It has long been a tradition for political theorists to teach Plato’s Republic at some point or another in their career. When discussing the three parts of the soul that Socrates refers to in that book, many theorists seem more comfortable with emphasizing the first and last parts (reason and appetites), while skipping over the middle part (spiritedness). This is because spiritedness, or thumos, is the most complex and least intuitive of the parts.[1] Scholarly research has largely skipped over thumos as well, even though this concept has significance for political theory far beyond studying a text of Plato.

This essay argues that thumos uncovers the nature and character of “the political.” Many essential and constitutive aspects of the political realm have their roots in the thumotic element of human nature. Specifically, thumos guides how the political realm inevitably emerges from individual interaction, how the political is sustained, and what dangers the political faces. Thumos is the basis for patriotism, for developing a common good or standard for a community, and for preserving law and order, all of which are essential to political life. However, thumos’ momentum eventually drives it out of control in an aggressive “snowball effect:” when given an inch, thumos takes a foot. Patriotism becomes jingoism, religious solidarity leads to religious persecution, and the preservation of justice becomes an excuse to punish diversity. At this point, it becomes a political liability and must be controlled.

From the vista opened by the study of thumos, the political realm will be seen as highly particularistic, while also given to abstraction. Despite the reputation of the political as a practical realm that works with nuts-and-bolts policy issues, it also has a theoretical component that distances itself from these concrete realities. This abstract quality lends the political a tendency to adopt such intangible notions as justice. However, it is this same quality of abstraction that also yields practical consequences: political persecution or oppression (especially in the name of justice) becomes that much more likely. Thumos, then, generates many conditions that are necessary for politics, even while it creates conditions that undermine politics as well. Addressing thumos in this way uncovers a prominent problem for classical politics that is just as pertinent for modern politics: a certain measure of thumos must be sustained for political life, but it needs to be restrained from taking on a life of its own.

Partial investigations of thumos and its political applications have been written, but it remains largely understudied. Some scholars investigate thumos from a literary perspective, to document how epic poets like Homer and others use it to describe certain emotional conditions of the individual.[2] Others effectively equate thumos with emotion in general, or some specific emotion like courage or anger, without emphasizing the broader political consequences.[3] Some path-breaking work with insightful results has treated thumos as an important political variable, but it does so by fracturing or isolating thumos’ different aspects at the expense of painting the broader picture.[4] The continuity between these separate parts is fully drawn for the first time in this work. By pulling together the observations of many ancient and modern political thinkers, this essay provides a more robust and complete exploration than has been previously offered of how thumos and its different facets culminate in a general understanding of politics.


The Nature of Thumos

As a concept, the history of thumos begins with the ancient Greek poets and philosophers. It began its life as a word for mere emotion or anger, but would eventually be transformed by Plato and Aristotle into a term describing a complex psychological process. Some of the earliest uses of this Greek equivalent for “spiritedness” are in the works of Homer and Heraclitus.[5] After Homer (and some tragedians like Aeschylus), the concept of thumos was largely forgotten until Plato revived it. By Xenophon’s day in fifth-century Athens, thumos was only used for horses.[6] Orge (“anger”) was used instead for people. Thucydides made use of orge nearly 40 times compared with only 3 uses of thumos.[7] In the dialogues of Plato, Socrates recovered the concept, making frequent use of it. In The Republic, Plato directly appropriated the antiquated thumos from Homer and gave it new life. It is not completely clear why Plato adopted such a little-used word, but its very unpopularity may have given it the benefit of being free from the linguistic baggage of more traditional concepts. Aristotle, as Plato’s student, would also make use of thumos in such works as the Nicomachian Ethics and Politics.[8]

For the ancient Greeks, thumos is an element of human nature that is best understood as a kind of frustrated or thwarted anger. Thomas Pangle describes the emergence of thumos:

Anger follows upon frustrated desire. When we desire a good, move toward that good, and are then thwarted, an emotion appears which urges us to overcome the obstacle to the fulfillment of our desire. The same emotion is present when in moving away from an evil we are thwarted in flight. That emotion is thumos.[9]

Anger at encountering obstacles thus seeks to triumph over those obstacles.[10] Those acting with thumos are “like beasts charging those who have wounded them.”[11] It shows itself as the “courage that overcomes danger,” as well as the “sense of shame that overcomes base temptation, and in the sense of honor that leads a man to overcome all obstacles in order to be first.”[12]

Plato and Aristotle would deepen the analysis of thumos by looking beyond the mere emotional state of “thwarted desire” to the process of what actually happened when one experienced this thwarted desire: they were able to trace the coalescing of a person’s identity to thumos. Thumos arises after one’s personal desires have been thwarted. Attention is suddenly drawn to one’s self and exactly what it is that is wanted. It is the “I” that feels deprived and that “I” wants to take action to change the circumstances.[13] While thumos does not fill in the content of one’s identity, it puts the individual’s own understanding of that identity front-and-center. In other words, thumos makes one radically self-aware by forcing one’s eye inward. Identity is tied to one’s desires and ways of life. The thwarting of these is essentially a reprimand against one’s identity. The arousal of thumos is thus coeval with the forging of self-identity.

By defending identity, the thumotic is guarding something higher and more noble than itself. The thumotic shows the value of the self as something worth fighting for and defending.[14] While being distinct from any “I” or identity, thumos is at the service of it. In the course of defending one’s self, one is defending more than the mere physical body, however. This intangible self that is defended—often described in terms of personality or soul—is a projected image. Physical bodies exist, but one’s identity and sense of self is a powerfully constructed image: “your abstract self defines you better than the body you wanted to protect.”[15] This is not to say that there is no “self” or core at the center of one’s being, but that the only way to focus on one’s own self is to create a hologram of it. Think of it as the inherent problem of trying to see how one looks physically: we are never able to stand outside of ourselves to see ourselves in full, so we rely on artificial means (such as a mirror or photograph) that are representations of us without actually being us.

One of the most unusual aspects of thumos is this tendency to “project.” It is by an act of projection that thumos pulls together the different threads of the self into a unit to be defended. The self is not the only projecting that thumos does, however. It involves the “mysterious tendency to assign complete responsibility to that which frustrates desire. Thumos even personifies lifeless objects—our impulse is to kick back at the chair on which we stubbed our toe.”[16] What frustrates desire could be ourselves, others, or even an event. In each case, though, blame is projected outward. In a common case, thumos can be enflamed when we do not live up to our own expectations or sense of self. Rather than projecting blame inward, however, it is redirected outward to a projection of our self. The most typical occurrence of this is to assign blame for being thwarted to a particular part of us—if we fail to live up to our expectations, we might not blame our self so much as blame some abstract quality like our carelessness, our laziness, etc.

