Thucydides and Social Processes: Beyond Tragedy

Koutsoukis, Alexandros orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-1533-9245 (2023) Thucydides and Social Processes: Beyond Tragedy. In: The Palgrave Handbook of International Political Theory. International Political Theory, I . Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 47-68. ISBN 978-3-031-36110-4

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Theories of international relations tend to reduce Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War (the History) to a tragic narrative. International thinkers of war, like Machiavelli, Hobbes or Clausewitz, also overemphasise fear and tragedy in their readings of history. Thucydides, however, offers deeper psychological insights than these classic thinkers, and a more ambiguous reading of history than the one afforded by tragedy. This chapter reads the History in a non-tragedy-centric way. It instead focuses on the role of three social processes: civilisation, war and civil war. It demonstrates the limitations of simplistic event comparisons, like that between the siege of Melos and the campaign of the Spartan General Brasidas in Northern Greece, highlights the Thucydidean ambiguities of the narrative in the latter case, and suggests a reading that reconciles them. From this viewpoint, Brasidas’ military and diplomatic campaign is an example of the ability of strategy to mobilise people, shift power balances, shape identities and reinvigorate the civilising process; the master social process of Thucydides. Ultimately, this novel interpretation of Thucydides illuminates challenges and opportunities of grand strategy and supports a view of international politics that is processual.

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