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.

About Paul Gottfried

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

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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13 responses to “The Thumos Factor

  • Americans traditionally, have had to be dragged kicking and screaming into conflict. This American ethos goes back to colonial times when the pre-Americans exhausted every peaceful means to convince the Crown to treat them like human beings not a street side ATM. Their last gasp for peace was the Declaration of Independence.

    Zoom forward to the early 1800’s to find Americans haggling for decades to placate the Democrat Party plantation South over the issue of slavery. America had to literally be shelled into war at Fort Sumter.

    Zoom forward again, to the early 1940’s. Even though FDR saw it coming, America did not. Again, America was literally bombed into World War II at Pearl Harbor.

    It wasn’t until after World War II and the birth of the Deep State that American were forced to acclimate to constant war. Korea was the first such war that to this day has not yet ended. Then came Vietnam, Yassir Arafat and PLO terrorism, the Iraq Wars and the Afghan War.

    Finally, America or what was left of it, elected Donald Trump to the Presidency. He was a klieg light that illuminated the rot and corruption of both political parties (but especially the Democrat Party), the Deep State, the media and a totalitarian justice system wired to annihilate any opposition.

    In view of American history both old and current, I must concluded that this op-ed by Paul Gottfried is fatuous.

    • Gottfried is great. Your recitation of talking points amounts to a child’s understanding of history. Totally insufficient to the task you put it towards, refuting Gottfried.

    • Agreed. I’ll add that anyone says “we should do more” never says what the plan is or who will lead.

  • THanks for putting a video of a black member of the Proud Boys. They are not a racist group. They are not leftists, so if you ask a leftist of course since they are not of the lett they will call them RAYYYCIIISTS like they do everyone else.

  • So basically, I think you are saying that right wingers are an enigma, indecipherable even to ourselves. Where leftist’s passions are an animating, positive force, right wing athumia is supposedly non-animating and a sign of weakness. The problem is that if the right wing actually shows passion it is interpreted by the left as evidence of radicalism. Therefore, the right must shun thumos so that we can maintain a dialog with leftists that they clearly don’t want. Trump supporter posts no signs in their front yard because they are faint hearted, but these same supporters attend Trump rallies in massive numbers, wildly cheering the President.
    There is something missing here and I don’t get it.

    • I don’t post a Trump sign in my yard so I won’t attract vandals or worse. Since my mayor won’t prosecute BLM criminals it seems like a smart move to me. It is not a lack of thumbs. It is an abundance of caution.

      • Didn’t say it wasn’t smart. In fact, I would do the same thing, and then head to my precinct to vote straight R on Nov. 3rd. My point was to draw the distinction between remaining low key in day to day life while stoking the passion in our hearts. Let the lefties call us radical if they like.

  • Quite frankly, most of the superpatriot Right doesn’t have the stones to do anything but yap. All the folks who’ve said for years the government could never get away with tyranny because the populace was so heavily armed are nowhere to be seen leaving 17 year-olds to do it for them. Where are the protests in support of Kyle Rittenhouse? Where is anyone doing anything at all to end the crap from our governors? They’ve found there is no resistance to anything they do, just more yapping from impotent poseurs.

    • The motivating principle of so-called Conservatism since the 1960s has been the denial of organic forms and their associated processes of becoming. Most so-called Conservatives raised within this inversion of actual conservatism have no clue what any of this means. They’re problem solving without any of the necessary inputs.

  • Article says what I’ve been thinking for years. We don’t fight and we don’t support the few groups on our side who do fight (Patriot Prayer, Proud Boys).

    As I read, I could t help thinking of all those articles about bad leftist behavior that you see on sites like Instapundit, accompanied by captions like, “When taxpayers get tired of supporting this sort of thing…” or “Just wait till all those Second Amendment Supporters show up to defend their rights.”

    After seeing that sort of thing for the last 6-7 years, you have to roll your eyes at conservative bravado.

  • To heck with them. They are the Enemy and are Illegitimi. Elections that overthrow the nation are not legitimate expressions of will of the people either. We are not going to accept a ‘Biden’ win. Period.

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