The Corner

Politics & Policy

Plato on Trump

President Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Wildwood, N.J., January 28, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

I’m not a Trump partisan, but it strikes me as not unreasonable to frame the president’s appeal in terms of Platonic thumos, or spiritedness. In The New Criterion, political scientist Carson Holloway of the Heritage Foundation makes the case. In The Republic, Plato divides the soul into desire, reason, and spiritedness. These three are in turn driven by the quest for satisfaction of the body (desire), the mind (reason), and honor (spiritedness). I can hear David French and Jonah  Goldberg saying, “But Trump has no sense of honor whatsoever.” Okay. But Holloway says spiritedness manifests in the pursuit of dominance and fame, which sounds a little closer to the mark. The aggression, the unwillingness to concede wrongdoing, the incessant need to belittle his perceived enemies are all part of the thumotic package. Holloway notes:

Donald Trump [is] a preeminently thumotic being, far more spirited than the average person and even than the typical politician. This should be evident even from Trump’s pre-political career. Trump loves his buildings primarily not as valuable assets, but as expressions of his consequence. That is why his name is so prominently displayed on them. His thumotic character reveals itself no less vividly in his approach to politics. He is famously, even uniquely, combative. This is part of what distinguishes him from more conventional (and more boring) conservatives like Mitt Romney . . .

Moreover, the dominant themes of Trump’s political rhetoric make a straightforward appeal to spiritedness’s concern with honor and victory. What’s it all about? Winning! And when Trump turns from the positive to the negative and finds it necessary to condemn, he does not merely find conditions to be unsatisfactory or his opponents’ actions ill-considered. They are, rather, “a disgrace.”

Spiritedness is the key to understanding not only Trump himself but also his relationship to his supporters and thus his political effectiveness. To see this, we must further clarify the character of spiritedness and its role in the lives even of ordinary people. In the first place, it is a mistake to think that spiritedness is an entirely selfish passion. It is instead bound up with our natural sociability and with what the ancient Greeks recognized as the very powerful “love of one’s own” — our often fierce dedication to those to whom we are somehow particularly attached. Thus spiritedness comes to the defense of not only one’s own honor but also the honor of those with whom we share some identity.

Read the whole thing.

Most Popular

Film & TV

America’s Favorite Movie

For more than a decade, readers volunteering their ratings on the movie site IMDb have declared The Shawshank Redemption (1994) their favorite film of all time. (Number two is The Godfather). Unlike the unholy tablets that are the box office charts, which are strongly linked to marketing budgets and show a ... Read More
Film & TV

America’s Favorite Movie

For more than a decade, readers volunteering their ratings on the movie site IMDb have declared The Shawshank Redemption (1994) their favorite film of all time. (Number two is The Godfather). Unlike the unholy tablets that are the box office charts, which are strongly linked to marketing budgets and show a ... Read More
U.S.

Some Good News Going into the Weekend

It’s Friday -- although I know it’s getting harder and harder to tell these days. You deserve a respite from yesterday’s gloom. (If you’re hungry for more gloom, there’s always the most recent edition of The Editors podcast -- and thank you, dear readers, for checking on me.) Today’s newsletter ... Read More
U.S.

Some Good News Going into the Weekend

It’s Friday -- although I know it’s getting harder and harder to tell these days. You deserve a respite from yesterday’s gloom. (If you’re hungry for more gloom, there’s always the most recent edition of The Editors podcast -- and thank you, dear readers, for checking on me.) Today’s newsletter ... Read More
Science & Tech

The 41 Worst People You Meet on Twitter

Twitter, even more so than blogs, offered us the revolutionary promise of a virtual town square: You could hear from and engage with people from many walks of life, the prominent and the ordinary, in real time. You could read news as it breaks, debate the great issues of the day, and have fun. That promise ... Read More
Science & Tech

The 41 Worst People You Meet on Twitter

Twitter, even more so than blogs, offered us the revolutionary promise of a virtual town square: You could hear from and engage with people from many walks of life, the prominent and the ordinary, in real time. You could read news as it breaks, debate the great issues of the day, and have fun. That promise ... Read More