The Thumos Factor

The Ancient Greeks believed human beings were driven by passions that by themselves could lead to ruin. But these forces were also indispensable to human functioning; and as Plato taught in the Phaedrus, our passions could be made to serve the good, if the charioteer that reined in our lower nature was our reasoning power. It was the function of this charioteer, however, to control without obliterating thumos, which is our passionate side. 

What is seen in today’s establishment Right, however, is not a measured response to adversaries but faint-heartedness (athumia) to a degree that sometimes leaves me appalled. Let me begin by noting that I live in a Pennsylvania borough that heavily favors the reelection of Donald Trump. It would surprise me if my neighbors did not vote by at least a 2 to1 margin for the incumbent. Nonetheless, the only campaign signs, which are usually accompanied by rainbow coalition flags, that I notice on my street are for Biden. Neighbors who ran to decorate their lawns with signs for the wishy-washy, nondescript Romney in 2012 are now avoiding mention of this presidential race, although the same neighbors have quietly revealed to me that they are voting for Trump. These faint-hearted do not have to worry that BLM will come and set their houses on fire. The Left is in the minority around here but acts as if it controls the community. Full of confidence or chutzpah, these activists run around threatening to boycott the businesses owned by Trump-supporters. 

For me this is just one more proof of the athumia that I have been observing on the right. Our media-approved establishment conservatives, my cowed GOP neighbors, and Southern whites who reacted passively to the defacing and shattering of Confederate monuments, seem far less equipped for battle than their enraged opposition. And I don’t think this difference can be explained with such bromides as “conservatives are just nicer people” or “we follow the law and they don’t.” This glaring behavioral difference is also not reducible to an explanation favored by some of my Republican acquaintances, namely that “they think about politics all the time and we don’t.” Establishment conservatives get paid beyond the dreams of avarice to yap about politics 24-7, and the best they can come up with is “Let’s all get out there and vote Republican” or the complaint that “The other side doesn’t believe in democracy.” 

Well, of course the other side doesn’t believe in rules or democracy, so where do we go from here? How about organizing a nationwide boycott against corporations that discriminate against believing Christians or subsidize terrorist groups like BLM and Antifa? The Left organizes boycotts all the time, but Sean Hannity and other Conservatism, Inc. talking heads assure us that they don’t believe in such nasty tactics. The New York Post and Fox News also refer to the Proud Boys and other groups that try to protect monuments from destruction as “far Right” troublemakers.  Why is the Right not allowed to defend monuments and homes that are under assault, particularly after policemen have been asked to step down? Showing real signs of life may be even more critical for the Right than learning from tweets that Ben Shapiro may vote for Trump, that Jonah Goldberg is still on the fence, or that Democrats are the “real racists.” On a Backchannel program sponsored by the Charlemagne Institute, Carl Horowitz joked that “the Left may take our conservatives at their word and give them non-negotiable demands to prove their antiracism.” This assumes of course that the Left is even listening to empty noise.

Let me also throw out the notion that one of the reasons an energetic Left is on the offensive and the other side is weakly resisting has to do with character differences. Although there are notable exceptions, particularly among the Deplorables and some black conservatives, the Left is more emotionally and, in some cases, more heroically committed to what it wants. This is not an unadulterated compliment, since the same thing could have been said about the Nazis or Bolsheviks, neither of whom were morally admirable. But we should distinguish between a movement that wants to dialogue with its enemy and one that seeks to match its enemy in cunning and resourcefulness. Watching the Left lace into its opposition is a bit like observing Mike Tyson take apart a scrawny seventy-pound weakling. 

Our ambivalent conservative partisans also seem to revel in their close personal ties to fashionable leftists whom they claim to be opposing. They showcase leftist celebrities on Fox News and wish to have us believe they and their sparring partners all get along at the end of the day. But the reality is that there are loads of more militant leftists who smile less and who have no interest in taking gifts from the other side. They are too busy planning their next move and have certainly not ruled out street violence to achieve what they want.

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About Paul Gottfried

Paul Edward Gottfried is the editor of Chronicles. An American paleoconservative philosopher, historian, and columnist, Gottfried is a former Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, as well as a Guggenheim recipient.

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