At times, however, this projection might refer to a particular body part.[17] If we do not read as much of a book as we would like, we might blame our “eyes” for not wanting to read any longer or blame our “head” for not wanting to take in anymore information. There are two famous instances of thumotic projection in this vein. The first is in Homer’s Odyssey, where Odysseus returns home from his voyage.[18] He is presumed dead by many suitors who court his wife and freely use his lands and property. Odysseus sees these suitors and his thumos is aroused: he is overcome with the desire to attack these mediocrities that had the impertinence to take over his life. This is too dangerous a course of action though, so he must fight down the anger that arose from his feeling so unjustly insulted. Odysseus personifies the heart as the source of blame: it is his heart that is so upset and that makes him want to rush into a situation that will get him killed.

This story of Odysseus’ heart is mentioned twice by Socrates during the Republic.[19] Socrates points out that Odysseus tells his heart that it was his “cunning” or reason that has kept him alive so far. Rather than merely say that Odysseus thought this or thought that, Socrates (like Homer) splits Odysseus’ inner monologue into a dialogue: his heart is the personification of his problem, while his reason blames his heart and forces his heart into submission.[20] Odysseus’ thumos has three effects here. First, it is so enflamed by the unjust situation that he nearly rushes off to certain death. Second, his thumos embarrasses him insofar as he knows he should have had better control of himself than to merely want to run around like a madman. Third, he personifies this blame away from his self to an “alien” object, his heart.[21] This directs blame away from him and projects it onto something else, thus allowing “Odysseus” the man to remain innocent.

The other famous instance of thumos personifying a body part is with the perplexing story of Leontius, told by Socrates in the Republic.[22] This tale is about a man named Leontius who happens to walk by many corpses lying next to the public executioner. Leontius was conflicted: he wanted to stare at the bodies, but he also thought he should turn away because it was “disgusting” to look at them. His desire won the conflict and he gave in to looking at the corpses while yelling at his eyes “Look, you damned wretches, take your fill of the fair sight.” Leontius’ thumos was aroused because he was unable to control himself and keep his eyes away from the bodies. As with Odysseus, Leontius was ashamed at his base feelings and personified his eyes as the sole troublemakers.

The way thumos leads to personification begins with someone having a moment of weakness or doing something wrong. When we do not live up to the self we imagine ourselves as or know we can be, our anger at being thwarted is raised. What target can this thumos take, however? It is “I” who was weak and it is “I” who am angry at myself. Who can be blamed except the “I?” This is where thumos splinters the “I” into guilty and innocent parts, with the guilty part being personified as some body part.[23] The innocent part—i.e., the part that knew what “I” should have done and failed at bringing it about—is now converted into a new, artificial “I” that exists apart from the alien part that is guilty.   This new “I” is built by thumos and only contains the innocent parts, like reason. Consequently, Leontius (the new, innocent part) is now able to blame his eyes (the guilty part), even though it was Leontius himself who was weak all along. This is an important point: thumos allows someone to remain mostly innocent while blaming something else.[24]

Ronna Burger notes that humans have “a dynamic process of shifting self-division, or self-multiplication, through which the soul structures itself. In the case of the soul suffering moral indignation, that self-structuring is the deed of thumos.”[25] A signal consequence of thumos is its tendency to abstraction, an abstraction away from the person and toward images. Seth Benardete writes that thumos “knows nothing of nature or the body.”[26] It fabricates an image of the heart or the eyes as blameworthy objects. In the same way, it fabricates a projection of the “self” (above and beyond the body) that consists of desires and inherited ways—the physical body’s life is often risked to defend this fabricated “self.” The arousal of thumos is thus coeval with an increasing level of abstraction. This abstraction operates on a level above reality that is akin to the way a rationalization of an action exists above the action itself: a rationalization is an artificial or constructed explanation of an act that is given after the fact, by way of justifying something. Just as a rationalization is held to be (on at least some level) an artificial response that can put distance between someone and their true reasons for acting a certain way, so the thumotic generates images that are just as artificial and just as distant from reality. The projecting of Leontius or Odysseus can be seen as rationalizations, insofar as they must abstract away from their personal weakness to cover their shameful acts.[27]


The Emergence of the Political from the Thumotic

Even though one’s anger at being thwarted can be raised from anything ranging from a stubbed toe to a denial of one’s rights, most arousals of thumos come from one’s particular desires and ways of life. After all, when one’s goals are thwarted, where did those goals originally come from? The most likely origin is a combination of personal desires and inherited ways and norms. This, then, is the self revealed by thumos: a person’s very identity or core is shown with the most clarity when one’s inner goals or desires go unmet. Yet, thumos does not merely reveal and defend one’s self. It also leads one to side with those who have a similar sense of self, i.e., similar desires and inherited ways. Consequently, the thumotic helps forge a group identity: people who have similar ways of life will tend to find themselves on the same sides of the barricades.[28] Because of thumos, this group will defend itself and its ways—even at the risk of life. A group learns to “trust” one another through the occasional arousals of thumos: because it defends its own, it has great sympathy for its own.[29] The thumotic is thus “gentle” to its own. It is correspondingly defensive and even hostile to that which is not its own.[30]

For a particular group, any sense of “the other” will be seen with distrust and suspicion because it will instinctively feel the need to defend its own ways.[31] One sees examples of this with team rivalries in sports: one team’s fans will be instinctively defensive against a rival team for no other reason than that the rival team is different. It is at this point of creating a group identity and a defensiveness to the “other” that thumos becomes politically relevant. As one scholar notes of the thumotic, its “harsh exclusive element [is] essential to patriotism” and is “the derivative willingness to kill and to be killed, to destroy human beings.”[32]

One potentially tragic consequence of thumos’ role in group identity comes from its inherently risky nature. When this thumotic impulse defends the self, it is something lower defending something higher. Thumos defends the self, but in doing so, it puts the whole self at risk. In a thumotic rage, it is possible for this defensiveness to even risk life and limb over mere insults to one’s self or ways of life. This reckless quality of thumos affects group dynamics as well. The same thumos that leads groups to stick together and leads it to risk everything over preserving identity. Outsiders to the groups will see madness in their actions, though it is actually thumos working as it always does. This line of thought shows that one is justified in saying that all group conflict is not reducible to a mere threat of bodily harm.[33]

Thumotic defensiveness is categorically different from the defensiveness associated with, say, a situation where a group faces impending violence. Why would an individual face death to defend the group identity? How could an individual see their own life as worth less than his or her community’s preservation? It is because thumos leads to a transcending of the self.[34] In defending their identity, they defend the other similar identities of the group. However, this defense of the self requires risking the life of the self, so thumos causes the individual to transcend notions of “my life” to preserve “our way.”

The inherent defensiveness of thumos that helped construct group identity also creates a yearning for political liberty.[35] Defending one’s own amounts to seeking superiority. One’s ways are defended because others perceive them as wrong, bad, not good enough, etc. Thumotic rage leads one to angrily reply that, contrary to what the “other” might contend, this way—self-respect, identity, honor, taste in cuisine, or whatever is at stake—is not inferior, but is worthy of respect. When one’s ways are called into question, one no longer seeks equal footing with the other. Getting carried away, we claim that our ways are superior to the other’s ways.

