2 Introduction

International relations scholars are ‘prone to claiming’ that the ancient historian Thucydides, author of History of The Peloponnesian War (1972), is a realist of one kind or another (Bagby, 1994, p. 131). In a more recent strand of realism, ‘neorealism’, Thucydides has once again been claimed (Waltz, 1979; Keohane, 1986; Gilpin 1984, 1988). Neorealists assert that Thucydides’ History (1972) vindicates their emphasis on the international structure, arguing that The History of the Peloponnesian War exemplifies the quintessential neorealist state of anarchy in the international system (Keohane, 1986, p. 7). Discourse on Thucydides has recently proliferated with revisionist scholars now challenging the claims of neorealists (Bagby, 1994; Forde, 1995; Garst, 1989), questioning whether Thucydides can be adequately characterized as a neorealist. This dissertation will add to the critique, hypothesising that a closer reading of the ancient historian’s History (1972) shows that Thucydides cannot be considered a neorealist. This introductory chapter will summarise the dissertation. First the chapter will focus on the rationale driving the dissertation; secondly the aims will be discussed; third the methodology used will be advanced and finally it will indicate how the rest of the dissertation will proceed.

2.1 Rationale

Movements often establish genealogies to legitimize themselves. As Lebow (2001, p. 547) has noted, to make Christianity more attractive to Jews for instance, the New Testament traces Jesus’ lineage to King David. Neorealists likewise, have appropriated Thucydides with their approach in order to make neorealism sound more attractive to students of International Relations. Thus, most neorealists have made a great effort to attribute the great historian Thucydides to neorealism (Waltz 1979; Gilpin, 1984, 1988; Keohane, 1986), to the point where Thucydides’ credentials in neorealism are thought to be ‘beyond doubt’ (Bedford & Workman, 2001, p. 67). However, after decades of realist domination in literature on ‘Thucydidean thought’ a shift in attitude has developed, challenging the mainstream view of Thucydides. Authors such as Bagby (1994), Forde (1995) and Garst (1989) argue that the affiliation of Thucydides and neorealism is illogical and has no empirical grounding. Thus the rationale behind the proposed dissertation is to discern whether neorealists are justified in positioning Thucydides within the realm of neorealism.

2.2 Aims

In order to ascertain whether Thucydides can be attributed to neorealism, the dissertation will be guided by these four aims:

  1. to critically analyse neorealism;
  2. to identify Thucydides in neorealist discourse;
  3. to critically analyse Thucydides’ (1972) primary source, ‘The Peloponnesian War’
  4. to evaluate whether Thucydides could be considered an advocate of neorealism.

2.3 Methodology

The methodology of the proposed dissertation stems from a serious defect by neorealists in their inability to account for the speeches and debates that recur in The History of the Peloponnesian War (Thucydides, 1972). In ignoring speeches, recent critique has argued that neorealists do not recognise Thucydides’ use of the first and second levels of analysis and also his differing conception of power and hegemony, as will be outlined in the second chapter. To substantiate these scholars’ claims the dissertation will undertake a critical analysis of the Thucydides’ primary source History of The Peloponnesian War (1972) to show where Thucydides uses the first and second levels of analysis and where his embedded views on power and hegemony can be seen. The dissertation will focus on six key dialogues: The debates at the congress of the Peloponnesian confederacy at Lacedaemon, the first two speeches of Pericles, the Mytilenian Debate, the Melian Dialogue (only in 4th Chapter) and the debate over the invasion of Sicily. The dissertation does so for two reasons. First because they appear at critical junctures of the History: the debate at Lacedaemon takes place prior to the widening of the conflict between Athenian and Spartan client states; the speeches of Pericles are followed by Athens’ entry into the war and the plague; The Mytilenian Debate precedes the vivid description of the Corcyrean Revolution; and the Melian Dialogue and the Debate between Nicias and Alcibiades precedes the invasion of Sicily. Second, and more important for the 4th Chapter, these exchanges contain distinct positions on the changing nature of Athens’ imperialism.

2.4 Structure

The chapters of the dissertation proceed in the order of the aims aforementioned. The first chapter will critically analyse neorealism and highlight where Thucydides has been used in neorealist literature. It will be found that three major scholars have used the ancient historian to substantiate or support neorealist argumentation. Then in the second chapter, the dissertation will analyse and evaluate the criticism the neorealists have met in claiming Thucydides as one of their own. For clarity these revisionist scholars will be separated into two groups: Those who represent critique based on Thucydides’ use of the First and Second Images and those who use Thucydides’ changing Athenian discourse to advocate that he would have a different conception of power and hegemony to neorealists. The third chapter will then, with the critical analysis of Thucydides’ speeches, show where Thucydides has used the First and Second Images. The fourth chapter will also use the same speeches, but to examine the changing Athenian discourse, and arguing that through this, Thucydides’ teachings of power and hegemony can be seen. Finally the dissertation will conclude that Thucydides cannot be considered a neorealist, and furthermore that his work can be used to show why purely using structural methods in international relations theory are inadequate.