Friday, November 10, 2006

Thirty minutes with Thucydides

I've got a new post up over at Spot-On. It opens:

Thucydides is one of those writers much invoked but seldom read. Which is a shame, because within his History of the Peloponnesian War are some great stories about ancient Greece and several very important insights about human behavior that remain instructive today. That is not to say that the History has the winning answer to the war in Iraq or a compelling argument about how to prevent terrorist attacks. But it does offer an illustration of how the logic of war entails a dynamic relationship where one party's actions, motivated by what Thucydides (and Hobbes) calls a "necessity of nature," can and usually does drive its opponents to reciprocate and often escalate the violence.

I cannot imagine that Thucydides would be surprised by the course of the war in Iraq or by the April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate's finding that that war is creating more jihadists. And though he might not counsel Washington to continue on its present course, he certainly would not be shocked if it did so. His view is tragic, after all.

The History is a source of wisdom, not an instruction manual. It shows what happens within a society that ignores the logic of war. Not that the non-scholar should read the entire History; I did so in graduate school and can confidently state that vast sections may be avoided. Yet the Melian Dialogue and the Mytilenian Debate are among the episodes well worth the trouble: you can read them both in less time than it takes to watch a single re-run of Fear Factor.

Click here to read the rest.

--Marshal Zeringue