Superiority is not easy to secure, however, because it is not easy to definitively place one’s self above others (short of becoming a monarch, tribal chief, president, etc.). In this way, the thumotic seeking of superiority gives way to being treated respectfully or as an equal. This evolves into a group’s call for self-determination and liberty—particularly if the group sees that others have this degree of liberty.[36] Beyond that, thumos helps to preserve liberty, insofar as it creates a willingness to risk life and limb to fight oppression.[37] If the only human motivation was mere self-preservation, liberty would not be demanded as often as it has been—after all, self-preservation could be had without liberty. As Aristotle notes, “both the element of ruling and the element of freedom stem” from the thumotic.[38]


Thumos and the Roots of Justice

If a people’s ways of life were not so important to them, they would not find oppression to be such a burden. It is a burden, however, in that people do not want to live under the ways of others, but under their own ways. From the perspective of thumos, this is the motivation behind fighting for liberty or to cast off oppression. People do not seek self-determination so they will have unbounded license, but to follow the ways they share as a group. It must be recalled that the individual’s lifestyle that was thumotically defended evolved into a group’s lifestyle that was thumotically defended. As an individual’s lifestyle is replaced with a sense of the group’s lifestyle, a normative standard for this group emerges—a standard that gives guidelines to the group about what they agree upon for appropriate behaviors and most desirable lifestyles.

One no longer seeks to only preserve one’s ways and norms, but to also enforce that those ways and norms are followed. It is only with the arrival of thumos that defending a way of life actually becomes a normative good—i.e., rewards for those who follow it and punishments for those who do not. Without the thumotic, there is no defense of a particular way of life, just as there is no concern that others may not adhere to these ways. It is thumos that causes a group of people to be preoccupied with whether or not members of their community are living up to the designated, particular way of life—thumos makes them care if others lead different or unorthodox lifestyles.

These particular ways of the community are not so vigorously supported because they have been analyzed by the group and found to be the most just or prudent. Instead, these ways are defended merely because the group happened to manifest them. It does not matter if a group inherited “tradition A” or “tradition B,” they will defend whichever of the two ended up as theirs. The actual content, then, of these ways is arbitrary and taken as a given. These givens are what thumos weaves into a community standard that the group feels it must adhere to. In as much as the community standard is effectively arbitrary, by being based on nothing more solid than conventions, this poses a problem. The community’s staunch defense of particular conventions will inevitably seem to that community as a merely willful defense of this tradition over and against that tradition.

The community standard, at this point, will cease to be understood as conventions or traditions and will begin to be understood as a vision of justice. Defending something because it is a moral obligation (or is right) is much easier to do than defending something that was randomly acquired. As thumos leads groups to share a standard, the standard will push further away from being seen as particular to being seen as universal. As the angry defensiveness of the rejected particular ways, thumos does something that is baffling at first sight: it takes on the language of just and unjust. The fact that enflamed anger so quickly makes an issue of whether one has “suffered unjustly” is not an obvious result, even if it is the case.[39] After all, is it not enough to say one is merely angry at not getting what one wants, without resorting to moral language?

A closer look, though, shows that thumos necessarily has to wear the clothes of morality. When someone is mistreated or thwarted, anger could only be aroused if one thought that a different treatment was warranted.[40] In other words, the situation required a particular normative response, which was not given, and the result is anger. Thumos is thus normative in its core: anger is only released when someone or something does not go along with this normative vision (this normative vision, of course, has its roots in one’s particular conventions).

The normative consequences of thumos are exaggerated by thumos’ tendency to create abstractions. It is through this thumotic abstraction that the normative standard of the community becomes idealized as justice. Plato’s Republic shows this connection between thumos and its tendency to generate forms and abstractions. In the Republic, Socrates presents a theory of three-part soul: reason (logistikon), spiritedness (thumoeides), and appetites (epithumetikon).[41] The Greek words that Socrates uses for reason and appetites use the equivalent nouns that one would expect. For spiritedness, however, Socrates does not give the corresponding noun—thumikon—but instead gives thumoeides. The ending of –eides indicates a form or image, so thumoeides means having “the form” of spiritedness.[42] Thus, this part of the soul is not quite thumos itself, but is like an image of it. In other words, Socrates builds the notion of abstraction into the very word choice for the concept of spiritedness.

What does it mean to say that people experience, not spiritedness, but the form of spiritedness? Seth Benardete notes that the arousal of thumos, though it feels real to people, is inauthentic in its roots: “its spuriousness arises from its tacit assumption that the evil it now rails against was once absent. All evil is the result of a willed degeneracy.”[43] Thus, people only falsely experience thumos—they imagine that things could have been done differently or better. Leontius claims to be enraged by his base desires, that he was so weak as to lose his battle of will-power. However, this is a false claim in so far as nothing—not will-power or reason or anything else—will give Leontius perfect control over his desires. He presumes that perfect obedience is within his reach and grows angry when it is not. Odysseus has a similar situation. To be clear, Odysseus did restrain himself, but the very fact that he felt that flash of emotion made him ashamed. It is the nature of the thumotic to believe that his “degeneracy” was “willed,” rather than a fact of life.

The central abstraction of thumos is the notion that perfection or completeness is possible, and that personal flaws could somehow be avoided. The way this abstraction manifests itself is through the idea of “justice.” Complete justice only seems possible in the imagination, but never in the world. Thumos generates this notion of justice or morality that we then bring down to the world. This justice, however, is too artificial to work. In this way, thumos is ultimately the anger we feel when we want justice, but find ourselves without it.[44] Consequently, we punish the offending person or thing as we experience “resentment in the face of [a just act’s] impossibility.”[45]

One scholar goes so far as to suggest that, in the famous cave metaphor in book 7 of the Republic, thumos “projects” the shadows and one such shadow is justice.[46] The way justice is projected on the wall is through politics—it is the political realm that requires the artificial construct of justice that thumos generates. Without the language of justice, it would seem to the community that its normative standard is based only on arbitrary ways and norms. It could be said, then, that thumos “is the locus of morality in the ordinary sense of the term.”[47] It shapes the individual good of a person, but also the larger good that binds citizens together. In this sense, thumos is essentially the “will to justice.”[48]

Given the impossibility of living up to the standard of justice, it is inevitable that people will recognize their own weaknesses. The abstract ideal of justice was only imagined because of what seemed like unjustified suffering. As time goes on, however, people do see this ideal for what it is, i.e., an impossibility or a dream. This leads people to become pessimistic about, not only justice, but any good at all. It seems as if disorder and complete injustice is the order of the day. This view, however, is yet another illusion of thumos. As they suffer, people idealize an image of justice that they imagine should have governed people and events. People suffer (for a second time) when they find that reality falls short of the ideal. They do not say that the situation is less than perfect, but instead they claim it is completely imperfect. In the first place, thumos lead them to seek a false perfection. Finding this out of reach, thumos leads them to claim a false imperfection. In both cases, the thumotic leads people to unreal abstractions.

