The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

What the Melian Dialogue tells us about the End of Empire (Venezuelan security threat edition)

The Course of Empire by Thomas Cole

The Course of Empire by Thomas Cole

I’ll just point out that in no way can Venezuela be considered a security threat to the United States.  And the “human rights violations”, while some are real are far less than routinely committed by many US allies, including Saudi Arabia, while Venezuela is more democratic, again, than many countries the US has not imposed sanctions on.

This sort of bullying is exactly the sort of thing which will lead to the end of American hegemony.  Though less severe, one is reminded of the Melian dialogue.  The Athenians argue that the powerful do as they will and the weak as they must, and that the Melians should surrender.  If they do not, the Athenians will slaughter the men and sell the women and children into slavery.

The Melian reply in part, is thus:

But do you not recognise another danger? For, once more, since you drive us from the plea of justice and press upon us your doctrine of expediency, we must show you what is for our interest, and, if it be for yours also, may hope to convince you: Will you not be making enemies of all who are now neutrals? When they see how you are treating us they will expect you some day to turn against them; and if so, are you not strengthening the enemies whom you already have, and bringing upon you others who, if they could help, would never dream of being your enemies at all?

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The irony of the Melian dialogue is that both sides are right: the Melians are destroyed, and would have been better off if they submitted.  But the destruction of Melos is indeed one of the contributing factors to the eventual fall of Athens, because while Sparta may be nastier internally, they are also less dangerous to other city-states than Athens is.

The analogy is not perfect, because even with all of Venezuela’s problems, much of the population is better off resisting the US than it would be conceding (the poor and the darker colored citizens have benefited immensely under the Bolivaran revolution).

But America, and the West’s continued insistence that nations will kneel or suffer is very similar and is already damaging American power.


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  1. mike

    Applies to Greece and the German-run EU/ECB, too.

  2. Monster from the Id

    Correct, but why do you keep saying “America” and “the West” when what you mean is Capital, of which the governments are merely wholly-owned subsidiaries?

    Capital is Sauron; Uncle Sam is merely the Lord of the Nazgul, and its allies the other Nazgul.

    Not that the rulers of the powerful non-Western states are nice people, either; they are so many Sarumans (Sarumen?). They simply insist on being independently evil.

    Who are the good guys? Sorry, wrong planet for finding those. 🙁

  3. V. Arnold

    It’s significant that the U.S. is now openly saying what it’s doing to control the outcomes in other countries; the veil is lifted; at least when it’s least injurious to itself.
    In an interview, Paul Craig Roberts said, when asked what can be done to stop the U.S.’s aggression, that there is nothing that can change the policies the U.S. is pursuing.
    Exactly my conclusion when one looks at the last 15 years; occupy is a joke, and there is no genuine opposition any longer possible.
    You’all broke it; you’re paying the price.
    Cheers, see you in hell…

  4. zot23

    Excellent ideas Ian, I would love to see some of these bullet points pulled out, expanded, and turned into full posts. For example, the “selling certificates” for solar and then paying them off with savings. How exactly would that work?

    Thanks for posting it.

  5. zot23

    Oops, wrong thread. This was meant for the Stimulus part 2 post…

  6. joe marchal

    I hope this is not to general but something must be done to oppose the dourness here so i will say it, what the hell.

    These comments and the history lesson recall a conversation with a friend just post 911. (I’m not naive it had just happened and we didn’t have time to think about it yet.)

    As an ex marine, joining up for Vietnam, now semi recovered. He suggested the scenario of …. Imagine the power of doing nothing. No media hype campaign, no wars, no terror blanket.

    Now that would have been real statesmanship.

    The tragedy of so many U.S. and corporate world policies and the negativity surrounding them is the cost of opportunities as well as the cost maintaining the status quo. Its equally true as a nation but on a personal level too. To not let fear win one must remain vigilant on these other levels as well.

    Here is where i’m trying to help us get away from this darkness, on the personal level. Join me for a moment. I realize i’m telling you smart folks nothing here but sometimes we need a little pep talk, thats just human.

