Thucydides Update

Eugene Volokh responds to my nitpicking with characteristic good humor. He makes the slightly post-modern point that, whatever Thucydides intended by his words, they mean what they say, and are available for use for whatever purpose they serve.

Reader Willard Moore states what I take to be the conventional interpretation of the text:

My reading is that Thucydides was a great admirer of Pericles, and believed that Pericles’ war plans were intelligent and rational. The later Athenian leaders, whom Thucydides despised, may have overreached, but not Pericles. So I don’t think that we are meant to hear in the funeral oration any mockery of Pericles’ supposed hubris.

Iain Murray adds that the dating of composition contradicts my proposed reading; the section containing the Funeral Oration would have predated the disasters.

On the other hand, according to my teacher Harvey Mansfield, Leo Strauss’s chapter on Thucydides in The City and Man argues that the historian is less admiring of Pericles than shows on the surface of the text. And of course — this is Eugene’s point played backwards — the words of Pericles could seem ironic to us now, even if Thucydides didn’t intend them ironically. On balance, though, it would appear that I failed to “nicely weigh the perils” of classical scholarship.

On the substance of the issue, Eugene and I wind up agreeing that we ought to weigh the perils of war with the proper degree of nicety. Perhaps he and I differ on whether excess or defect of nicety is the more likely problem, and which is the greater threat to our well-being.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

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