In Plato’s Republic, Glaucon illustrates this exact effect. He creates a perfectly just man that seems too idealistic and unreal when compared with the perfectly unjust man. Socrates then wryly observes to Glaucon, how “vigorously you polish up” these two “statues.” The point he makes (that Glaucon does not understand) is that neither statue is possible—just because Glaucon is disappointed that the perfectly just man is unreal does not mean that he should mistake the other statue as the “real” one. Nevertheless, it was thumos that lead Glaucon to this conclusion.

All of the effects of thumos are realized by means of abstraction, insofar as these effects are thumotically projected. Consider each of the effects of thumos: the shaping of the self and identity, the forging of a group identity, the adoption of a community standard, and the emergence of the notion of justice. These are all intellectual constructs on some level and only exist in the mind’s eye, so to speak. The author of these projections is thumos. It could be asked if thumos in fact has the last word on these issues. Most pressingly, is justice truly impossible because the notions of justice we currently have are completely constructed by thumos?

On the one hand, the way justice has been described here seems to imply that it must be an artificial construction. On the other hand, justice could very well come from another source beyond the community, such as nature or revelation. Even if a community’s particular standard of justice happened to be constructed by thumos, does this necessarily rule out the possibility of a justice that transcends community, time, and place? While visions of justice naturally arise in the community (via thumos), “naturally arising” is not the same thing as “arising according to nature.” That a notion of justice could originate from outside of the community, emanating from nature or revelation, is clearly a real possibility (and this essay does not argue otherwise). However, this transcendent justice is generally not the standard that governs practical politics and day-to-day life in the community. That day-to-day standard finds its roots in thumos.


The Preservation of Identity or the Persecution of Diversity?

Leo Strauss observes that thumos “in its normal form is a zeal for justice, or moral indignation.” He goes on to note that this moral indignation becomes “vindictiveness and punitiveness.”[49] Given that thumos brings people together on the basis of what they commonly defend and is hostile to what is different, there are two kinds of persecution that can arise. The first occurs when Group A directs hostility at Group B (or upon members of B that live within A), simply because B is different. The second kind occurs when some members of Group A direct hostility to other members of A because the latter members are not seen to be living up to the community standard. In other words, thumotic persecution can be hostile to the difference of other communities or to difference exhibited within their own community.

The problem of thumotic persecution was well-known to ancient philosophers. When thumos is enflamed in a person or group, it can blind them to reason or restraint.[50] Aristotle notes that someone aroused with thumos will not experience choice and will be in a state where they have and do not have certain knowledge, as with being “asleep,” or “drunk.” They may know better and act more reasonably when they are not under the sway of thumos. Yet, in practice they may not reveal this side of themselves, as everyone ultimately ends up being less disciplined than they could be. Consequently, they give in to thumos more freely. Aristotle goes on to suggest that thumos leads people to “utter their sentiments like actors do.” While in this condition, they will hurl whatever they have—quotations, bitter memories, incomplete arguments, emotional pleas, ultimatums, demands, etc. However, none of these “sentiments” are completely true; they’re all applied to the offender as ammunition for punishment, not as true arguments—only cold reason could yield clear argument. In the heat of an altercation, the person gripped by thumos snatches at any sentiment that happens to bubble to the surface, whether it is an argument or a threat. These sentiments are somewhat interchangeable and not premeditated—any one is a good as another. As with all effects of thumos, these sentiments are, at their core, spurious and mere constructions from rage.

If thumos plays such an important role in shaping identity and influencing politics, it can only be considered problematic that it leads to instances of irrationality. When people are free from the influence of thumos, they do not think it is good to indulge in losing control or in being enraged. When overcome by it, however, they cannot help themselves and no longer think of whether what they are doing is right or whether the punishments they seek for someone are fair or even whether the cause they are defending is just.[51] The most troublesome part of this is how easily thumos snowballs into something dangerous: it does not stop at countering the offense, but disproportionately seeks to punish. It magnifies itself from “justified indignation about injustice” to an “unjustified indignation” that is no longer comparable to the original act of injustice.[52] With the arousal of thumos, the danger is that the punishment will never fit the crime.

When thumos is enflamed, one of the principle sources for leading thumos to excessive punishment is injustice: people lash out at those who do not seem to follow the rules or act appropriately.[53] This is a commonsensical notion. Consider how some people might seek to punish or persecute (or at least grow angry) with others who live in a far-away country. Why would feelings of frustration or hatred be aroused by the behavior of people who they do not know and are only seen acting from afar? It is the punitive impulse of thumos. To feel an overwhelming desire to punish someone, one does not need to know the person well or even at all. There merely has to be a sense that he or she did not lived up to some code or standard. This punitive impulse is not limited to assigning blame to the alien and different, it applies within one’s community. Those who are not seen as conforming to the proper standard will face the thumos of the people that do conform.

This same punitive impulse is also a source of religious zeal.[54] As one scholar notes of thumos: “an obvious danger was that men would give their own wrath as God’s. Instead of diminishing conflicts, the disputants would magnify them, and instead of tempering human anger they would inflate it.”[55] Given that religion is often the source of justice, a thumotic defense of justice will quickly become a religious defense of certain behaviors. Additionally, thumos only emerges when one is thwarted—e.g., one’s hopes for a moral community are thwarted by licentious behavior—so it can be natural for someone enflamed with thumos to seek the help of God to overcome these obstacles. This representation of thumos would be one that leads someone to condemn or damn another person in the name of God and religion. This is a problematic situation for thumos, insofar asthe religious impulse to punish appears in everyday politics with great frequency.

In the Laws, Plato places the discussion of religion (and thumos)right after the discussion of the penal code. This seems to suggest that the thumotic is not just a political headache, but something that can be useful too. Good citizenship comes from making use of thumos in punishing injustice: “He who does not do injustice is indeed honorable; but he who does not allow unjust men to work their injustice is more than twice as honorable.”[56] Thumos is the part of human nature that would support whatever arrangement of laws, punishments, and order is needed. Despite its importance for maintaining order, however, it is inherently unstable: the wrong use of it could allow it to spiral out of control or to blindly seize on the wrong ends.[57]


Muting the Effects of Thumos

On the one hand, thumos is necessary for any political community—it encourages one to defend one’s community and forges the shared standard bonding that community. On the other hand, it quickly becomes excessive and leads to persecution (both religious and political) of those who are different. How can thumos be allowed to exist and be prevented from becoming excessive? This question is premised on another one: is it even possible for thumos to be fought or challenged? It is not immediately obvious that the enflamed anger of thumos could be muted or preemptively blocked.

