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Thucydides a Classical Realist



Thucydides (460BC or Earlier) is one of the earliest ancient greek classical realist thinker or scholar who made great contribution in the field of International relations , state behaviour  and Relations between states.
● Thucydides saw as the inevitable competition and conflict between ancient Greek city-states (which together composed the cultural-linguistic civilization known as Hellas) and between Hellas and neighbouring non-Greek empires, Such as Macedonia and Persia Neither the states of Hellas nor their non-Greek neighbours were in any sense equal.
● On the contrary, they were substantially unequal: there were a few ‘great powers’ - such as Athens, Sparta, and the Persian Empire, and many smaller and lesser powers-such as the tiny island statelets of the Aegean Sea. That inequality was considered to be inevitable and natural. A distinctive feature of Thucydides’ brand of realism is thus its naturalist character.
Aristotle said that ‘man is a political animal’.
Thucydides said in effect that political animals are highly unequal in their powers and capabilities to dominate others and to defend themselves. All states, large and small, must adapt to that given reality of unequal power and conduct themselves accordingly. If states do that, they will survive and perhaps even prosper. if states fail to do that, they will place themselves in jeopardy and may even be destroyed. Ancient history is full of many examples of states and empires, small and large, which were destroyed.
● So Thucydides emphasizes the limited choices and the restricted sphere of manoeuvre available to rulers in the conduct of foreign policy. He also emphasizes that decisions have consequences; before any final decision is made, a decision maker should have carefully thought through the likely consequences, bad as well as good. In pointing that out, Thucydides is also emphasizing the ethics of caution and prudence in the conduct of foreign policy in an international world of great inequality, of restricted foreign-policy choices, and of ever-present danger as well as opportunity. Foresight, prudence, caution, and judgement are the characteristic political ethics of classical realism that Thucydides and most other classical realists are at pains to distinguish from private morality and the principle of justice. If a country and its government wish to survive and prosper, they better pay attention to these fundamental political maxims of international relations.
● In his famous study of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE) Thucydides put his realist philosophy into the mouths of the leaders of Athens--a great power--in their dialogue with the leaders of Melos---a minor power--during a moment of conflict between the two city-states in 416 BCE. The Melians made an appeal to the principle of justice, which to them meant that their honour and dignity as an independent state should be respected by the powerful Athenians. But, according to Thucydides, justice is of a special kind in international relations. it is not about equal treatment for all, because States are in fact unequal Rather, it is about recognizing your relative strength or weakness, about knowing your proper place, and about adapting to the natural reality of unequal power. Thucydides therefore let the Athenians reply to the
Melian appeal.
● That is probably the most famous example of the classical realist understanding of international relations as basically an anarchy of separate States that have no real choice except to operate according to the principles and practices of power politics in which security and survival are the primary values and war is the final arbiter.

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