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Posts Tagged ‘Thucydides trap’

What’s the key lesson of the Melian Dialogue? The dominant tradition has been some sort of variant on Crude Realism, from the perspective of the would-be superior power: justice only between equals, we the strong have the right to dictate and you the weak must comply, and forget all this nonsense about hope. The usual response, from those who reject such a worldview and/or, perhaps more significantly, aren’t in any position to pursue it, is to question and reject the Athenian logic, by detaching it from the authority of Thucydides and pointing to the consequences of their attitude. But of course it is also possible to be one of the Weak and nevertheless accept the logic of the Strong; like the prisoner in Life of Brian who praises the Romans for their strict approach to crime and punishment, or the cow at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, there are those who fully accept the right of others to dictate terms and exact obedience. (more…)

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Obviously the current febrile atmosphere in British politics lends itself to quotations from Thucydides’ account of the stasis at Corcyra (though I must remember to look up his narrative of the coup of the 400 as well) – but, been there, done that, still deeply depressed by the state of things. Instead, let’s quote mid-C20 Hungarian political and novelist Miklós Bánffy, who in his Transylvanian Trilogy (which I’ve never read, but clearly need to; this reference comes via the Twitter courtesy of @simonahac, as apparently his wife is reading it) looks remarkably as if he’s referencing Corcyra:

Yes, it’s the ‘Centrists piss EVERYBODY off’ bit – those who presented themselves as reasonable moderates were the first to perish. It’s not an original reading, but it is the first example I’ve stumbled across from this period. (more…)

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Either the ‘Thucydides’ Trap’ has now infiltrated France, or Bernard-Henri Lévy has been spending a lot of time in Washington lately; in either case, his latest discussion of the fate of the Kurds (French version in Le Point (£), English in Tablet) and denunciation of Trump’s USA for abandoning them invokes Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War extensively* – though not in the most illuminating manner. (more…)

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As I’ve remarked on here before, I really wish I had some grasp of Mandarin, in order to be able to get a proper sense of how Thucydides is being discussed in China: do they simply follow the conventional US international relations reading, and especially Allison’s Thucydides’s Trap theory, on the basis that this will help them understand American foreign policy thinking, or are they engaging with this and other classical texts (including Chinese ones) more creatively? A recent report from the Asia News International website (original link from @rogueclassicist) suggests the latter may be more likely, as it reports on an article from the official news agency Xinhua that speaks not of Thucydides but of the hitherto-unremarked Tacitus Trap. (more…)

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A measure of the success of an idea, or at least its temporary trendiness, is when it crops up in completely irrelevant and inappropriate places. It can only be a matter of time before ‘Thucydides’s Trap’ starts getting referenced in sports reporting (Bayern versus Red Bull Leipzig?) or pop music (Taylor Swift versus someone we haven’t heard of yet?), but at the moment it does appear compulsory to mention it in any discussion whatsoever of inter-state relations in Asia. This morning’s example comes from a piece by John Blaxland of ANU in East Asia Forum asking ‘Do the lessons of Thucydides apply to Singapore?’

Tl;dr: nope. The real question: why did anyone imagine that they would? (more…)

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There is one crucial question about Graham Allison’s ‘Thucydides’s Trap’ model of power transition and the confrontation of rising and ruling powers* that has not yet, so far as I’m aware, been asked: what sort of trap did Thucydides have in mind? Mouse? Elephant? Bear? Rat? Lobster? Honey? Because clearly this must affect how we imagine the process of being captured and the possibility, if any, of escape – and indeed the likelihood of realising that one is in a trap in the first place, before it’s too late. A basic starting assumption for such an analysis is that the idea must be based on ancient Greek hunting technology, and so, in the absence of any comment on the subject from Thucydides himself – we can safely assume his familiarity, as an Athenian aristocrat, with the basic techniques – we turn to a comparable figure in the next generation, Xenophon, and his treatise Cynegeticus, or Hunting with Dogs. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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