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Posts Tagged ‘realism’

It’s always going to be the case, I reassure myself, that when exploring the reception of a particular classical author or theme across the whole range of scholarship and other writing in a given period, you’re bound to miss loads of examples – at least until everything gets digitised and is easily searchable. All you can do is hope that new things coming to light don’t radically undermine what you’ve claimed, or, if they do, at least do it in an interesting way – and that it’s not utterly embarrassing that you didn’t find the reference in the first place. Beyond that, well, it’s one of the great advantages of having a blog that I can simply post an update to a previously published article (it would of course be even better if I could post a link on that article to the update), so I don’t have to feel too regretful that I wasn’t able to discuss this at the time… (more…)

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Just Disillusion

The idea of Thucydides as a man without illusions, who sees the world as it really is rather than as he or anyone else might like it to be, is a dominant strand in his modern reception. It lies at the heart of the historiographical representation of him as someone not merely impartial but genuinely objective; it underpins Nietzsche’s rhetorical contrast between Thucydides and Plato, and Arnold Toynbee’s portrait of a man “broken” by the events of his time who then puts himself back together; and of course it’s the foundation of the whole Realist tradition in International Relations.

No illusions, no arguments, no hope; take all that away, and what’s left? Me. (more…)

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I’ve never seen the whole of The Phantom Menace,* only odd five- or ten-minute snatches here and there, generally with the sound turned down, but over the years this has been enough to build up an overall impression of the film. This has tended to confirm the comments of various critics that it’s basically a number of show-piece action sequences interspersed with long discussions of galactic politics and trade embargoes with the Naboo, that could easily have been edited down into something a bit punchier. Some critics have said similar things about Thucydides – though in this case the temptation is to skip the battles and action sequences** to get to the meaty political debates, rather than vice versa. There is also, thankfully, no equivalent of Jar Jar Binks. Thucydides doesn’t really do comedy, even if it seriously cuts his margins on the merchandising.

How should one read Thucydides? Or, as I put the question at the end of the last blog post, do you really have to read all of it? (more…)

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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…

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