Harvey Mansfield
Political Theorist; Author; Professor, Harvard

The Soul of Politics

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Harvey Mansfield defines

Harvey Mansfield

Harvey C. Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government, studies and teaches political philosophy. He has written on Edmund Burke and the nature of political parties, on Machiavelli and the invention of indirect government, in defense of a defensible liberalism and in favor of a Constitutional American political science. He has also written on the discovery and development of the theory of executive power, and has translated three books of Machiavelli’s and (with the aid of his wife) Tocqueville's Democracy in America. His book on manliness has just been published. He was Chairman of the Government Department from 1973-1977, has held Guggenheim and NEH Fellowships, and has been a Fellow at the National Humanities Center. He won the Joseph R. Levenson award for his teaching at Harvard, received the Sidney Hook Memorial award from the National Association of Scholars, and in 2004 accepted a National Humanities Medal from the President.  He has hardly left Harvard since his first arrival in 1949, and has been on the faculty since 1962.


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