Thucydides the Neoconservative?

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 24, 2011

Dan Drezner is on something of a jeremiad against what he calls “Thucydides Abuse.” His latest post on the subject is worth reading, but I am noting it because it references this post from March, 2007, in which Thomas Geoghegan writes that Thucydides is “an honorary neocon.”

Seriously. This got written. I don’t know how I missed this; I can’t recall reading Drezner’s post on this issue, but perhaps I actually did read it, and blacked out after finding out that someone actually believes–and got paid to write in a respected American political magazine–that Thucydides was some kind of neoconservative. I mean, wow.

What is especially amazing concerning this issue is that Geoghegan, who is a darling of the Left–he is a celebrated labor lawyer in Chicago, and actually ran in 2009 for the U.S. House seat for the Fifth District in Illinois, after Rahm Emanuel vacated it to become President Obama’s Chief of Staff–is considered something of a man of letters. As his Wikipedia entry notes, Geoghegan has written six books, and he gets love from the likes of James Fallows for “masterful and original pieces of thinking and writing, which most writers would be content with as their entire contribution to the human endeavor during the period Tom has turned them out.” Also, he supposedly “writes like a dream,” according to Kathy G, and is considered “America’s most talented writer and thinker on labor issues,” according to David Sirota. And yet, this supposed exemplar of erudition makes an unbelievable historical boo-boo in calling Thucydides “an honorary neocon,” one that would get any college or grad student tossed from a class with peals of laughter following him as he/she shuffles out in shame.

Of course, in making his “argument,” Geoghegan probably did not care one whit about being faithful to history. He just cared about making a point against “neocons,” and if that meant trying to lump Thucydides in with Paul Wolfowitz, then so be it. Yet another reason to eliminate the word “neoconservative” from our political lexicon; whatever descriptive power it may have had in the past, it is now used to simply mean “conservatives that the user of the word ‘neoconservative’ doesn’t like.”

  • Neil Sinhababu

    Are you criticizing Drezner and/or Geoghegan here? Neither of them invented this “Thucydides is a neocon” thing. Drezner, at least, is criticizing the people who invented and maintained it. Geoghegan is commenting on the actual neocons who take Thucydides to be one of them — Victor Davis Hanson and Donald Kagan.

    If you don’t like this “Thucydides is a neocon” stuff, your problem is with Hanson and Kagan, who claimed him as theirs in the first place.

    • Anonymous

      I am criticizing Geoghegan, as Drezner is. I don’t think that Hanson is a neoconservative; he has a tragic view of history that is not at all neoconservative-esque. Also, I don’t know what particular arguments Hanson (or “Victor Hansen Davis,” as Geoghegan calls him) made that Geoghegan is referencing; all he does is call Hanson a “neocon,” and say that Hanson makes “a big fuss over Thucydides.” I haven’t read what Kagan wrote, so I can’t speak for his conception of Thucydides, but apart from Geoghegan’s say-so, we have no specific evidence that neoconservatives/Kagan and Hanson have claimed Thucydides as a neoconservative icon.
      Separate and apart from all of this, as Drezner points out, Geoghegan is utterly unfamiliar with Thucydides, and was rightfully slammed for his ignorance.

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