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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. a gas mixture is made by combining 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. gas hydrates india Or rather, in the sphere of political thinking, broadly defined, the trick is to use Thucydides to tear down opposing ideas as illusions and delusions, with the implication that what’s left at the end is real and incontestable. Nietzsche dismisses Plato with the claim that he flees from reality into the ideal; Thucydides has the courage to face reality – which, at least for half an hour or so (one doesn’t look for consistency in Nietzsche) is taken to be really real, not just a different set of stories. electricity cost per kwh by country IR Realism dismisses the idea that ethics or ideals can play any significant role in the world, in favour of the absolute rule of power – taken to be an unavoidable feature of the world as given to us, not a choice or a belief. gas leak los angeles california Thucydides’ stripping away of all illusion works to present one’s favoured beliefs as not illusionary at all.

This post was prompted by the rather nice example of an article by Bruce Thornton on whether feckless millennials can be rescued from the siren song of socialism. electricity flow chart This opens with the neat trick of condemning both Karl Rove’s recent call for the marshalling of arguments against socialism and the whole progressive agenda as manifestations of a 2500-year-old belief in the power of rational argument to improve human life, exemplified by Plato, already comprehensively demolished by his contemporaries [sic.] Thucydides and Sophocles. electricity youtube The status quo is naturalised, while any proposal to change it is dismissed as self-indulgent utopianism; and the defenders of that status quo are simply accepting the reality of things, exempted from the more general criticism of humans for irrationality and self-serving delusion. gas laws worksheet with answers Faction is always the other guys; attempts at changing society always end in bloody disaster, so the resistance of older generations to any attacks on their privilege is always a selfless, rational rejection of the politics of self-indulgence.

Yeah, right. I mean, it’s undeniable that Thucydides had little respect for people’s tendency towards wishful thinking – but he was equally unimpressed by confident, cynical claims to understand the way the world works. power per kwh The fact that the Melians appeal to justice and principle and still get slaughtered does not mean that the Athenians are right in their claims about the nature of the world. Rather, we’re shown that the sorts of arguments people put forward, and the beliefs that underpin them, are at least partly determined by their circumstances – much as the baby boomers for whom Thornton claims to speak see their current comfortable circumstances as a just reward for virtue, unjustly threatened by the politics of envy and resentment, while the coming crisis (which will confront cosseted millennials with harsh reality) is not their responsibility at all. It’s like the Athenians after the Sicilian disaster: shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover that young people are disaffected and inequality is rife, as if they had never voted for such policies.

The unexpected effect of this article was to make me feel oddly sympathetic towards Karl Rove, otherwise associated with the worst excesses of Dubya imperialism: a commitment to arguing against ‘socialism’ (meaning wishy-washy social democracy by European standards) is surely preferable to a contemptuous dismissal of any attempt at communicating with the vulgar irrational masses. Rove believes in politics; Thornton’s world is anti- or pre-political, a weird combination of a Hobbesian state of nature and a natural aristocracy in which everything comes down to ‘character’ (citing Thucydides again).

It’s an open question as to whether Thucydides intended his critique of human folly to justify smug elitist quietism, as opposed to improving the quality of political deliberation through greater understanding. But regardless of his unknowable intentions, we as readers have a choice about how we use it: to invoke his authority to dismiss everything we dislike as foolish idealism, or to follow his example in questioning every illusion, including our own…