Donald Trump and Man's Struggle for Recognition


In his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama resurrected to intellectual respectability the primordial "struggle for recognition" as the dialectical driving force underlying man's quest for human freedom.  That force in the tripartite human soul was first recognized by Plato, in his Republic, nearly 2,400 years ago, which he referred to as "spiritedness," along with reason and desire.  Reason, Plato believed, moderates spiritedness and can channel human energy into socially constructive directions and toward human freedom as an expression of one's sense of self-worth.  However, Fukuyama points out that the modernization process has, instead, harnessed reason to the service of desire for material abundance, at the expense of the value of human beings with an innate worth.

Donald Trump endears himself to those struggling to regain recognition of their self-importance and self-worth.

Man's desire for his recognition as a human being of value has quietly persisted despite being overwhelmed, in turn, by the rise of science, romanticism, and industrial capitalism.  Intuitive leaders throughout history and in different parts of the world have at times tapped into human souls that find this need unmet, creating social movements manifesting varying historical results.  The seemingly inexplicable and rapid rise of Donald Trump as a contender for one of the most powerful leadership roles in the world can be explained by the "lack of recognition" felt by the "deplorables" and the "irredeemables."

The struggle for recognition is a nonmaterialist explanation of the historical dialectical process, richer in its understanding of human motivation than Marxist, sociological, and scientific explanations, as well as economic explanations adopted in the last three or so centuries.  Plato described the concept of "spiritedness" as that part of man's soul that feels compelled to place a value on things, first and foremost himself, but also on the people, actions, and relationships in his world.  Spiritedness, or thymos, is that part of the soul that expresses emotions, such as pride, anger, and shame, distinct from desire and reason, Plato's other two parts of the human soul.  In the Republic, Socrates describes thymos as those selfless and courageous acts of risking one's own life in defense of his city-state, arising from a sense of anger that the dignity and worth of his humanity is not being appropriately valued.  Thus, anger, as seen by Plato and expressed by Socrates, is an extraordinarily powerful emotion capable of overwhelming both reason and desire, even the desire for self-preservation.

Christianity presented hope for man to realize an earthly existence based on liberty and the moral freedom to choose between right and wrong, through his spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ.  The essence of Christian certitude was an inner spiritual freedom, but not necessarily an external condition of the body.  Hence, the Christian's earthly existence was constrained by a dimension of materialistic determinism, while true Christian freedom was found by the resurrected soul in the kingdom of God.    

The scientific revolution ushered in a period in which writers of the enlightenment, such as Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), John Locke (1632-1704), and David Hume (1711-1776), began the process of liberating the desiring part of the soul to the guidance of reason, at the expense of thymos.  Modern capitalism and eventually globalism were the inevitable result of apotheosizing desire at the expense of man's inner desire for recognition as a way to fully integrate his soul.  By the mid-twentieth century, C.S. Lewis had referred to men motivated entirely by reason and desire as "men without chests," for reason is mere spirit and desire an expression of animal nature without an inner spiritedness.

While Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) recognized the desire for recognition as the central role in pushing mankind toward compromising his nature with the use of reason, writers of the succeeding Romantic movement emphasized man's emotions and his individualism as authentic expressions of his soul, embodied through his aesthetic experiences.  Romanticism was a reaction to the Industrial Revolution and the scientific rationalization of nature, including the human side, and the dehumanizing qualities of urbanization, bureaucratic tendencies inherent in industrialism.  The movement valued intuition and emotion over the rationalism of the preceding enlightenment period and was the intellectual context for much of the liberalism, radicalism, and nationalism of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. 

Continuing as a reaction against Kant and linked with Romanticism, the German idealist tradition of speculative philosophy attributed meaning to the manner in which an individual subjectively perceived an object or an experience and hence arrived at a subjective truth.  For George Hegel (1770-1831), man's humanity was determined by his ability to overcome, or negate, his animal nature and to be so recognized for this uniquely human accomplishment by other similarly free individuals.  Hegel presents a nonmaterialistic dialectic of history, in that he viewed man as free and undetermined by material processes and capable of creating his own nature.  However, in so doing, he requires the recognition of other men, with the historical process being a dialectical struggle to achieve mutual recognition, at a cultural level, as well as individual.

Hegel viewed man as willing to pursue a struggle to the death for such recognition; thus man's willingness to die for flag or country, because he has a special human dignity predicated on freedom.  When historical man would lose the battle, he would enter, in effect, into relationships of bondage, out of which he becomes more philosophical and conscious of his lack of freedom.  Hegel believed that it was the ensuing "slave" mentality and desire for recognition that created the political ideologies that drove forward the dialectical historical process.

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) took the struggle for recognition beyond the idealist model, with his notion of man as motived by his essence as a valuing creature, needing not to discover truth, but to create it.  The distinguishing characteristic of man was the act of valuing, of establishing the meaning of one's worth and demanding "recognition" for it.

Man's desire for recognition as a human being and his struggle to achieve it thus have a long thread throughout history and shall be long subdued, despite the accelerated pace of industrialization that has characterized the modern and post-modern eras.  Trump has revived man's hope that he may yet again win the struggle against what he perceives as a system rigged by globalism, liberalism, and political correctness.  Once again, the wheel of history has turned.