‘I have often before now been
convinced that a democracy is incapable of empire, and never more so than by
your present change of mind in the matter of Mitylene.
Fears or plots being unknown to you in your daily relations with each
other, you feel just the same with regard to your allies, and never reflect
that the mistakes into which you may be led by listening to their appeals,
or by giving way to your own compassion, are full of danger to yourselves,
and bring you no thanks for your weakness from your allies; entirely forgetting that your empire is a despotism and your subjects
disaffected conspirators, whose obedience is insured not by your suicidal
concessions, but by the superiority given you by your own strength and not
The most alarming feature in the case is the constant change of measures
with which we appear to be threatened, and our seeming ignorance of the fact
that bad laws which are never changed are better for a city than good ones
that have no authority; that unlearned loyalty is more serviceable than quick-witted
insubordination; and that ordinary men usually manage public affairs better than their more
The latter are always wanting to appear wiser than the laws, and to
overrule every proposition brought forward, thinking that they cannot show
their wit in more important matters, and by such behavior too often ruin
their country; while those who mistrust their own cleverness are content to be less
learned than the laws, and less able to pick holes in the speech of a good
speaker; and being fair judges rather than rival athletes, generally conduct affairs
These we ought to imitate, instead of being led on by cleverness and
intellectual rivalry to advise your people against our real opinions.
Thucydides. The Peloponnesian War. London, J. M. Dent; New York, E. P. Dutton. 1910.
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