Thumos in Washington

We had the privilege tonight of attending the National Endowment for the Humanities’ 2007 Jefferson Lecture, given this year by the inestimable Harvey C. Mansfield. Mansfield spoke at the historic Warner Theater in downtown D.C. on the topic, “How to Understand Politics: What the Humanities Can Say to Science.”

Mansfield did a great job of showing how the concept of thumos, ever-lacking in science, rears its head in the various disciplines of the humanities. If that sounds complicated, believe me, Mansfield makes it work.

One of the best lines of the night was, “The demand for more civility in politics today should be directed toward improving the quality of our insults, seeking civility in wit rather than blandness.”

I’ll say more on the lecture later, but if you’re in Washington next spring, I highly recommend it. Previous lecturers include Walker Percy, David McCullough, and Tom Wolfe.

UPDATE: I updated my memory of the quote from the text of the lecture, which is now online.

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