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Posts Tagged ‘Thucydides trap’

WAG the Dog

Somewhere on my ever-expanding list of ‘Things it would be really cool to try if I wasn’t already deep into time/energy/sleep deficit’ is the idea of a video series called Thucydides Explains It All, in which the incomparable wisdom of Thucydides would be applied to the analysis of contemporary issues – not just vacuous speculation about China, but things that actually matter to people. Case in point, which is why I thought of this again yesterday: the Rooney-Vardy bust-up. It was the rise of a new generation of WAGs, and the fear of media obsolescence this aroused in the established influencers, that made conflict inevitable… My wife suggested that I ought to buy a false beard and present these videos as Thucydides; I would much rather hire the brilliant animators who did the ‘Heavyweight Champion Historian’ video, so if anyone out there has lots of money and fancies sponsoring this project… (more…)

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Everyone in the world has forgotten Thucydides. Everyone except Jill…

Suppose that the text of Thucydides never made it out of Constantinople before it was sacked; no Latin translation by Lorenzo Valla, no French translation by Claude de Seyssel, no English version from Thomas Hobbes, just a few passing mentions in authors like Cicero that don’t really convey much about what the work must have been like. No elevation of him as the model critical historian by nineteenth-century Germans; no quotes from the Funeral Oration on war memorials or in speeches; no Henry Kissinger, no Neorealism, no Neocons. (more…)

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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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