Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Genuflecting at the altar of people-worship

Apropos of Peter L’s post, I wonder if Fred Thompson’s "laziness" isn’t a sign of Aristotelian magnanimity (or perhaps a gesture in that direction, self-conscious or not). Aristotle’s magnanimous man is famously slow to do anything other than the greatest things, thinking well enough of himself to think that much of the petty stuff isn’t worthy of him.

This is of course a problematical virtue (even from Aristotle’s point of view), and it doesn’t sit well with us democrats, as we like to be flattered and worshipped almost constantly. That Fred Thompson is short with reporters asking inane questions, doesn’t want to cozy up to the butter queen, and isn’t frenetic about campaigning (and that he wasn’t just absolutely enthralled by being a Senator) may speak well of him from a (sort of) aristocratic point of view. But "we the people" want someone whose most important concern is paying attention to our petty concerns. Or do we? Is it a sign of respect to be a "helicopter President" or to treat us like responsible adults?

Discussions - 15 Comments

I think you brush aside the laziness as magnanimity too quickly. Let us remember that Reagan spent very many years before his run for governor reading up on the issues and preparing himself for such a serious office. Is there any evidence Thompson has done any such thing?

"we the people" want someone whose most important concern is paying attention to our petty concerns.

From what I've seen, the candidates who have been campaigning most relentlessly are the ones with the least interest in our "petty concerns".

Thompsons recent remarks on immigration indicate that he is listening to the people a lot more closely than are McCain, Giuliani, or any of the Democrats.

Let me add, for clarity's sake, it seems to me that while men like Reagan and Churchill might have been "lazy", they seemed to have an understanding of the human soul, perhaps both naturally as well as a result of their studies, which meant their actions would be necessary and prudent. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't Aristotle's magnanimous man think he's above most petty actions because he actually is above most petty actions? In my esteem (and Strauss's), a man like Churchill was indeed above the little things. Would Thompson be able to end the Cold War or win WWII?

JK wrote: But "we the people" want someone whose most important concern is paying attention to our petty concerns. Or do we?

I think many people do indeed want a presidential candidate to at least acknowledge our petty concerns. Of course, they wouldn't characterize their concerns as "petty" (though I might).

All things considered, there are few specific "big concerns" that are pressing on the mind of the average American. There are lots of vague concerns -- this vaporous thing called "terrorism" out there; the uneasy sense about unchecked illegal immigration; an intangible sense of financial insecurity in a time of plenty -- but because they're difficult to identify with precision they are not in the forefront of the mind.

So, in the absence of a big problem to focus on, Americans tend to focus on the other things, and they seem to want their candidates to address them ... or, as I said, at least acknowledge them.

All that said, I suspect (but don't know) that there's an element of the human mind that knows these things are relatively petty. So in that sense there may well be an unexplained draw to Thompson ... simply because he's playing above that fray.

Or not. I just had a big Reuben sandwich and my mind is not operating on all cylinders. Time for a nap.

In the Nixon tapes, Nixon is heard twice describing Thompson as not too bright. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt law school so he must not be a dummy (did he have connections?), but I suspect he is similar to George Bush who is not dumb either but is often viewed as being. I think that Thompson is not particularly motivated by the things of the mind. Like Bush he is not intellectually curious. I think the attempts to view him as a navel gazing philosopher are serious wishful thinking.

Another possible explanation is that Hollywood has gone to his head and he has gotten too big for his Tennessee boy britches. Now he fancies himself a bicoastal elite above the concerns of us mere peons.

I think that it's reasonable to distinguish between the serious and the petty, reporters often focusing on the latter. I'm not arguing that all our concerns are petty, but demanding that one take seriously a photo op with a huge slab of sculpted butter certainly is. In other words, I admire Thompson's impatience with things about which any reasonably proud person ought to be impatient. To the degree that democratic politics demands that we take such things seriously, it may well discourage the involvement of genuinely interesting and capable people.

The situation is simply too dire to wring our hands and hope the ideal candidate -- magnanimous, etc., etc. -- will materialize. Look at the polls. Look at GOP fundraising. Look at Bush's numbers. They all tell us one thing: "JUST WIN, BABY"!!! Maybe Fred can show us he has the stuff. So far, the charitable verdict would seem to be: "not proven."

Aristotle's account of magnanimity is not without its irony or at least implicit critique of such a soul. Some of this account notes its shortcomings, to be filled in by more perfected virtues, such as justice.

Look at the polls. Look at GOP fundraising. Look at Bush's numbers. They all tell us one thing: "JUST WIN, BABY"!!!

That seems to be an exercise is willful disbelief on your part. The poll,s fundraising, Bush's numbers, all tell us that people don't like what the GOP is doing.

Running somebody to the left of Bush is not what the public is asking of the GOP. They want the party to return to its roots.

Well, Ken is right. No Aristotelian m. m. would ever run for office in a democracy. Nor does he have the wonder that may animate philosopher-Fred.

For the record, I agree that Aristotle's account of magnanimity is a philosophical critique of that "virtue." But I think it does explain something about a magnanimous man's "laziness."

Aristotle's m.m. wouldn't take a role on Law and Order either not to mention plenty of pretty goofy movies...nor is it much of a philosophical response to what may be his genuine experience of wonder. I don't doubt that FT's obvious frustrations as Senator had something to do with his contemplative bent but playing a politician on tv is not exactly a turn towards the logos....

The comments on the m. m. (did I get that right?) seem similar to Mansfield's apology for manliness in that it is rather silly and irrational, but absolutely necessary for a civilization to survive. Agree/disagree?

Andrew's statement is a manly exaggeration.

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