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Thucydides the Constructivist

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 January 2002

Richard Ned Lebow*
The Ohio State University


The most superficial level of Thucydides’ history examines the destructive consequences of domestic and foreign policies framed outside the language of justice. His deeper political-philosophical aim was to explore the relationship between nomos (convention) and phusis (nature) and its implications for civilization. Thucydides concludes that nomos constructs identities and channels and restrains the behavior of individuals and societies. Speech and reason (logos) in turn make nomos possible because all conventions depend on shared meanings. The feedback loop between logoi (words) and ergoi (deeds) created Greek civilization but also the international and civil strife (stasis) associated with the Peloponnesian War. International security and civil order depend upon recovering the meanings of words and the conventions they enable. Thucydides should properly be considered a constructivist.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2001

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