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Thucydides’ Trap: Straus Center Course Features Guest Lecture

On Monday, November 20th, Professor Seth Jaffe presented a lecture to undergraduate students in the course, “Natural Rights and the Origins of Modern Politics.” The course, offered through the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought in conjunction with the Yeshiva College Political Science Department, and taught by Associate Director Dr. Neil Rogachevsky, focuses on the foundational texts of modern political thought.

Seth Jaffe

Jaffe’s lecture was entitled “U.S. Foreign Policy & the Ancient Historian: America, China, the Middle East, and Thucydides’ Trap.” Briefly discussing the influence of Thucydides on modern political thinkers, especially Thomas Hobbes, Jaffe presented a provocative account of what we may learn about US-China competition today from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. Engaging the well-known “Thucydides Trap” thesis–which holds that the US and China may go to war if prior historical patterns hold–Jaffe stressed the importance of considering the domestic regimes of countries when assessing their motivations and the possibilities of peace or war. In a rich question and answer period, students engaged Dr. Jaffe on US-China competition, Ukraine, and the role of the war in the Middle East, and they asked stimulating questions about the role of political philosophy in interpreting international relations.  

Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Seth Jaffe received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Toronto and is currently Associate Professor of Political Science and Classics at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy. His first book, Thucydides on the Outbreak of War: Character and Contest, was published by Oxford University Press in 2017.