The tragic truth in Thucydides' warning from ancient Greece

Since the election of United States President Donald Trump, commentators have rummaged through the past to make sense of the present and predictions about the future. They are preoccupied, in a word, by precedent.

At the heart of any precedent is the belief that once acknowledged, it is actionable. A historical precedent offers not only a pattern but also a promise. We are assured by a rule - given what has preceded, here is how we must proceed - and reassured by a pledge: If we act rightly, we will be around to act again.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2019, with the headline 'The tragic truth in Thucydides' warning from ancient Greece'. Print Edition | Subscribe