Exit Viewer

Restoring Thucydides: Testing Familiar Lessons and Deriving New Ones By Andrew R. No ...

Chapter :  Introduction
Read
image Next
Restoring Thucydides:

in recounting the actions of leaders and their states in a factual manner. But praise for Thucydides does not stop with recognizing his devotion to the facts and historical tradecraft. Thucydides has been hailed as the “most celebrated and admired” historian of war.4 He retains a particular preeminence within international relations (IR) and strategic studies, and his influence goes far beyond those disciplines.

Thucydides’s work has been recognized as significant since it was written. Excavations of ancient papyri have uncovered Thucydides side by side with Plato, the Bible, and the great plays of Athens, demonstrating his prominence within the classical “canon.”5 Literary references attest to Thucydides’s importance throughout antiquity where his work remained a “seminal and popular text.”6 It served as both source and inspiration for a succession of historians, beginning with Xenophon and continuing through Polybius, Plutarch, and Cassius Dio to Procopius.7 The style of the public speeches presented in Thucydides became a model for later audiences, either to praise or reject.8 The political dilemmas the orators debated became the stock-in-trade of every classical teacher of rhetoric.9

Thucydides’s salience to scholarship has endured over the centuries. In just the past five years, his iconic book has staked its claim on the future of international politics through the creation of an alleged “Thucydides’s Trap”—a metaphor for the (almost) inevitable conflict between China and the United States.10 Because of The History’s focus on state actors and great power politics interspersed with theoretical insights and philosophical analysis, the book serves as an ur text for international relations scholarship. Its contribution to understanding foreign policy decisions and the origins of war have proven particularly significant.

For hundreds of years, The History has remained a credible source of policy prescriptions for policymakers. Few books have had a wider, more sustained impact in bridging the gap between the academy and the policy world. Yet neither Thucydides’s History nor interpretations stemming from it are above reproach. A tendency to treat his pronouncements on international politics as gospel is as flawed as it is dangerous. Appealing