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Political Science
Course Code
Ryan Balot

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POL200Y1Y L5101 1
R. Balot
L2: Thucydides
May 14, 2009
3:16 PM
Thucydides as historian + theorist
Diagnosis of the Present War
Causes of War: Political Action + National Character
Justifying Imperialism?
Spartan War Council
Pericles War Speech
Pericles' Funeral Oration
Thucydides as Historian
He attempted to draw theories from specific and concrete conditions
Hence to understand/read him as a theorist we must understand his political
oe.g. his theories on the relationship between democratic ideals and emerging
Athenian imperialism
oJustice between states, etc.
He was a theorist who educates our judgment on permanent political situations
oMostly through the critical evaluation of his contemporaries
But he never states his belief in what was a utopian political system
Do his political criticism travel well and survive the ages?
Thucydides on Historical Method
oIn these pages we may begin to understand his appraisal of history/theory
oHe wishes to be judged useful by those who wish to understand events of the
past so as to understand the facets of human nature (i.e human nature within
political context)
oHe vies to diagnose human nature
Note the medical analogy
He saw the world as a world of suffering, conflict and injustice
This suffering could be represented as a disease/unhealthy
condition of the bodypolitik
The war between the Greek superpowers was a form of civil war for him
oThis in itself was a disease
oHe distinguishes his own work from poets (such as Homer) and other
'historians' (herodotus0
oHe does not wish to write an epic or a poem, but a proper history
oHe finds pleasurable words as suspect
He wishes to distinguish himself from the political rhetoric which the Athenians
depended on
oHence, he contrasts/opposes himself to the chief mode of deliberative
democratic politics which the Athenians used

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POL200Y1Y L5101 2
R. Balot
oNot a democratic exercise, but critical of democratic politics
Unchanging human nature means the events will reappear
oHence his account is philosophically ambitious than a regular historical
oHe takes the view that human nature unchanging (hence extrahistorical)
oThis especially deserves analysis
oHuman nature is extrahistorical
The particulars of contemporary politics is how to counter this
Recall that the Athenians themselves relied on their belief that they repudiated
oBut this is merely an ignorance of their own past
Thucydides believed that we as humans are conditioned/compelled by our past
oHence understanding our past can be a precondition of political improvement
At this point, it is an open question as to whether that the past is beholden to
In order to have a proper future, the Athenian democrats had to understand from
whence they came. He writes history in order to raise challenges to the democratic
self-image of his Athenian contemporaries.
Facts can be objectively known
oSpeeches cannot
oOn page 13 he once again draws a speech between speech and deed
oLogos vs. Ergon
oSpeech is untrustworthy as it
oCan block the truth
Thucydides' character's speeches are his own interpretations of what really
happened and what really motivated the speakers in their audiences
oWe must listen to these speeches with care
oAre they unaware of what they are saying? Or are they clever manipulators?
This varies, and we see both sorts. Even the greatest leaders cannot fully escape
from the ideological pressures Thucydides places upon them
He attempts to diagnose the issues as a physician
For him, the salient features of human nature are fully disclosed in human history.
Hence for him it is impossible to understand the human being without reference to
human history. This is why he chooses a moment (Pelo War) of extraordinary stress;
with this, he will journey to the core of the issue.
Diagnosis of the Present War
The past that Thucydides tries to describe stands in contrast to the deep, ancient
past. In his introduction he tries to explain the uses in which power has been put in
the process of self-advancement featured in Greek history.
Walls, ships, and liquid money (cash) are the three advancements of power which
are typically used for self-aggrandizement. Progress seems to rely on the process of
attaining more power and resources. This is distinct within the Greek tradition. Greek
poets, for example, have always sought to portray current times as a decline and
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