The value of Conventions: An analysis of Thucydides’ history of the Peloponnesian War

By analyzing the theoretical ramifications of Thucydides’ background of the Peloponnesian War, this essay will attain three objectives. First, the will describe human nature and also human convention in the polis and also their binary relationships with power and justice, respectively. Second, the will show that without conventions such as justice; human being nature and also unchecked power drive people into anarchy. Finally, the essay will show that without concertedly using the convention of righteousness in the worldwide sphere, world will continue to lapse right into chaos throughout human history.

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Thucydides claims that his history is meant to critical for all time provided that “(human nature gift what it is) will, at some time or other in much the very same way, be recurring in the future” (Thucydides, 1:22). He thus believes that person nature is forever cruel and unjust. Explained likewise to the Hobbesian approach, without restraints, person nature will go after whatever way necessary for self-interest and greed. Coinciding with human nature, strength is based upon self-interest and the require to control reality at any kind of cost. Power, in addition to human nature, cannot be properly controlled without the presence of a State and they both often tend to weaken convention wherever possible. In the problem with convention, person nature and also power space together qualified of great achievements as soon as restrained. However, with each other they are additionally capable that depraved criminal activity when the constructs that society decline into anarchy.


In order come escape such destructive human nature, civilization is engineered with restraints to secure one ordered and thriving polis. This is the instance in Athens and also other Hellenic states in-depth in Thucydides’ work. In ~ the domestic sphere (polis) of Athens, convention is characterized as the jointly shared and agreed upon knowledge of just how individuals have to interact. Examples of conventions are ubiquitous and also subsequently shape human nature due to the fact that even language by an interpretation is a convention. Because that Pericles, for example, the classic funeral is sacrosanct to the maintain of respect and honour in polite Athens (Thucydides, 2:35). Even while conventions room artificially created out the the require for collective-preservation, its values are that paramount importance for functionality versus the consistent tension resulted in by primary human being nature and also the lust because that power.


The most significant convention for state safeguarding is justice. It operates in the Athenian polis come ensure security as Pericles explains, “when that is a question of settling exclusive disputes, everyone is equal prior to the law” (Thucydides, 2:37) including that once negotiating the circulation of individual strength “what counts is…the actual capacity which the possesses” (Thucydides, 2:37). Together a convention, legislation is arrived on by mutual consent the the polis enabling power distribution to be peacefully negotiated within the residential sphere. The moderation that the herbal human desire because that power requires the institutionalization of this fabricated rule of regulation that protects people from each other. However, human being nature can regress right into anarchy if the polis experience institutional failure. This is demonstrated in the situations of the Athenian Plague and also the Civil war in Corcyra.

The devastation the the Athenian torment was not anticipated as part of the war effort. Under the plague, society entered a state the depolarization developing a vacuum because that unregulated power-starved human nature come emerge. The consequence of the torment was that citizens “not knowing what would certainly next occur to them, ended up being indifferent to every preeminence of religious beliefs or law” (Thucydides, 2:52). Thucydides observes that also the convention of the funeral procedure crumbles when it is discovered to be an ext expedient to heap up bodies anonymously (Thucydides, 2:52). In the chaos of the plague, person nature is exposed together self-interested and desirous of windy self-indulgence since the restraints that have made civilization feasible disintegrate.

In the instance of Corcyra, the violent civil battle is brought about by the hyper-polarization of politics actors allowing natural aggression to rein supreme. In the middle of polarization between the ideological backgrounds of Athens and Sparta even the convention that language is under siege. Thucydides notes the “to to the right in with the adjust of events, words, too, had actually to adjust their normal meaning” (Thucydides, 3:82) adding for instance “any idea of moderation was just an effort to disguise one’s unmanly character” (Thucydides, 3:82). This stasis has readjusted collectively welcomed discourse making lawlessness associated with simply action.