    The optimist dreamer said ever tried to imagine this world with thoughtful non myopic non self absorbed non self interested leadership. Wow what a place. A place where using the power of peace to demonstrate with quietly and calmly to make it even better is attained and is real.

    Though it’s not here yet theres something incredible going on still because you actually can do a little of it here and there. It can be sampled now by helping a friend, give a stranger a couple dollars. Show a kid how to do something useful or enjoyable. let a car into traffic in front of you even if you don’t have to. Random acts of kindness can be very selfish.

    You see i refuse to think we will be stuck forever in this loop of violence and greed. Ringed in and defeated by this false minimal premise of the practical reality of daily lives. The all too easily manifested violence and prejudice are just a couple of our possible behivoiral propensities. We have manny manny more.

    Having some experience with the world watching people has taught me that most people are good. The threat of peace does remain real. Wars and greed are surrounding us and will yes, but peace happens all the time. You won’t find it in headlines or in mouths of those prone to attention gathering. Google Fox news and RT won’t write about it. It doesn’t sell soap..

    I Really enjoy all your fresh thoughts and respect your fight, keep up the goodness.

    nobody said this was going to be easy.

  7. markfromireland

    It’s not just their government. The USG reflects the society from which it sprang and the values of its citizenry and the way in which they behave both to each other and to everyone else.


  8. S Brennan

    Mark, when you declare 330,000,000 million people guilty with an imperial wave of your hand you do EXACTLY what are media, at the behest of ruling elites does. You act; exactly in the manner you decry. Well, hooray for brevity, most writers take several paragraphs to accomplish the same mental acrobatics.

    Again Mark, the propaganda is 24/7, only my life experience, my father’s training & my education prevents me from being fully absorbed into the web of lies and deceits. If your purpose is to give aid and comfort to those who dispense diabolical policy, both foreign & domestic, you could do no more than than to put forth the idea that the US is justly ruled.

    From the Propaganda Ministry, New York Bureau

    Obama Declared Venezuela “an extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States”…the last paragraph of the article explains the obvious lie.

    “…to carry out sanctions of this type, law requires the president to declare the nation to be a national security threat…the declaration was meant to meet a legal requirement and did not represent the actual circumstances in Venezuela.”

  9. X

    That series of Thomas Cole paintings is really stunning. He was attempting to show a cycle that had been repeated over and over in history. It’s an interesting thing about human nature, that people create works that are at least in part, designed to help the humans of the future. The people who built the Brooklyn Bridge, for example, built it with a hope that it would serve a modern world far off in the future, that they would not even see. Why do (some) people do this? When we get despairing about the world, this quality, and just the idea that people from the past were/are trying to help us, can be uplifting. (X)

  10. Ian Welsh

    Greek proverb: “a nation is great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit.”

  11. X

    I never heard that before. That’s nice. (X)

  12. Qqvl

    “The West” is really just a euphemism for the U.S.

    Without independent economic institutions or signals intelligence other Western countries cannot act autonomously and still formally exist at all mostly to act as sock puppet accounts.

    “Capital”/”the 1%” presumes unity and so a kind of pre-emptive capitulation in that it rules out in advance even the possibility of divisions among the powerful, which as you acknowledge do exist.

  13. Qqvl

    (Whoops. Above comment was directed at Monster from the Id.)

  14. different clue


    As a random Ugly American from among the Ugly 330 million, all I can say is . . . thank you for sending over your Best and Brightest to get the party started.

  15. markfromireland

    @ different clue.

    Well we had the send the ones who weren’t good enough to make it over here somewhere or another and America had all those wide open spaces.

    You’re welcome.


  16. Ian,
    Gratifying to see the Melian episode taken up again for examination. Shattering, really, to read it, and well turned to current circumstances here.

    In effect, it would have been an apt subject for a corollary of the Greek proverb you gave us.

    The end of the just polity is when it reasons itself just in its destruction of such a nation.

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