There is a part of us that loves to fight. The Greeks call it thymos (or thumos); St. Thomas calls it the “irascible appetite.”
Everyone possesses some measure of this spirit, along with natural desires for enjoyable goods (eros) and for truth (logos).
Each part of our nature has its intended purpose. When we desire what is truly good, and struggle to obtain or preserve genuine goods, we are using our faculties harmoniously and beneficially. When we misdirect any of these powers, some degree of misery ensues.
A genuine political science will consider persons, parties, and events in light of this complex set of driving forces.
Take, for example, our former President, whose recent ouster was orchestrated to appear as much as possible like a military coup.
As Carson Holloway notes in this masterful essay, Donald Trump is “a preeminently thumotic being, far more spirited than the average person and even than the typical politician.”
Neither Trump’s many zealous fans, nor his many passionate enemies, have failed to notice this. In fact, it is the key to his appeal, and to his offensiveness.
Though few of Trump’s supporters are as spirited as he, all of them appreciate Trump’s willingness to fight on behalf of citizens whose interests are routinely ignored by elites, whose convictions and habits are casually derided as “deplorable,” and whose nation’s place in the world appears to be sinking due to feckless leadership.
On the other hand, Trump’s critics are sincerely motivated by a fear that his excessive thymos poses a threat to “the liberal, rights-based orders that have come to dominate the modern West.”
Insofar as some of these critics sincerely seek to preserve liberal democracy, Holloway argues, they err in missing the role spiritedness must play in achieving this goal. In fact, a healthy republic demands leaders willing to risk all for the common good; and citizens “willing to push back aggressively at any effort to curb their liberties.”
Additionally, well intentioned members of the anti-Trump brigade miss the role a disordered thymos plays in the Left’s “quest for perfect justice,” which “thrills at the thought that history will deliver them definitive and final victory over the retrograde forces that they disdain.”
For these extremists, anti-Trumpism has been a boon, enabling them to distract the moderates of America with promises of normalcy, while preparing the mechanisms with which they hope to abolish our freedoms forever.
Ironically, it is “the thumotic utopianism of the Left,” steering us into the shoals of civilizational catastrophe, which makes it imperative that defenders of “our country and its traditional way of life” cultivate a spiritedness of our own.
As recent events have reminded us all too painfully, our fighting spirit must always be moderated by reason. Yet it is unmeasurably unreasonable to conclude that thymos is a faculty we can afford to do without.
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