FIRST THINGS magazine this month is running an article by Harvey Mansfield, the Harvard political scientist with a distaste for political science. The article is entitled HOW TO UNDERSTAND POLITICS, and is very good. He uses the term thumos, taken from Plato and understood as that part of the human soul concerned with self-importance. And he argues that this is at the very heart of politics. He argues further that since modern political science ignores or denies the soul, insisting instead on understanding human beings in terms of self , it misses the mark when studying politics. This article is available now to online subscribers to FT; view it here. Or borrow the print copy from a friend. Or wait two months when it'll be posted on the FT website.
Some teaser quotes:
"You can tell who is in charge of a society by noticing who is allowed to get angry and for what cause, rather than by trying to gauge how much each group gets."
"Generalized self-esteem arises from the modern concept of the 'self' which has a history back to the sixteenth century that I will not go into. It is enough to say that the self is a simplification of the notion of soul, created to serve the purposes of the modern sciences of psychology and economics, both of which want you to be happy in simple, straightforward ways they can count."
"Thumos"...is by its nature complicated. Sometimes translated as spiritedness, it names a part of the soul that connects one's own to the good. Thumos represents the spirited defense of one's own characteristic of the animal body, standing for the bristling reaction of an animal in face of a threat or a possible threat. It is first of all a wary reaction rather than eager forward movement, though it may attack if that is the best defense...To risk one's life to save one's life is the paradox of thumos...As a human animal, you can even condemn your life and say you are sorry and ashamed, for shame is due to thumos.
"Is shame in your interest? It's hard to say yes and just as hard to say no. Apparently you have a self above your self that's sometimes critical of your self and makes you ashamed. Let's call that a soul..."
"...Let us not underestimate human ingenuity in reasoning its way around reason". (That at the end of a long comment regarding the relative lack of application of logic to political campaigns.)
In the end, Professor Mansfield (author, you may recall, of the 2006 book , Manliness, which won him such negative acclaim in the feminist press) wants us--and political scientists-- to "consider the importance of human importance" in understanding politics. That is, the importance of the soul--however we are going to define it.
Keep an eye on FIRST THINGS for the full article.