June 16, 2015

Grexit and the Melian Dialogue


The following article originally appeared in E!Sharp on June 1, 2015. An excerpt is below and the full text can be accessed here.

The Melian Dialogue – the dramatization of a meeting between delegates from the city-state Athens and the island of Melos in 415 BCE – is one of the most famous passages of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. It has long been a favourite of students of politics and rhetoric and, more recently, of game theorists. Greece’s finance minister, the economist Yanis Varoufakis, is well-versed in the text, and even offered his own translation in a 1997 game theoretical discussion. It is all the more reason that the Melian Dialogue – with its ruminations on power, morality, and rational choice – should be required reading for European policymakers seeking a resolution to the Greek debt crisis, particularly given the failure of the recent round of dialogue between Greece and its creditors. Below is an abridged version, liberally updated for contemporary relevance:

The Greeks, who were increasingly friendly with Russia, would not submit to Brussels like the other Europeans, and had assumed an attitude of open hostility. Upon receiving the Europeans, led by three known as the Troika, the Greek representatives said: ‘These talks, in and of themselves, are unobjectionable. But your calls for austerity and structural reforms are too far advanced, as if you have already made up your minds. All we can reasonably expect from this negotiation is conflict or servitude.’


‘There is certainly no need to repeat how we got into this mess, nor harp upon your past follies,’ replied the Europeans. ‘But let us focus on what is now feasible. You know as well as we do that right and wrong are only in question between equals in power. The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.’ [Read more]