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Parsing the Sage Fukuyama on Thymos

Sorry about that title. Couldn't resist.

I want to revise and extend my earlier remarks about Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man, recognition, and Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy.

One key term that I left out was thymos, which literally means "spiritedness" in Greek, is a term that Plato and others have used to encapsulate the universal desire for recognition that humans feel in addition to the other two parts of the human soul: ordinary desire (for more tangible things) and reason. Fukuyama, roughly speaking, says that today we might think of this third force as "self-esteem," although he would probably agree with Kevin that "boosting self-esteem" isn't a useful approach to education. When humans feel their self-worth is not being acknowledged, they tend to get angry; when they don't see themselves living up to their own ideals, they feel shame; when they feel they are getting the recognition they deserve, they feel pride. Fukuyama's reading of Hegel is that the latter believed that these emotions drive political life and therefore history. Fukuyama argues that liberal democracy is so successful because it is the form of government that best satisfies the thymos by destroying the "division of society into a class of masters ... and slaves."

I intially reacted negatively to Sharansky's book, mostly because I feel that he does not seem willing to commit to the painful change in policies that most Israelis know they will have to make in order to achieve the lasting peace and recognition in the region that they so deeply crave as a people. But one thing he does get absolutely right is that what he calls "fear societies" fail to provide the self-worth that all humans crave. This is hardly a unique insight, but it's admirable that Sharansky is willing to advocate democracy in the Arab World even if it comes at the expense of Israel's short-term security. He's right that, in the long run, there can be no lasting peace in the region without political reform and a reconciliation between peoples. Jordan and Egypt, for instance, seethe with anti-Israeli rage despite those governments' official recognition of their neighbor. But I would stress, again, that Sharansky willfully ignores the other aspects that aggrieve the thymos, in particular the Palestinian belief that they are suffering under a humiliating occupation by a power that has taken their land, in their minds a gross affront to justice. There is a reason that the American Pledge of Allegiance ends with the phrase "with liberty and justice for all"--they are not the same thing. Otherwise, we'd just say: "with liberty for all" because the existing pledge would be redundant, eh?

Another problem with Sharansky is that his actions undercut his words. Why, for instance, didn't Sharansky speak out against this? Why as Housing Minister did Sharansky happily preside over the ultimately self-defeating expansion of settlements, which even the Bush administration has verbally condemned, albeit avec un peu de milquetoast and at lower levels of the State Department? I would never go nearly as far as Juan Cole does--for all of its faults, Israel and even the Likud Party that Cole reviles is far, far more decent than almost any other government in a comparable situation might be. Israel has put up with a lot of crap over the years. Ariel Sharon is no hero of mine--I prefer Moshe Dayon and Yitzhak Rabin--but he is not Slobodan Milosevic by any means. Shame on Cole. Nevertheless, Israel cannot continue to expropriate land and water by force if it wants to live in harmony even with democratic neighbors, and Sharansky and Sharon need to recognize that.

Why does this matter? Because Sharansky appears to have influenced President Bush's thinking to an unfortunate degree.

Back to the inaugural speech that I keep harping on:

Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty - though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.

Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world:

All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.

The support for liberty is admirable, but it is only one part of the thymos equation. I hope that Condi Rice understands that. Leo Strauss did.

With respect to the disparate Iraqi reactions to the upcoming elections--and who knows if these polls numbers are any better than others--one on the extremely positive side that struck me as fitting with the concept of thymos was Ali's:

Now, and thanks to other humans, not from my area, religion and who don't even speak my language, I and all Iraqis have the real chance to make the change. Now I OWN my home and I can decide who's going to run things in it and how and I won't waste that chance. Tomorrow as I cast my vote, I'll regain my home. I'll regain my humanity and my dignity, as I stand and fulfill part of my responsibilities to this part of the large brotherhood of humanity. Tomorrow I'll say I'M IRAQI AND I'M PROUD, as being Iraqi this time bears a different meaning in my mind. It's being an active and good part of humanity. Tomorrow I and the Iraqis that are going to vote will rule, not the politicians we're going to vote for, as it's our decision and they'll work for us this time and if we don't like them we'll kick them out! Tomorrow my heart will race my hand to the box. Tomorrow I'll race even the sun to the voting centre, my Ka'aba and my Mecca. I'm so excited and so happy that I can't even feel the fear I though I would have at this time. I can't wait until tomorrow.

Good luck, Ali, and to Iraq.

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