Thucydides Describes Politics in 2020-2021

I did not know Thucydides was a prophet as well as a historian.

So revolutions broke out in city after city, and in places where the revolutions occurred late the
knowledge of what had happened previously in other places caused still new extravagances of
revolutionary zeal, expressed by an elaboration in the methods of seizing power and by unheard-of
atrocities in revenge.

To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual
meanings.

What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the
courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character; ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action.

Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self-defence. Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect. To plot successfully was a sign of intelligence, but it was still cleverer to see that a plot was hatching. If one attempted to provide against having to do either, one was disrupting the unity of the party and acting out of fear of the opposition. In short, it was equally praiseworthy to get one’s blow in first against someone
who was going to do wrong, and to denounce someone who had no intention of doing any wrong at
all.

Family relations were a weaker tie than party membership, since party members were more
ready to go to any extreme for any reason whatever. These parties were not formed to enjoy the
benefits of the established laws, but to acquire power by overthrowing the existing regime; and the
members of these parties felt confidence in each other not because of any fellowship in a religious
communion, but because they were partners in crime. If an opponent made a reasonable speech, the
party in power, so far from giving it a generous reception, took every precaution to see that it had
no practical effect.

Revenge was more important than self-preservation. And if pacts of mutual security were made,
they were entered into by the two parties only in order to meet some temporary difficulty, and
remained in force only so long as there was no other weapon available. When the chance came, the
one who first seized it boldly, catching his enemy off his guard, enjoyed a revenge that was all the
sweeter from having been taken, not openly, but because of a breach of faith. It was safer that way, it
was considered, and at the same time a victory won by treachery gave one a title for superior
intelligence. And indeed most people are more ready to call villainy cleverness than simplemindedness
honesty. They are proud of the first quality and ashamed of the second.

Love of power, operating through greed and through personal ambition, was the cause of all
these evils. To this must be added the violent fanaticism which came into play once the struggle had
broken out. Leaders of parties in the cities had programmes which appeared admirable – on one
side political equality for the masses, on the other the safe and sound government of the aristocracy
– but in professing to serve the public interest they were seeking to win the prizes for themselves. In
their struggles for ascendancy nothing was barred; terrible indeed were the actions to which they
committed themselves, and in taking revenge they went farther still.

Here they were deterred neither by the claims of justice nor by the interests of the state; their one standard was the pleasure of their own party at that particular moment, and so, either by means of condemning their enemies on an
illegal vote or by violently usurping power over them, they were always ready to satisfy the hatreds of the hour.

Thus neither side had any use for conscientious motives; more interest was shown in those who could produce attractive arguments to justify some disgraceful action. As for the citizens who held moderate views, they were destroyed by both the extreme parties, either for not taking part in the struggle or in envy at the possibility that they might survive.

-History of the Peloponnesian War, Bk 3, par. 82

4 thoughts on “Thucydides Describes Politics in 2020-2021

  1. im grateful i read the Greeks before the Bible. Im glad I had an education in Gr. philosophy/literature before reading Scripture about God.

  2. Amazing!
    It seems the traces of the Devil never change.
    The power of the tongue!
    “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” seems to be a rather mercifully modest description of the heart left to its own devices with its veritable “factory” of violent idolatry.
    There is no peace for the wicked and the way of the transgressor is hard.

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