I’ve only just come across this example of the use of Thucydides in a discussion of contemporary international relations (thanks to Ben Earley for the reference): according to an article in the Financial Times by Graham Allison, Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, relations between China and the USA need to be understood in terms of the ‘Thucydides trap’, the inevitable tension that arises when a rising power rivals a ruling power:
Thucydides wrote of these events: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.” Note the two crucial variables: rise and fear. The rapid emergence of any new power disturbs the status quo. In the 21st century, as Harvard University’s Commission on American National Interests has observed about China, “a diva of such proportions cannot enter the stage without effect”. Never has a nation moved so far, so fast, up the international rankings on all dimensions of power. In a generation, a state whose gross domestic product was smaller than Spain’s has become the second-largest economy in the world. If we were betting on the basis of history, the answer to the question about Thucydides’s trap appears obvious. In 11 of 15 cases since 1500 where a rising power emerged to challenge a ruling power, war occurred.
It does make an interesting change to see the US characterised as Sparta rather than Athens, the normal comparison; (more…)
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Just a quick cross-platform plug for my new piece on the reception of Pericles’ Funeral Oration over at Aeon, a new online magazine with a whole load of articles well worth reading, besides this one. No comments on it, unfortunately, despite all my efforts last week at getting online – despite being in the depths of the Bayerischer Wald – in case I needed to respond to anything…
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Interesting that, more or less the moment I finish writing a piece for Aeon magazine (due to appear 22nd October) on the use of Pericles’ Funeral Oration on war memorials and in remembrance services for the war dead (the short version: this happens a lot, and is somewhat problematic), David Cameron makes his announcement about plans for the celebration of the centenary of the First World War. Don’t I mean ‘commemoration’ rather than ‘celebration’? I wish I could feel more confident about that. Yes, that’s the word he used, but it’s a pretty odd sort of commemoration:
…a commemoration that captures our national spirit in every corner of the country, from our schools and workplaces, to our town halls and local communities. A commemoration that, like the diamond jubilee celebrations this year, says something about who are as a people.
Yes, he eventually gets round to mentioning the fact that people died – and the mention of 16 million shows that he’s not just talking about the British and their allies – but then he rapidly switches back to the national theme: their “sacrifice” was made for us, and made us what we are today. The notion that the whole thing was a senseless waste of life, exploiting the patriotic feelings of the populations of many nations for the sordid self-interest and over-weening arrogance of their politicians and ruling-classes – a version that is promoted by conservative historians as much as anyone – doesn’t enter the picture. Remembering the dead is an occasion for us to be persuaded to feel good about ourselves as a nation, not an occasion to curse nationalism. (more…)
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