Theorising Crisis: readings of the stasis at Corcyra

NDG Morley

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Contribution (Conference Proceeding)


Thucydides’ account (III.70-84) of the stasis or civil war at Corcyra in 427 BCE is one of the set-pieces of his history, regularly extracted and cited ever since. Although its influence in political thought has not been as pervasive as the Melian Dialogue or Mytilene Debate, it has been taken to establish Thucydides as a theorist of civil society as well as of international relations, as his analysis of the breakdown of political and social order under external pressure and the conditions of war is founded on a theory of its operation under more normal conditions. His depiction of the triumph of faction, the abuse of law, the failure of language and the collapse of the moderate centre has been ‘recognised’ as applicable, more or less wholesale, to societies like revolutionary France and Weimar Germany, and his analysis accorded universal validity. However, readings of that analysis, and the conclusions drawn from it, have varied dramatically. For nineteenth-century liberals, for example, it emphasised the importance of consensus-building institutions in moderating and channelling individual and party interests, establishing civilisation and order in place of anarchy; for their conservative opponents, it illustrated the dangers of making concessions to mob rule; for more radical thinkers, it revealed the permanent presence of violent tensions and fault-lines in society, at least under given social conditions. Equally contested was the basis on which Thucydides’ analysis was taken to have wider validity; for nineteenth-century historians, in particular, the Corcyran stasis was a test case for the reconciliation of their claims for the utility of historical knowledge (invariably founded on Thucydides’ claims for his work) and their suspicions of ‘philosophical’ abstractions and ahistorical assumptions (such as Thucydides’ assertions about eternal human nature). This paper explores the reception and interpretation of the Corcyran episode as a means both of refining theories of political crisis and consensus and of considering the place of historical knowledge and methodology in political theory.
Translated title of the contributionTheorising Crisis: readings of the stasis at Corcyra
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAmerican Political Science Association Conference, Washington DC
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sept 2010

Bibliographical note

Conference Organiser: APSA

Structured keywords

  • Institute of Greece, Rome, and the Classical Tradition


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