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IR theorists misrepresent Thucydides

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Subject

Thucydides in IR theory.

Significance

Current China-US tensions have been explained in terms of a ‘Thucydides trap’. The ancient Athenian Thucydides wrote about the Peloponnesian war against Sparta. A distinguished academic, Graham Allison, has extrapolated from his text the principle that war between an established power (such as the United States) and an up-and-coming rival (China) is more likely than not.

Impacts

  • Military academies will continue teaching Thucydides, as junior officers value his interest in tactics and morale.
  • With fewer students studying ancient Greek, academics will rely more on others’ translations of Thucydides.
  • Thucydides’ insistence upon establishing the truth and his study of decision-making in Athens’ direct democracy will retain their relevance.
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