Though the cliché is that the Democrats need some big ideas, that they “need to stand for something”, this is actually false. The Democratic Party clearly does stand for something: they stand for the meek notion that psychotherapy and social psychology ought to be the engines behind all public policies. Arthur Brooks even appeals to psychologists to diagnose Republicans as once humorless whiny children.
In a word, the Democratic Party has become the party of therapeutic intervention, whereas the Republican Party has become the party of moral and political philosophy. And in light of the Democratic Party’s recent history of political failure, if they genuinely want to change the course of American politics and maybe even win a few elections, they probably ought to reject the false gods of psychology, psychotherapy, and all other permutations of such un-testable ultra-soft sciences. Freud, after all, is dead, and DSM diagnoses by committee are absurd by any measure.
Certainly liberal democracies, in the Jeffersonian and Lockean sense, tend to be skeptical of fundamentalist religious doctrines, but liberal democracies nevertheless run contrary to the Democrats’ psychological and sociological notions of accidental sin. To sin, in a true liberal democracy, requires the intent to sin. Republicans sin, plenty. Democrats never do. To sin requires a lapse of reason and a sense of individual honor diminished. Not so for the Democratic Party. For Democrats sin is impossible, there is only mental illness and social despair.
America, however, is a liberal democracy, and Americans like to be honored for their freely chosen actions. We relish our ability to sin or not to sin, on purpose. We cherish our individual ability to change, even to revolt, if need be. We hold dear that our personal development of character is our individual responsibility and, more importantly, we take pride in our character so developed. We like the notion that we each must make ourselves into the people we will become. Americans, members of a liberal democracy as described by Francis Fukuyama in The End of History and the Last Man, thrive on their pursuit of Platonic thumos.
Thumos is generally translated as “spiritedness” or the passion of one’s heart for just honor. But it is clearly meant by Plato as the intermediary component of our distinctly human psyche, between animal appetite and human reason. The human psyche loves with progressive sophistication: we love first with our stomachs, then with our hearts, and ultimately with our reason. Thumos is that amalgam of reasonably directed passion for personal recognition that drives the guardians of Plato’s Republic to want to fulfill their civic function precisely, honorably. Thumos then seems best understood as one’s personal desire for honor and glory in good accomplishments. There is no mystery that the recognition one receives for a job well done, the social recognition that brings about justifiable pride of accomplishment appeals to our sense of thumos.
We want to succeed. As Fukuyama points out, we “struggle for recognition.” We yearn to be honored for our success. And we actively pursue the glory of a success that is earned. Yet, as Plato describes, the truly just individual recognizes that reason must guide thumos, and thumos must in turn guide appetite. Thumos is then the goal of appetitive desire, and yet thumos without the guidance of reason would be but tyrannical. No just soul wants mere glory; for the love for glory is but a transitory instrument for winning justifiable honor from those whose reason we truly respect. In the end we love the Good beyond even the chest satiated with thumos. The Democratic Party, however, has abandoned this spirited pursuit of honor, thumos. Whereas, at root the American psyche is Platonic, the Democratic Party’s psyche is a Freudian inversion.
Democrats have placed appetite ahead of reason and conceived of reason as a pleading child before a cold patriarchal judge envisioned as some variety of super-ego-induced conscience. So, one must resign oneself to be a Democrat. One must resign one’s self to discontent within civilization. For the Democrats there are imagined giants in our souls like the imagined Anakim (Deut 1:28) that scared Moses into the desert for yet 40 more years. Psychological determinism cannot be beaten; there is no Promised Land of liberty for today’s Democrats, only sighing and recrimination and neverending sacrifice to sociological determinism.
To be a Democrat, as they conceive of themselves, requires resignation to the plight of having a socially induced, socially designed, insurmountable psychology. We are individually helpless. Each of us is but the outcome of the consequences of the forces of history and politics upon our frail bodies and minds. The Democratic Party is the party of Fukuyama’s “Last Man,” that pathetic, shameless, prideless, genderless “person”. These are the “men without chests” (p.11) for whom resolving their socially induced mental illnesses are the only telos (function) left for their forlorn psyches. That is why sadness haunts Democrats so. Their sadness is their last delight.
Reason, for the Democrat, has been reduced to a little ego navigating between the giants of Superego and Id. Their religion of social psychology thus undermines both authentic individual thumos and thereby individual moral character as well. For the Democrat there is no just pursuit of honor, no true thumos, merely a punitive psychosocial conscience and the requisite symptoms their quasi-scientists call ”ego defenses,” neuroses and mental illnesses. And so long as the Democratic Party continues their faithful embrace of their religion of psychology and the concomitant rejection of individual autonomy and individual pride that comes with autonomy, the Democratic Party will remain a party resigned to mental illness over moral autonomy.
On the other hand, so long as Republicans refrain from descending into the social science quagmire and remain true to the big ideas of political and ethical philosophy – the perennial big ideas of the West – Republicans will, over time, continue to defeat the psychological ideologies of the Democrats. The ideas of philosophers like Plato, Locke, and Mill are timeless and pertinent. The trendy ideas of psychologists like Freud, Skinner, and neophyte Gilligan have all become laughable anachronisms in but decades or less after their arrival.
The psychological despair of the Democratic Party became palpable for me in October 1991 during the Clarence Thomas hearings. Even as a pro-choice Democrat, I agreed with soon-to-be Justice Thomas that the Democrats were using Anita Hill as the rope for their “high-tech lynching.” During those hearings the Democratic Party had become something terrifying. This was not the party of individual freedom, as I had supposed. This was the party of paternalism. The Democratic Party had become the Mental Illness Party. They had given up reasoned morality in favor of deception on behalf of mental health. Anita Hill had allowed herself to be convinced that her mental health had been harmed by her brief time working with Clarence Thomas. Her bizarre pubic-hair-on-the-Coke-can story is akin to the sort of unverifiable recovered-memory hogwash psychotherapists regularly evoke and have often used to destroy the lives of innocent men and women.
During the Clarence Thomas hearings it became clear the Democrats had replaced reasoned argument with a dangerous new attachment to the paternalism of psychotherapy. Psychotherapists easily justify both lying and coercion when they deem lying and coercion in the patient’s best interest. For the Democratic Party, Americans had become psychiatric patients. Moral intentionality had been usurped by mental illness. This was not merely a strategy for the Democrats: they bought it. To make their case during the Clarence Thomas hearings, Democrats brought a seething, mentally anguished, downright bizarre Anita Hill to testify. The Republicans brought legal scholars. At that point I became a Republican.