Once it appears, it is not easy to de-escalate thumos. Heraclitus writes that “it is hard to fight against thumos, for what it wants to happen it purchases in exchange for life.”[58] The thumotic is like a grudge that will not let go, even as it stubbornly risks self-destruction for “what it wants to happen.” In the face of such tenacity, a possible solution would be to make no attempts to stop it, and merely allow thumos to run its course. If all sense of confrontation and defensiveness is removed from one’s demeanor, thumos will eventually exhaust itself and naturally recede. Plato suggests speaking “gently” to it.[59] In his metaphor with horses, Xenophon encourages calming the thumotic “horse” by long, peaceful rides that wear it down—not by a fast-paced and fierce gallop or “a sudden wrench” on the reins that would only excite it more.[60] This seems to work because the need for the thumotic to be defensive is removed if the other side capitulates in attitude. In this scenario, capitulation does not mean giving up one’s position, but only how one presents or argues that position.[61]

This solution, however, cannot be considered the final word on coping with the thumotic. With no political involvement, thumos is left to run amok. Socrates suggests that, without intervention, thumos will only stop when it expends its own energy like this, or meets death.[62] However, he notes that reason could intervene to “call” thumos back “like a dog called back by the shepherd.”[63] The thumotic dog, then, needs a shepherd—a shepherd that is provided by the political realm. The conclusion here is that some intervention with thumos is desirable, but directly fighting it is not the ideal course. Aristotle clarifies how the thumotic is best approached: thumos is ruled by reason through “persuasion,” while desire is “ruled despotically.”[64] He encapsulates the problem of the thumotic:

[It] does to some extent hear reason, but hears it wrong, just as hasty servants hurry out of the room before they have heard the whole of what you are saying and so mistake your order, and as watch-dogs bark at a mere knock at the door, without waiting to see if it is a friend.[65]

For Aristotle, there is hope. Thumos is not an intractable force that can never be checked: it is well-meaning, even if it is also too hasty.

The best path is to work with thumos rather than against it (as reason works against the desires). There are two ways to do this. The first is by channeling the effects of thumos into less hazardous areas than it would have found otherwise. One important example of this is with the way the thumotic leads into the virtue of courage.[66] Aristotle notes that the mere presence of thumos makes one beast-like.[67] However, when it is channeled—by choice—toward a particular goal, it is helpful to the community. Another way to assist the community might be to create a more unified community by intentionally directing thumos to some target abroad.In this case, the divisions of a particular people might be paved over by bonding them in a hatred for a different people who live elsewhere. The premise here is that some communities might think it better to have one’s people unified with one another and angry at the “other,” than having them divided among themselves and at each other’s throats. This sort of scapegoating is a typical way to channel thumos. When defensiveness of one’s ways is combined with the persecution of those who are different, it triggers a political response of finding a target to assign blame to. It does not matter whether that target is within the community or outside of it.

The other way to influence thumos is by muting the actual emergence of it (so it does not rise as easily or explode as forcefully). This way of moderating thumos is clearly preferable to the first: the problem with channeling the thumotic is that it waits until the problem has already arisen and then seeks to limit the negative effects.[68] It is always better to check a possible hatred or anger than be forced to redirect it after it has already exploded. For checking thumos,as Plato’s Republic suggests, the central way is through education. The difficulty of doing this is one of the reasons why its ideal city is considered so unlikely:the “exaltation of spiritedness is the inevitable by-product of the utopia.”[69] The utopian city that will be completely just has to master thumos, which can manifest itself as xenophobia, conformism, and irrational behavior. There is no way to keep humans completely just (and the regime completely just) without moderating thumos to act as the guard-dog of human nature that barks at any injustice. However, this presumes not only that thumos can be thoroughly controlled, but that people in general are capable of abandoning “evil” or disruptive behavior. One must ask if all people could simply “choose” to be just and leave it at that, or if only a few would end up being so disciplined as to be just.[70]

Still, education can have a substantial effect on the moderation of thumos, particularly among political leaders. A major requirement for the formation of the Republic’s ideal city is the mastering of the guardians’ thumotic impulse.[71] The guardians watch over the moneyed class, but who will watch over the guardians to ensure they do not become carried away? The guardians’ thumotic impulse could easily lead to abuses of power.[72] The situation faced by the guardians of Plato’s Republic is similar to that faced by the leaders of any political community. These leaders must have enough power to defend the community from outside attacks. The community relies on a leader’s thumos in defending their own and being hostile to the “other.” The leaders must also have enough power to defend the community from itself—the community standard must be supported and the common ways protected from what are perceived to be deviants or nonconformists. The thumotic problem becomes this: with all of the power that the leaders of a community need to keep order, how can the community rest easy that they will not be abused by these powerful leaders?

Plato suggests that “the issue of politics becomes the gentling of thumos through education.”[73] It is the third and final class of the ideal city—the philosophers—that affect this “gentling.” Philosophy is ultimately what “purifies” thumos as it submits to philosophy.[74] It is the philosophers who articulate the proper education that will create this purification (by some accounts, providing an education to tame thumos is why philosophers write their books). For Socrates, education is what restrains these leaders from abusing the very people they are supposed to protect. The community’s standard is the source for basic virtues and these virtues, in turn, constitute the education of the leaders. They are “admonished” to internally follow these publicly-accepted virtues so that they will fight their own corrupt impulses. It was thumos that lead people to create and so zealously defend that community standard, and that same thumos will encourage the leaders to live by that code. It is through this process that thumos allows people to plausibly expect some degree of virtue from their leaders. The leaders will accept this self-regulation because they seek honor and being held in high esteem according to the community’s standard. Aristotle points out that honor is not enough though, they must also be educated to see the community as their kin or friends.[75]

In this way, education of political leaders helps them to rely on the natural defensiveness of thumos to protect the citizens. Yet, the citizens are protected from the excessive punitive tendencies of thumos by focusing a particular leader’s thumos inward: rather than risk unnecessarily punishing or oppressing others, this leader will have the impulse to punish him or herself for any transgressions. It is difficult to imagine politicians avoiding wrongdoing because they will feel the need to turn themselves in and chastise themselves. However, it is possible to imagine them with a nagging feeling that such-and-such an act is wrong, that they are better to not do it. This need for self-denial from leaders is what gives political life its commonly understood quality of sacrifice. Insofar as thumos generates the impulse to defend one’s life and ways—even if it means paying the ultimate price—leaders are often called to a higher sacrifice than regular citizens. Because of these consequences of thumos, it is often expected of politicians that they will make difficult choices and must (or should) endure some hardships while in office. To the extent that this means that politicians might not have lives of their own, this is part of the territory.

For the community at large, however, education also has a role in moderating thumos: it tempers our inclination to give in to our “savage” tendencies.[76] By institutionalizing certain restraints for behavior—in the form of social norms—one is less likely to give into anger, to lash out at others, or to persecute. Even today, some people are of the opinion that something as small as an angry outburst in the company of others is “impolite” and to be avoided. Giving into the consuming experience of thumos breaks down the barriers erected by education. Consequently, once the period of education is over and the citizen becomes an adult, the effects of education must be supported by social norms to continue discouraging thumotic outbursts.

