The Tragic Vision of Politics: Ethics, Interests, and Orders

The Tragic Vision of Politics: Ethics, Interests, and Orders

The Tragic Vision of Politics: Ethics, Interests, and Orders

The Tragic Vision of Politics: Ethics, Interests, and Orders

Synopsis

Is it possible to advocate ethical policies to preserve national security? Contrary to some beliefs, Richard Ned Lebow demonstrates that ethics are conducive to the pursuit of national interests. Reinterpreting the writings of key figures in the history of "realpolitik", he argues that national interests are framed in the language of justice, and indicates the dangers arising from the unilateral exercise of American power in the post-Cold War world.

Excerpt

In 1959, in a Western civilization course at the University of Chicago, I read Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War for the first time. I read it a second time in a literature course, and yet again in a philosophy course. Each time, we approached the text with a different set of questions in mind: Thucydides was a wonderful vehicle for making students aware of multivocality. Approaching a rich text from different disciplinary perspectives also encouraged me to reflect back on the several disciplines, and to understand divisions among them as having more institutional than intellectual justification. Scholarship is, or ought to be, holistic, but such an approach, I soon learned, runs counter to the fragmentation and specialization of knowledge within the university.

I read Thucydides at what we now know to have been the highwater mark of the Cold War. My three readings spanned two Berlin crises and Cuba. the parallels between the Cold War and the run-up to the Peloponnesian War were unsettling, and all the more so because of my overly literal reading of I.23.5–6 and its apparent assertion that war was inevitable because of the rise to power of Athens and the fear it inspired in Sparta. in addition to scaring me, Thucydides' history, as I came to understand it more fully, provided a new purchase from which to approach the Cold War. It drew me back from the emotional and short-term perspectives that tend to dominate the untrained mind's response to dramatic contemporary events. It encouraged me to think about hegemonic conflict as a generic phenomenon and to develop a more detached and analytical approach to the Cold War. I emerged with a new set of questions with which to interrogate American and Soviet foreign policy, explore the role of third parties and assess the efficacy and possible consequences of arms races, alliances, deterrence and the emerging emphasis in the Kennedy administration on crisis management and low-intensity warfare.

Thucydides offers readers a double vision. His narrative, speeches and dialogue place readers in the midst of human decisions and actions in political assemblies and battlefields. His text orders and shapes events in a manner that fosters a broad, conceptual understanding of the processes . . .

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