someone else grabbing it first.

This does need a suitable name… I’m currently inclined to go with the meme and call it The Thucydides Trap – but only if there can be an actual Trap, depositing players in a tank full of mutated sea bass or sending them into exile for ten years for doing something egregious like misattributing quotations, e.g. the ‘Justice will not come to Athens…’ thing, or invading Iraq.

I think this would work. In the meantime, I’m getting ready for a panel discussion on ‘Die Aktualität von Thukydides’ as part of the FU Berlin’s International Week (see https://www.topoi.org/event/35076/), and having now redrafted my notes at least seven times in last two days in the light of changing events, the idea of just being presented with a topic to talk about holds some appeal…

*Quickest to the buzzer would be unfair on the Straussians, most of whom seem to be somewhat elderly.

**For obvious reasons, Realists and Neorealists don’t win this game very often…

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One of the hazards of studying references to Thucydides in contemporary public debate is that, after a while, you start to anticipate them, and develop pre-emptive analysis. Clearly there are people who can’t see an international crisis without thinking of a Peloponnesian War analogy; I seem to be turning into someone who can’t see an international crisis without thinking of what Peloponnesian War analogy these people are likely to think of – which occasionally means I end up drawing parallels that no one else bothers to develop. (more…)

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