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May 15 - Thucydides.doc

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University of Toronto St. George
Political Science
Ryan Balot

POL200Y1 Prof. R. Balot by:A Orellana May 15, 2013 Thucydides - Lecture 2 • Thucydides is a serious political philosopher worthy of brief study • we must remember that Thucydides wrote during democraticAthens and sets up the context of what Plato and Aristotle wrote • set between 431 - 404 BC: fifth century • Athens and Sparta are the key players and big powers of this study Sparta (powers on land) andAthens (powers at sea) had led a coalition of Greek power against Persia which was • victorious • they began to exert control over many Greek islands and cities: ‣ to protect Greece ‣ to assert “top dog” status Sparta • Sparta ruled the Peloponnesian lands - hence the name ‘the Peloponnesian wars’ • Thucydides was notorious for never admitting his faults • Thucydides probed questions by looking at specific details of the Peloponnesian war • he thought that by narrating and offering speeches he could illicit a study on human nature • Thucydides believed that there was a single knowable conception of what human nature is • He does not elaborate on an ideal form of government - he merely offers a critical evaluation • we must ask ourselves: do his thoughts and ideas travel well for our times? On historical method (p. 12-13) • He wants to look to history in order to diagnose human nature • throughout the text he offers a medical analogy (diagnosis) • saw the world in which he lived in as one of suffering, injustice and conflict ‣ a disease he wanted to diagnose, as a healthy condition of the body of politics • p.13 - he means to distinguish himself particularly from Homer • also distinguishing himself from the pleasures of political rhetoric • his work is not meant to be popular but rather superior, philosophical and ambitious; he will give us a lasting insight of human nature why show human nature through history and not other means? • p.12 - theAthenians have a lot of national myths, they were ignorant of their own paths; they lack self understanding • they built their politics on a myth • p.13 - past made up of deeds as well as speeches • he opposes ergon (deed) and logos (speech) • he believes speech is deceptive, and one can only rely on hard facts • he gives reasons for discrediting speech - it is always based on opinion and it always conflicts with the listener’s views • he is inviting us to listen to political rhetoric w/ great care and look into the motivations for speakers to speak • the deeds that lie beneath the words may not come off in the speech but may have ulterior motives • he discredits speech as it is unreliable - it was the preferred medium through which the rich deceived social inferiors; it was corrupting, influential and persuasive • he claims that his speech is superior - yet there are some conflicts as he believes there are two types of speech: fact-based (which he writes), and the political rhetoric (which is used by poets and artists) POL200Y1 Prof. R. Balot by:A Orellana May 15, 2013 • he refers to the idea that theAthenians celebrate Harmodius andAristogiton as being liberators when if fact it was an inaccurate account Diagnosis: politics in general • Thucydides describes three key technologies of power ‣ walls - to keep enemies out ‣ ships - sea power is the ultimate source of power ‣ liquid cash - money you can use • these three will be used for self-aggrandizing by the powers that be • human beings have gotten better at using these to exercise power over others • this notion of progress is distinctive as they use progress as a process of decline • Thucydides had the idea that human kind has continually made progress towards power • • p. 15 - the greatness of the Peloponnesian war is the most devastating war in terms of the suffering caused ‣ power causes pathos ‣ war causes suffering, thus he is a critic of war • one of the way it causes pathos is civil conflict • he’s working towards the idea that the Greek world had once been united • they were related as an ethnic group the Peloponnesian war can be read as a civil war amongst Greeks themselves • • he represents himself as presenting a diagnosis; as a pathology of civil war - a plague • he wants to understand what brought about this plague • we must ask ourselves: is war an ever present necessity? • Spartans were also known as Lacedaemonians Causes of war and idea of national character the parties involved were different characters that came from different regimes • • p. 16: he states that the cause of war was mainly fear • then shows accusations and self justifications for both sides aka logos Speech of the Corinthians • they were allies of Sparta in conflict w/the Spartans over the siege of a nearby city • they accuse Spartans of being hypocrites • Spartans should embody military courage to the highest possible degree • but Athens has expanded power while Sparta has not • they are trying to make Spartans afraid ofAthenians for they will face a power they do not know - but knowing your enemy is key in war • they are an innovative democratic society, a sea power; they have an economy based on trade and imperialism • Thucydides is inviting us to examine oligarchy and democracy Corinthians emphasized theAthenian novelty - they have the three key technologies of power • • thus theAthenians are prototypical imperialists • Corinthian speech asks: is democracy the innovative political regime - does innovation equate success and justice? • is there a contradiction between democracy and justice? POL200Y1 Prof. R. Balot by:A Orellana May 15, 2013 ‣ central idea of democracy = freedom ‣ to pursue your own interests w/in public and private life ‣ problems: how can democracy establish political unity if it invites all to pursue their own interests? - - Corinthians stress Athenian patriotism - but where does the desire to sacrifice for the common good arise when people are in a democracy? - they price ideals only amongst themselves - how can they value it when they create a hierarchy in which they are superior - their commitment is incoherent Speech of theAthenians • they see themselves as statesmen - like leaders of the other Greeks • they want to refute the charges of injustice but accept that they hold the power • they are not imperialists, rather they are leaders - they claim to exercise a kind of enlightened hegemony • they link their daring and innovativeness w/the idea that they are worthy of the empire • if imperialism looks unjust it is only because their leaders proved themselves worthy of holding the empire • whereas the Spartans are unworthy - they stayed and defended they own lands only • modern world e.g.: US has great power because of their contribution to WWII ‣ the impartiality of the argument is contradictory • theAthenians say that their hegemony is justified b/c they are good leaders but they also say they don’t need to argue about justice - in international relations it is known that the strong will rule, and only questioned when the weak whine • Thucydides makes it clear that theAthenians are slippery in their speech as they justify being imperialists but say they don’t need to justify it as well • everybody knows they are not equal to their allies - but the allies take them to court, thus not withholding that mode of power gives credence to the idea that they are not imperialists - they hold more power than the other “allies” • the slipperiness of political rhetoric is Thucydides’main point with this speech Spartan response - Speech ofArchidamus Athenians are rational and novel idealists • • but Sparta has its own way of looking at these problems • king Archidamus and magistrate Sthenelaidas were the main players in this story • Spartan king accepts that justice does not matter in international relations thus he is considered a realist the crucial question is one of advantage - what course of action is most advantageous not just • • in asking that question, he faced a serious obstacle, as the culture of Sparta prided military success above all else (the notion was at the top of social ladder of values) • he believed theAthenians were superior in military power so he wanted to recommend power through peace but thought it would seem cowardly if he did p.28-29 - he motivates the Spartans to vote for war in a clever way • ‣ instead of having them shout their vote as usual, he got them
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