Thucydides' Theory of International Relations
A Lasting Possession
edited by Lowell S. Gustafson
Throughout history, readers of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War have long sought to apply its lessons to the problems of their times. In that tradition, the authors of these essays explore Thucydides’ observations on the human condition in an effort to comprehend their modern world of more than 2,400 years later.
The nine contributors find that Thucydides is not only the descriptive historian he is commonly said to be, but also a sophisticated theorist of international relations who emphasized the use of history to interpret the international conditions of his day and had a profound understanding of realism and pluralism, of the relationship between internal and international politics, and of the role of culture in world affairs.
Thucydides’ work remains worth reflecting on because it challenges the reader to understand the concept of greatness in leadership and to carefully observe what war can reveal about human affairs. Reconsidering Thucydides’ thought in the post–Cold War world—in which the United States is the foremost military power—the essayists find lessons in his writing that they maintain must be included in a modern understanding of greatness, including the idea that sustained preeminence must incorporate virtue, goodness, and justice. Thucydides, they show, was a savvy ancient who would today demand a fundamental reexamination of certain prevailing assumptions about the character of political life—assumptions the source of which contemporary realists often erroneously attribute to Thucydides himself.
The confusion and disagreements about the proper interpretation of Thucydides’ work echo the deepest confusion and disagreements about the meaning of politics and the character of human existence. An illuminating dialogue about the place of Thucydides in modern thought, Thucydides’ Theory of International Relations, therefore, is an invitation to reunite the study of international relations with political philosophy in the broadest sense.
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