The Thucydides Trap . . . or a trap for young players

By Allan Behm*

Sadly, hermeneutic s— or exegesis as it was formerly known — is not much in vogue these days. Maybe that reflects the fact that most of us rely on translation for our glimpses into the texts written in ancient (and dead) languages. And the word ‘hermeneutics’ itself needs a bit of exegesis: most understand it as ‘interpretation’, though Aristotle’s Peri Hermēneias actually deals with ‘explanation’. But if one is to coin a term like ‘Thucydides Trap’, declaring that war between Athens and Sparta was ‘inevitable’, and blame Thucydides for the invention, one should surely check the original text to confirm that ‘inevitability’ is what Thucydides wrote and meant. This is a task that Professor Graham Allison should have undertaken before pronouncing on the contest between Athens and Sparta, and applied it to the more contemporary relationship between China and the United States.

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