Thucydides and Today’s Challenges

Jakub Grygiel

Hertog Foundation | 2017

Are allies costly or beneficial to a great power? Do they enhance its security or drag it into peripheral and unnecessary wars? What are the advantages and risks of a maritime power? Does a sea power need allies more than a land power? How should it compete with a continental rival?  What is the impact of a prolonged conflict on an already fragile social order of a polity? These questions characterize our current debates on U.S. strategy, but they are not new. More than two thousand years ago, Thucydides described with great lucidity the strategic challenges facing a maritime great power, Athens – and they are remarkably relevant to today’s U.S. security dilemmas and strategic choices.

The course will focus on Thucydides’s masterpiece, The Peloponnesian War, and examine a series of strategic challenges, and responses to them. During the weeklong seminar, students will read extended excerpts from Thucydides, focusing on key speeches and moments in the conflict. The course requires careful reading of the text but is not a history class. Rather, by placing themselves in the position of the Thucydidean characters, students will discuss recurrent principles of strategy and the dilemmas facing leaders.

Image: “Slab of the Amazonomachy frieze” by Carole Radato | Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0