>The Third Way of the Thymos
In those days Israel had no king, everyone did as he saw fit – Judges 21:25 (NIV)
The story of the people of Israel as told in the book of Judges is a story of a society not unlike our own. It was a society that was based on a rule of law; this was after all the people who brought us the 10 commandments, but lacking in a strong central government. This lack of government eventually caused the society to collapse in on itself and gave rise to an oppressive monarchy.
Today “rulers” have been replaced by prime ministers and presidents that are servants of the people, thus weakening central government authority.
At first glance this may sound like a good thing but all too often a week central government becomes servant to special interests or puppets of the rich and powerful. They are forced to walk a tight rope between interests of the free market economy and social ideals. They cannot enact laws that will offend either of these groups for fear of upsetting the general population or worse, upsetting the capital markets and sending their economies into a tailspin. The rule of law alone still leaves far too much open to interpretation by the legal profession and manipulation by special interest groups. So we end up like the early Israelites, without a king, and everyone doing as he sees fit.
The rise of liberal democracy has made it impossible to live in a class based society. All men are created equal after all. But the idea that all men are created equal also means that no one is better equipped to make the rules than anyone else and everyone can question authority.
When we recognize that all men are created equal we are recognizing that everyone is human and all have the same spirit. The ancient Greeks had a word for this; they called it the Thymos which is loosely translated as Spiritedness. Francis Fukuyama, in his book The End of History and The Last Man spent a great deal of time exploring thymos and how it has related to political structure. Thymos manifests itself in our society as either Megalothymos, the desire to be seen as greater than the rest or Isothymos, the desire for equality.
Fukuyama theorizes that all of history has been leading up to a moment when all societies will adopt liberal democracy and the world as a whole will reach a state of Isothymia. He calls this The End of History because the need for major world-shaping events like wars and treaties will no longer exist and history itself will cease to be interesting. The Last Man at the end of history is the one man left who has been living with a megalothymos and finally recognizes the equality of all.
However; I disagree with Fukuyama’s assessment of history and where it is leading us. Despite all our best efforts society is nowhere near a state of isothymia or complete equality and I do not believe that there will ever come a day when megalothymia will be vanquished. In fact I believe that our liberal democratic society is schizophrenic at best, more likely hypocritical or even deliberately deceiving us. On the one hand we claim to be striving for equality through social welfare programs, universal health care and free education while on the other hand we are encouraging and celebrating megalothymia, rewarding those in business or sports who achieve great things.
This is not really a bad thing. Where would the world be without Bill Gates or Michael Jordan?
True isothymia stifles creativity by limiting its rewards. Marxist communism was very isothymic; Lenin turned it into a megalothymic power play. Total megalothymia oppresses those without the will or ability to fight back. We need a third way. Over the next few posts I intend to expand upon what I am calling, for lack of a better phrase, The Third Way of the Thymos. This is a new way of looking at the world that still rewards megalothymia and recognizes the sameness and potential for equality in all people.