Education is important for the community because it will eventually inculcate the citizens with a particular political culture. “Political culture” can mean many things, but here it refers to the citizens’ inherited ideas about how they understand their government and their own relationship to it. A certain kind of political culture could reduce the enflaming of thumos if it properly directed the way the citizens reacted to injustice. An example of how this might work would be the government calling on each person to fight injustices in their own personal daily lives, but discouraging their involvement in clashes for political justice or religious causes. In other words, citizens are asked to be upstanding and moral in their private lives while trusting larger causes to the state. This somewhat undemocratic solution (akin to what Thucydides might suggest) would find each person doing their part in maintaining order, without putting the government at the mercy of the citzens’ angry, irrational, and punitive impulses. This requires an odd balance. Citizens must be atomized in their goals (in that they are purifying themselves and not everyone else). Yet, they also need to be sufficiently attuned to the common understanding of justice so as to ensure that the atomization does not devolve into licentiousness. If licentious behavior broke out, it would only rouse thumos. In sum, the citizens must “love the moral without being moralists.”[77]

Another way to mute the effects of thumos is through “law.” Aristotle notes that laws are not thumotic: they seek to present prudent guidelines and punishments without the fury of passion interfering.[78] If thumos encourages someone to excessively punish or lash out at someone, any political decision or penalty runs the risk of being excessive. If the punishment is to fit the crime, thumos must give way to the dispassionate laws that are made from prior (and correct) reasoning.[79] In this scenario, the law provides the sense of justice and punishments that thumos yearns for. The thumotic impulse can then rest content that justice will be done. If this “justice” does not seem adequate, the thumotic impulse is not in a position to cause any problems because the individual has no choice but to submit to the law.



The argument of this essay could be summarized in this way. The thumotic shapes the political because it unites a people under common ways with an eye to how they are ordered and what their relationship to other communities are. Defensiveness of the self leads to an abstract understanding of the self or “I.” Defending this abstract sense—which is constituted by ways and norms—will find common cause in others who share this sense of self. This newly constituted group regulates its own members to be sure they are living up to the shared standard. It also looks with suspicion on other groups who have different standards and ways, because preserving one’s ways often means defending them (violently or otherwise) from those with different ways. In this way, the thumotic becomes the “root of political society” or the “principal ground of the political.”[80] It is difficult to believe that the mere quality of thwarted anger would make such wide-ranging impacts, but nevertheless it is so.

A significant contribution of Platonic politics, to say nothing of Greek political thought in general, has been the understanding of the proper role of thumos in individual psychology and in political theory.[81] Recovering the thumotic has many consequences for the study of modern politics. The presence of thumos will always be coeval with any society, even if thumos manifests itself in different ways across different historical periods.[82] It is this common thread to human society that gives us some relevant insights into the character of “the political,” as well as its nature. Michael Davis writes that “thumos is the common root of morality and abstraction and, accordingly in its way, also a common root of politics and philosophy.”[83]

From these thumotic origins, some characteristics of the political can be sketched. First, the vision of the political that emerges here is one of particularism—local ways and norms being defended and regulated. The particular will continue to reassert itself, even in the face of attempts to find a universal human nature. The centrality of the particular suggests that “our ways” and “our community” is a permanent fixture of the political realm, regardless of recent contentions that a kind of global government is looming. The political, then, could never be truly universal. Taking the thumotic as the origin of “political action,” one sees that individuals may not have as much autonomy as expected: inherited, particular ways and circumstances will shape individuals and guide their lives.[84] These inherited normative standards that guide laws, institutions, rewards, and punishments are brought to the fore and solidified by thumos.

A second characteristic of the political is its perennial connection to moral standards, even in the face of hopes that the political will be recast as merely an administrative arena. It is under the influence of thumos that these normative standards take on a seemingly universal tone, via the language of justice. Thus, the political could never be purely administrative or instrumental, insofar as the primary glue holding the community together would be shared standards. Additionally, the political will always gravitate to the language of justice and right/wrong—it is the place where the parochial seeks to be universal. It is at this point that the thumotic ceases to defend “our” way and begins to defend “the” way. Because substantive decisions about the community would not be solidly based on merely local conventions, some pretence (if not an actual attempt) at justice is necessary to demand adherence to the ways and laws. Some theorists may seek to banish talk of values and morality from the political arena because they are too subjective. Thumos, however,will ensure that the language of justice will always be spoken (if not practiced).

The thumotic reveals a third characteristic of the political: it is a realm of abstraction and construction. The quickness with which thumos leads to excessive punishment is a consequence of its “theorizing” nature. A bubble of ideals and abstractions—like identity, justice, etc.—place the actual members of the community at a distance from the political. Thumos creates this buffer between people that makes them only see one another as distant objects. This distance makes it easier to blame people, make scapegoats of them, and take one’s anger out on them. After all, it is easier to treat others harshly if they are thought of in the abstract, rather than as human.

The link between the political and conformity is a fourth characteristic of thumos. The consequence of thumos creating its own idealized, constructed world is that it links one’s anger or sense of justice with how well others seem to conform to it. Without these abstractions—community identity, the community standard, and the notion of justice—there would be little to punish except for basic transgressions (like stealing). Thumos adds nonconformity (in some degree) to the transgressions. It is thumos that leads nonconformity (and other transgressions) to be punished with disproportionate harshness. This is why laws specify particular punishments for a given crime: an angry mob may not stop to consider if a punishment is just because they merely want blood.

A final characteristic of the political would be its inherently flawed and incomplete nature. Each generation of theorists rediscovers utopian politics and some of them try to twist the political in different ways until it squeezes out perfect justice for all. Tolerance will prove to be an elusive goal because the thumotic renders a people suspicious of what is alien and different. In the present times, the commonly-shared belief might be that tolerance is a virtue. Consequently, modern societies will be suspicious of beliefs alien to tolerance, such as absolutism or any other non-relativist thinking. The political consequence of this is that thumos converts tolerance into intolerance. Hatred of the different will always persist, even when open-mindedness becomes the rule.

The thumotic element of human nature also guarantees that pacifism lies just out of reach: people will always retain a degree of aggressiveness and the political will find itself coupled with anger, hatred of difference, and persecution. Most fundamentally, a study of thumos makes clear how much the political may ultimately be rooted in irrationality, despite our pretences and hopes to the contrary. The lesson to take from the thumotic roots of justice is to avoid attempts to perfect the world and rid people of their flaws—seeking perfection like this is akin to a thumotic hologram or optical illusion. Instead, a kind of humble striving—without any sweeping reforms—will bring modest, feasible, and guaranteed improvement. Even though much progress has been made, the political realm can never be wiped clean of thumotic fingerprints.


