The Melian Dialogue

Topics: Thucydides, Melian dialogue, History of the Peloponnesian War Pages: 5 (2099 words) Published: July 4, 2001
Do you agree with the analysis in the Melian Dialogue about the relationship between strong and weak states, and between power and morality David Greer Thucydides can be seen as the first great Historian, and his "history of the Peloponnesian war"� is said to be the catalyst of the realist tradition. A question often asked, is whether Thucydides is a realist or not? He is merely recording a realist opinion? To answer the question, lets look at what Thucydides himself says.

"And as for the real action of the war, I did not think it was right to set down either What I heard from people I happened to meet, Or what I merely believed to be true."� Thucydides is trying to emphasise the point, that from the onset his facts were right, and unbiased. By being an objective observer, Thucydides can "probe beneath the surface reasons for war to reveal those hidden forces(power, fear, and self interest) that are really responsible for events."� This is the basis for power politics. I will go through the text, and find example that illustrate and identify these concepts, and in doing so, I will uncover other concepts such as: "�balance of power, alliances, honour, neutrality and perception. Thucydides wants to draw our attention to the political and moral issues raised in such a situation.

Throughout the Melian Dialogue, the Athenians accentuate the need for "˜Empire' and "˜Power.' The first thing we notice the Melians doing is refusing the Athenians permission to speak to the masses. Morgenthau would agree with the melians on this points, when he speaks of the "incompatibly between the rational requirements of a sound foreign policy, and the emotional preferences of a democratically controlled public opinion"� The Athenians knew of these "˜emotional preferences.' They knew that by talking to the people that they could convince them to surrender. I believe that the Athenians were right to ask for the people. If they had of done, then the whole eventual bloodshed would of being avoided.

We won't lie to you, argue the Athenians. We have not come here because it's our right, to do so, because of all the wars fought and won. We have not come because you have offended or injured our empire in any way. We are here simply, because it's in our interest to be here. But what about justice, plea the Melians? The Athenians went on to assert that: "The standerd of justice depends on the equality of power to compel, and the fact, the strong do what they have the power to do, and the weak accept what they have to accept"� What we have here, is a number of key realist concepts emerging; The balance of power, justice, and the idea of equality. Lets look at this idea of "Justice."� In the Melian dialogue Justice is sought by the Melians and the Athenians, and various arguments of justice are prominent throughout. Justice, argue the Athenians, is only assessable to the stronger party. This echo's Thrasymachus' view of justice. Thrasymachus was a sophist and rhetorician was appears in Plato's republic defending the proposition that "˜might is right.' He looked to the natural world for his explanation of justice. By looking at nature, he observed that the larger and stronger animals devour the weaker, and that the astute and cleaver out do the slow and the stupid. For him, this was an absolute truth, in accordance with nature, that the strong rule the weak, and thus, his belief that "Justice is what is in the interest of the stronger party,"� materialised. Another sophist, echoing the theme of nature was Antiphon, who once said: "Therefore, a man might best employ justice in a manner advantageous to himself, but while amid witnesses, he should treat the laws as great, but while away from witnesses he should follow the dictates of nature"� The Athenians are basically telling the Melians that same: "Our opinion of the Gods, and our knowledge of men lead us to conclude , that it is a general and necessary law of nature to rule what ever one can"�...
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