Is Thucydides a Realist

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The human condition and its significance to International Relations have been in debate for centuries. Classical Realist thought has focused on the inherently aggressive and selfish nature of man and assumed that it is these qualities that ensure war and conflict are inevitable aspects of human society. Alternatively, neo-realism emphasises the system structure of international politics. R.J. McShea discusses the significance of the human nature tradition throughout the study of international relations. The endeavour to rid the world of the evil of war and the advancement of the conditions for peace have been developed from the assumption that the interaction of the states, and the way they ought to conduct relations among themselves, are dependent upon the nature of man. Thucydides' "History of the Peloponnesian War" is such a study of international relations. Not a philosophical work, it is considered of great importance within political and philosophical enquiry. In the "History," Thucydides attempts to disclose the underlying causes of the war between Athens and Sparta. He looks beyond the explicit clash of interest and Imperialist gains and endeavours to outline the implicit human motivations of fear, glory, and honour. The explicit motivations made war a continual threat; the implicit motivations and human interactions made it inevitable. It is this discussion within Thucydides' "history" that realists have taken as proof of his status as a founding father of realism; indeed, casual reading of the "History" may suggest this to be the case. However, it is my hypothesis that Thucydides was more optimistic of man, society and the possibility for peace. It is my intention to discuss Thucydides' assumptions of war and human na...

... middle of paper ..., the security dilemma is never fully advanced as an adequate explanation of Athenian imperialism. Thucydides included human impulses such as self-interest and honour, rooted in human nature, as the necessary basis for the law of nature that the strong will dominate the weak. Combined, the expansion of power driven by honour, self-interest and the security dilemma "makes for a much more virulent realism," making the possibility of any common good remote, but not impossible. Thucydides emphasises the importance individual motivations have on political events and decisions; personal ambitions and fears have influence and are a driving force. However, he also highlights that man is morally aware, that he controls his own actions despite the permanent condition of his nature, and that rational action combines morality with expediency, not necessity with expediency.
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