Alcibiades (450–404 B.C.), nephew of Pericles, was born to wealth and position. Handsome and brilliant, he received the finest education of his day, imbibing the intellectually radical ideas of the sophists and Socrates. Above all, he learned that might makes right and that success is the only criterion for right and wrong. Alcibiades was the antithesis of Pericles. Alcibiades had neither principles nor a moral compass. His vision was political power for himself, but his charisma and ability gave him a dangerous degree of influence over the Athenians. In pursuit of his goal of dictatorial power, he led the Athenians to continue the war with Sparta and to undertake the conquest of Sicily. Thwarted by his enemies, Alcibiades turned traitor and was a primary cause for the ultimate defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War. Alcibiades was the product of the Athenian democracy, and to his critics, he embodied the failing of that democracy.
Questions to Consider:
1. What twentieth-century politician might you compare to Alcibiades?
2. Athenian foreign policy rested in part on the moral assumption that strong nations should use their powers to aid the weak. Is there anything comparable to this ideal in the history of American foreign policy?