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Sunday: April 2, 2006

Thucydides on the United Nations

Filed under: — site admin @ 8:47 PM UTC

He’s actually writing about the Peloponnesian League, that is, Sparta and its allies just before the Peloponnesian War, but the similarities are striking. This is Book I, section 141.6-7, in Crawley’s mildly archaic translation, reprinted in the Landmark Thucydides:

In a single battle the Pelopnnesians and their allies may be able to defy all Hellas, but they are incapacitated from carrying on a war against a power different in character from their own, by the want of the single council chamber requisite to prompt and vigorous action, and the substitution of a congress composed of various peoples, in which every state possesses an equal vote, and each presses its own ends — a condition of things which generally results in no action at all. The great wish of some is to avenge themselves on some particular enemy, the great wish of others to save their own pocket. Slow in assembling, they devote a very small fraction of the time to the consideration of any matter of common concern, most of it to the prosecution of their own affairs. Meanwhile each fancies that no harm will come of his neglect, that it is the business of somebody else to look out for this or that for him; and so, by the same notion being entertained by all separately, the common cause imperceptibly decays.

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