J. Christopher Paskewich is Assistant Professor of Politics atCentre College.  



[1] This essay leaves thumos in the untranslated Greek in an effort to avoid unnecessary difference between English equivalents and the concept itself. If thumos seems an obscure term or concept to the average political theorist, this is only because non-Greek readers were never given a chance to see how prevalent the term is throughout the works of Homer, Plato, and Aristotle: many translators render thumos with several different terms. For example, see Aristotle, Nicomachian Ethics, trans. J.A.K. Thomson and revised by Hugh Tredennick (New York: Penguin Books, 2004); Plato, Republic, trans. Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1991). Thomson’s translation uses at least three different English words for thumos: emotion, spirit, and temper. Allan Bloom’s translation of Plato’s Republic (Bloom 1991) consistently uses the ideal English equivalent of thumos: spiritedness. In general, however, it is rarely translated consistently. After Greece, successive ages would call the thumotic by different names, but the general thread of the concept always persisted despite the permutations it underwent. This essay uses the word “thumos” because the Greek term is the first instance of the concept and the original understanding. It is this original understanding that I seek to recover.

[2] Works that address early (i.e., Homeric) understandings of thumos in literary terms tend to be in the field of Classical Studies. See J. Bremmer, The Early Greek Concept of the Soul (Princeton University Press, 1983); William G. Thalmann, “Aeschylus’ Physiology of the Emotions,” The American Journal of Philology 107 (1986): 489-511; Caroline P. Casswell, A Study of Thumos in Early Greek Epic (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1990); J.R.S. Wilson, “Thrasymachus and the Thumos: A Further Case of Prolepsis in Republic I,” The Classical Quarterly 45 (1995): 58-67.

[3] A large body of literature (at least for a relatively understudied concept like thumos) has developed in which the thumotic is seen in a somewhat monolithic way, e.g., as courage or even emotion in general. While these works make many strong points, this essay takes a more overtly political stance in the interpretation of thumos that these works do not. See Barbara Koziak, “Homeric Thumos: The Early History of Gender, Emotion, and Politics,” The Journal of Politics 61 (1999): 1068-1091; Richard S. Ruderman, “Odysseus and the Possibility of Enlightenment,” American Political Science Review 43 (1999): 138-161; Angela Hobbs, Plato and the Hero: Courage, Manliness, and the Impersonal Good (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Barbara Koziak, Retrieving Political Emotion: Thumos, Aristotle, and Gender (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000); Laurence D. Cooper, “Beyond the Tripartite Soul: The Dynamic Psychology of the Republic,” Review of Politics 63 (2001): 341-372.

[4] For the purposes of this essay, there have been many excellent treatments of the different facets of thumos, and this work is not meant to replace any of them. Instead, this essay builds a more general theory that has larger significance because of its broader applications. Some of these previous treatments include Leo Strauss, City and Man (University of Chicago Press, 1964); Seth Benardete, “Leo Strauss’s The City and Man,” Political Science Reviewer 8 (1978): 1-20; Catherine Zuckert ed., Understanding the Political Spirit: Philosophical Investigations from Socrates to Nietzsche (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988); Leon Howard Craig, The War Lover: A Study of Plato’s Republic (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994); Walter R. Newell, Ruling Passion: The Erotics of Statecraft in Platonic Political Philosophy (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2000); Michael Davis, “Seth Benardete’s Second Sailing: On the Spirit of Ideas,” Political Science Reviewer 32 (2003): 8-35; Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 2006); Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., Manliness (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006)

[5] For examples from Homer, see Iliad, trans. A.T. Murray and William F. Wyatt (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967), v.479, xiv.151, xvi.529; Odyssey, trans. A.T. Murray and George E. Dimock (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), xxiv.318; see also Arlene W. Saxonhouse, “Thumos, Justice, and Moderation of Anger in the Story of Achilles” in Zuckert, Understanding the Political Spirit, 30-47. For Heraclitus, see Hippocrates, trans.W.H.S. Jones (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1923), fragment #105 (this is the Bywater numbering, it is #85 in the Diels numbering); Aristotle, Nicomachian Ethics,1105a; Plutarch, “Coriolanus” in Lives, trans. Bernadotte Perrin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1914), chap. 22.

[6] See Xenophon, “On the Art of Horsemanship” in Scripta Minora, trans. E.C. Marchant and G.W. Bowersock (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968), 9.2.

[7] Seth Benardete, Socrates’ Second Sailing: On Plato’s Republic (University of Chicago Press, 1989), 55. For Thucydides’ uses of thumos,see History of the Pelopennesian War, trans. Charles Foster Smith (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962), 1.49.3, 2.11.7, and 5.80.2.

[8] See Nicomachian Ethics, 1116b; Politics, 1327b-1328a.

[9] Thomas Pangle, “The Political Psychology of Religion in Plato’s Laws,American Political Science Review 70 (December 1976):1063.

[10] For a connection between anger and being thwarted, see Leo Strauss, The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism, ed. Thomas L. Pangle (University of Chicago Press, 1989),167. Strauss notes that the Iliad is about the “wrath” of Achilles, while the Odyssey is “the thwarted return” home.

[11] Aristotle, Nicomachian Ethics, trans. Joe Sachs (Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing, 2002), 1116b-1117a.

[12] Pangle, “Political Psychology,” 1064.

[13] Pangle, “Political Psychology,” 1063.

[14] Mansfield, Manliness, 206.

[15] Mansfield, Manliness, 220-1.

[16] Pangle, “Political Psychology,” 1063.

[17] Strauss, City and Man, 112.

[18] Homer, Odyssey, 20.11-26.

[19] Plato, Republic, 390d and 441b.

[20] Ruderman sees this as evidence that Odysseus is not enlightened, insofar as he is less willing to assume complete responsibility for things onto himself (as opposed to projecting them outward). See Ruderman, “Odysseus,” 160-1.

[21] See Burger, “Thumotic and Erotic Soul,” 64-5.

[22] Plato, Republic, 439e-440a.

[23] See Davis, “Seth Benardete,” 21.

[24] This will have important consequences for political persecution, to be discussed below.

[25] Burger, “Thumotic and Erotic Soul,” 60.

[26] Benardete, Socrates’ Second Sailing, 100.

[27] Davis, “Seth Benardete,” 22.

[28] See Carnes Lord, “Aristotle’s Anthropology,” in Essays on the Foundations of Aristotelian Political Science, eds. Carnes Lord and David K. O’Connor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 59-60.

[29] Mansfield, Manliness, 207.

[30] Being gentle to one’s own and (potentially) hostile to the “other” is part of impetus for the distinction between war and faction in Plato’s Republic (470b-471b). Faction is akin to a civil war that occurs between “friends:” it is the hatred of one’s own. War occurs from the hatred of those who are different. Socrates characterizes war (or hatred of the “alien”) as “natural,” while faction is characterized as “sick.” The natural behavior for the group is friendship (as opposed to faction), but war is also natural (because opposition to the different is natural).

