The Soul of Politics

Harvey Mansfield defines
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Question: What is thumos?

Harvey Mansfield: I recently gave a lecture, a Jefferson Lecture, in Washington, D.C. on the importance of thumos, a Greek word. T-H-U-M-O-S – I spelled it for you – which means “spiritedness”. It’s a part of our soul. It’s the part of our soul that has to do with anger as opposed to desire. And that, I think, is . . . an emotion of thumos is at the bottom of politics. And thumos is opposed to self-interest because it suggests that you’re self is complicated. It doesn’t have a simple interest. When you get angry, you often do things that are against your simple self-interest. And also, it’s possible when you do something you don’t care for, you can become ashamed. And so your self is criticizing yourself. So there must be a self which is above yourself, and which can either get carried away or become critical. And for the notion of self-interest – which is the bott . . . at the bottom of our political science today and of much of our social science thinking – seems to me to be a stupid and dangerous simplification.

Recorded on: 6/13/07