Conversing with Thrasymachus: Voices of Realism

  • Robert Jackson
Part of the Palgrave Macmillan History of International Thought Series book series (PMHIT)


Classical political thought, in one of its unmistakable modes of expression, is a dialogue, discourse, or conversation. Politics, too, is dialogical; it is “three-quarters talk.”1 In contemporary idiom, politics is an exchange—of thoughts, ideas, points-of-view, opinions, observations, judgments, communiqués, diplomatic notes, and so on—on issues of mutual interest or common concern. International politics, perhaps even more than other politics, lends itself to dialogue because of the horizontal character of international relations, particularly evident in diplomacy, which is characterized as a dialogue of states.2 One of the oldest dialogues in political science is a conversation between Socrates and Thrasymachus in Plato’s The Republic. Another is between the Athenians and the Melians in Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War. These ancient discourses capture the persona of realism. This persona reappears, forcefully, in the writings of Machiavelli and Hobbes, from whom, along with Thucydides, modern realists derive their leading ideas. These ideas are not entirely instrumental. They disclose a normative discourse, but one that is reticent and fenced in.


Foreign Policy International Relation Sovereign State Fair Play International Ethic 
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© Robert Jackson 2005

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  • Robert Jackson

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