Instead of defending and sternly maintaining the conventions that had collected society, the Corcyrians allow their state to fragment since they failure to value the supremacy of justice end the natural human journey for political control.

In both domestic tragedies, Thucydides seems to assert that there is no ethical universe that determines the fate that individuals’ lives. He furthers this argument when Nicias dies during the Sicilian Expedition, despite his posturing together a voice for moderation and also prudence (Thucydides, 7:86). However, while over there is no moral universe past human existence, it is said that a moral universe must be built to stifle the human tendency towards self-interest and also ‘inevitably’ self-destruction. What the plague and also the polite war show is the unrestrained human being nature destroys world if citizens jointly reject the need of restraint under the dominion of regulation in the residential sphere.


In the international sphere, Thucydides’ background deals with the war in between Sparta and also Athens. It is noticeable that the plague and also the civil battle serve together a foil to the Peloponnesian battle itself since, similarly, anarchy thrives whereby there is no adherence to convention. Together is the reality in worldwide relations. The realist concept that the balance of power is can be fried is especially consistent with the Athenian perspective by the later stages that the conflict. When Thucydides details the downfall of the hegemon, a solution to repeated person error in history is to usage the constructivist discussion as this essay has involved suggest. Justice should be transplanted indigenous the residential sphere come the international and also be do sacred over all else. This will ensure prosperity because that all competing powers in an worldwide system.

Different poleis have divergent traditions and conventions (such as language and religion), however, all political groups in Thucydides’ history universally expropriate the best of justice together a convention. All completing powers must have actually an understanding of the moral world where there space justified end and means to every action. Regrettably for the Athenians, they disregard morality and justify their realm by saying it is in your nature to dominate the weak. Corinthians state that Athenians “are by nature i can not qualify of either life a quiet life us or of allowing anyone rather to execute so” (Thucydides 1:70). Throughout the History, the Athenians significantly come to believe that justice has no instrumental value in foreign affairs together they turn rather to a rationalized expertise of sheer power in dealing especially with the autonomous island the Melos.

In the Melian Dialogue, the Athenians have totally ignored the convention of justice when addressing the growth of their empire. Because that the function of self-interest, honour and security, the Athenians prescribe come the logic of ‘might is right’. In an answer to the Melian plea for fair play, the Athenian representative famously states that “the conventional of justice count on the equality of strength to compel and also that in fact the solid do what they have actually the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept” (Thucydides, 5:89). If Pericles had once stated that justice should be made amongst equals, the Athenians have actually subsequently distorted justice therefore that, in the measure up of power, the Melians must not it is in treated as equals. The Athenians therefore rationally indicate that the convention of justice is an ineffectual construct and consequently disregard any argument versus their illegal action. It seems hypocritical the the Athenians argue for the ‘safe rule’ the one have to “behave v deference towards one’s superiors, and to law one’s inferiors with moderation” (Thucydides, 5:111) offered their subsequent action. Your legitimacy, then, is undermined by power and also human nature and their failure as ethical agents, who do have actually a choice, thanks to your preponderance, but squandered it with realist logic. By not applying the exact same principle of same play that readily features in the domestic sphere, the Athenians technician their own destruction.

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In this History, the is noticeable that the typical survival of every polis requires the prominence of worldwide law. Anyone breaking the spiritual justice that is universal among all polis will certainly be destroyed eventually by the perpetuation of the very same transgression they have committed. The course, the decision makers frequently pass away before the aftermath of your actions pertained to fruition. At any kind of rate, trying out the relationship between nature and convention and also then relating it to power and also justice, this essay find it patently apparent that the international ar can just be made secure if over there is an follow to the conventions that have actually been applied properly ~ above the domestic level. This debate is much less pessimistic, believing the there is room because that agency. Taking for instance the modern United States, they it seems ~ on a comparable path to that of Athens yet they can disapprove the criterion of illegal battle or danger the fate that Thucydides deems inevitable. Together is the nature the empires.