[31] cf. Aristotle, Politics, trans. Carnes Lord (University of Chicago Press, 1985), 1327b-1328a.

[32] Strauss, Rebirth, 166.

[33] Nevertheless, group conflict could also emerge from more typical sources, like fear of bodily harm or worse. The point here is that the presence of thumos conflict can also occur under less threatening circumstances.

[34] Mansfield, Manliness, 220-1.

[35] Strauss, Rebirth, 167.

[36] Francis Fukuyama goes so far as to attribute Cold-War era calls for democracy from Eastern Europeans to the thumotic aim for self determination: Fukuyama, End of History, 166-8.

[37] Zuckert, Understanding the Political Spirit, 9.

[38] Aristotle, Politics, 1327b.

[39] Ronna Burger, “The Thumotic and Erotic Soul: Seth Benardete on Platonic Psychology,” Interpretation 32 (2004): 63.

[40] Plato, Republic, 440c-d.

[41] Plato, Republic, 435b-c and 442b-d.

[42] I owe this distinction to Seth Benardete, see “Strauss’s The City and Man,” 11.

[43] Benardete, “Strauss’s The City and Man,” 11.

[44] The famous discussion of justice Plato’s Republic is symbolically triggered by the thumos of Glaucon. He notes that Socrates did not truly answer Thrasymachus’ claim that injustice was better than justice. Glaucon thus hints that he is considering that injustice might be better after all. In the context of Thrasymachus’ argument, this means that it is possible that the better life is constituted by whoever has the power (i.e., might makes right) and is able to force others to carry out his will. Glaucon recognizes that he wants his desires to rule without check, and he is shamed by this. Thus, as book 2 opens Glaucon insists that Socrates exult justice until he (Glaucon) can properly orient himself and calm his thumos. This is the situation that launched the (forced) discussion of justice, not any curiosity about it. In the face of his intense desires, the helpless Glaucon merely gives a plea to Socrates to produce a concept that will gain him the control that he thinks he needs of himself. See Plato, Republic, 357a-b and 358b; Davis, “Seth Benardete,” 19; Strauss, City and Man, 86.

[45] Davis, “Seth Benardete,” 11.

[46] Davis, “Seth Benardete,” 24; Plato, Republic, 514a-515d.

[47] Strauss, Rebirth, 167.

[48] Burger, “Thumotic and Erotic Soul,” 59.

[49] Strauss, Rebirth, 167-8.

[50] Aristotle, Nicomachian Ethics, 1147b.

[51] Aristotle, Nicomachian Ethics, 1145b.

[52] Strauss, Rebirth, 168.

[53] Strauss, Rebirth, 167-8; Burger, “Thumotic and Erotic Soul,” 57-8.

[54] Leo Strauss, The Argument and the Action of Plato’s Laws (University of Chicago Press, 1977), 167; Pangle, “Political Psychology,” 1062.

[55] Mansfield, Taming the Prince, 89.

[56] Plato, Laws, trans. Thomas L. Pangle (University of Chicago Press, 1988), 730d.

[57] See also Pangle, “Political Psychology, 1062.

[58] Translated by Joe Sachs in Aristotle, Nicomachian Ethics, pg. 25 n29. This Heraclitus fragment is #85 in the Diels numbering and 105 in the Bywater numbering.

[59] Plato, Laws, 888a.

[60] Xenophon, “On the Art of Horsemanship,” 9.2. Xenophon appears to be contrasting the angry human (orge) with the spirited horse (thumos). One might interpret this passage as suggesting that the behavior of the spirited horse might be akin to that of spirited humans.

[61] Consider how Plato’s Socrates can, without yielding his position, calm an angry interlocutor.

[62] Plato, Republic, 440d.

[63] Burger, “Thumotic and Erotic Soul,” 63.

[64] Strauss, Rebirth, 165.

[65] Aristotle, Nicomachian Ethics, 1149a.

[66] For more on thumos and courage, see Ann Charney, “Spiritedness and Piety in Aristotle” in Zuckert, Understanding the Political Spirit, 67-87;Hobbs, Plato and the Hero; and Mansfield, Manliness.

[67] Aristotle, Nicomachian Ethics, 1116b-1117a.

[68] Francis Fukuyama calls the taming of thumos “the central problem of politics.” See Fukuyama, End of History, 163.

[69] Strauss, The City and Man, 129.

[70] Ruderman takes a similar stance here, insofar as he sees enlightenment as deriving from self-mastery, particularly with thumos. However, the likelihood of attaining this enlightened self-mastery seems rare. See Ruderman , “Odysseus,” 138-161.

[71] Allan Bloom, “Interpretive Essay” in The Republic of Plato (New York: Basic Books, 1991), 355.

[72] The way the guardians might abuse their power could take one of two forms. The first (and most obvious) is that their thumotic impulse carries them away in punishing citizens. They would then create an atmosphere of excessive persecution, much like a police-state where even minor crimes could bring harsh sentences. The other kind of abuse occurs when their thumotic impulse leads them to overcome whatever obstacles have thwarted them in the political realm. If taken to great lengths, thumos can turn a leader into a willful dictator. A leader’s thumos could be aroused by not being able to implement certain policies because of institutional obstacles. Thumos might encourage the leader to do whatever it takes to circumvent these institutional norms, including breaking the rules. A leader might feel underpaid and thumos might push he or she to get money from corrupt means. Excessive thumos brings a leader to see any constraint on their behavior as an obstacle. He or she would then be lead to do satisfy whatever desire was thwarted by any means necessary. In this way, the thumotic impulse can lead to lawless tyranny, if it is not checked.

[73] Davis, “Seth Benardete,” 16.

[74] Strauss, Rebirth, 168.

[75] Catherine H. Zuckert, “On the Role of Spiritedness in Politics” in Understanding the Political Spirit, 11.

[76] Plato, Laws, 935a.

[77] See Thomas Pangle’s discussion of this line of thought in “Political Psychology,” 1075-6 (the quotation is from pg. 1076).

[78] Aristotle, Politics, 1287a 28-32.

[79] See Mansfield, Taming the Prince, 41-2.

[80] Lord, “Aristotle’s Anthropology,” 59-60; Gregory Bruce Smith, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the Transition to Postmodernity (University of Chicago Press, 1996), 304-5.

[81] The Straussian school of Platonism has its most unique quality in the emphasis it places on the thumotic element of human nature.

[82] Thumos evolved into animo for Machiavelli and “vain-glory” for Hobbes. While this essay does not have space to outline how thumos changed over time and to what, the reader should consult Zuckert, Understanding the Political Spirit, chaps. 5, 6, 7, and 9.

[83] Davis, “Seth Benardete,” 23.

[84] Zuckert, “On the Role of Spiritedness,” 2.