Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Politics of Empire

The Politics of Empire
P. Schultz
July 19, 2012

            Here is a passage from a book by Edith Foster, cited below, on Pericles and his commitment to imperialism and empire. I don’t know but this sounds familiar to me, as if it could be used to describe the United States and its foreign policy post WWII. It is a book I recommend as it provides a foil to the arguments of some “Straussians” or “Neo-Cons” that the pursuit and maintenance of an empire is “noble,” even though bound to fail. Foster makes a persuasive argument that Thucydides sees imperialism as only noble when considered in the abstract, so to speak; that is, absent considerations of just what is required to obtain and maintain an empire. As Foster’s last line has it: “I suggest that [Thucydides’] analysis cannot be a matter of indifference to us.” [p. 220]

“Thucydides showed in Pericles’ speeches that the power warfare can potentially provide had become for Pericles the aim of Athenian existence. Despite his exact knowledge of Athens and Athenian war resources, and despite his personal experiences of war, Pericles spoke of Athenian warfare as great, unique, and of never-ending importance and grandeur. A psychological progress has occurred, in which Pericles had left behind all other attachments and become attached to a sense of Athens’ unlimited future. As we have discussed, this progress has several foundations, but one of the most important was Athens’ unprecedented growth after the Persian Wars. The power and resources Pericles both inherited and helped to create allowed him to leave behind all other considerations, and to seek significance in Athens’ empire alone. It is to defend the empire that he urges the Athenians to fight the war with Sparta, and the possession of the empire and its resources, as we have just reviewed, caused him to believe that Athens would prevail.” [p. 218, Thucydides, Pericles, and Periclean Imperialism.]

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