Of Spirit & Tradition


Of any society, especially those with democratic traditions, a thumos or “spiritedness” is of the utmost necessitation for sociopolitical, whether within the Roman agora or in modern internet commons. However, an assembled “spiritedness” is one that needs to be anchored to the suiting of the best of natural associations. This is binding not only in law or tradition but an experiential definition that brings about the sovereignty of those outside the mere character of the property. In the end, what thumos requires is an oikos, a space-bound purpose towards the cultivation of the proper flourishing of “spiritedness”, else to the detriment of its very own preservation. 

What is Oikophilia, Properly Understood?

Oikos is the foundation of the political realm based on family and ancestral duties, in a specific context to Greece, the assumed traditions of Athenian law. The home, as a proverbial and sociological phenomenon, is necessary for any sort of political association, “the little platoon” as the famed British statesman Edmund Burke would have defined it. With home comes the definition of sovereignty and continuity, molded through the lines of ancestry, and shaped through the liberty and duty in preserving a home not only for property but as a dynasty. These definitions of mutually good, beneficial sovereignty and continuity are in themselves tied through love, what would come to be later known as oikophilia

As defined and coined by the late British philosopher and aesthetician Sir Roger Scruton, oikophilia is the love of home. The love of home is bound to a love of permanence to oneself in their environment within and across time, as well as in line with a proximal connection with the people in it. Though Scruton had used this “love of home” to make a proper case for conservative environmentalism, this love can also be extended within the formulation of political spiritedness. Either this spiritedness is bound to the telos of Revelation, as was the case of the medievals, or the telos of commerce in our modern sense, the perseverance of home, and the love for it is unending and forever wanting to bloom.

Thumos in the Modern Context

The thumotic spiritedness of our time is bound within an estimation of our Mercurian era, and therefore unfortunately situated within the bounds of preference and transaction. In a world where we realize things are much more open than what was originally understood, it brought an expansiveness where “the sky was the limit” became literal, carved out by pioneers, tycoons, millionaire meme-artists, and tech enthusiasts. This new dynamic towards the building of regimes, not only around possible tribal, imperial, or principal polities, but now commercial and corporate ones, holds much into the dynamics to which people pertain a sense of public-spirited solidarity. In our century though, this dynamic is quite likely to change how thumos, oikos, and therefore oikophilia, are to be bound within the civic association.

One such basis could be bound to principles of atomization, in which the individual interest is taken to an extreme degree, and civil and social duties break down, creating a paradox of more intrusive government. This brings about major costs to political society, given that these principles lead towards a sociopolitical retreat. Our modern thumos is bound to a form of longing for moral and social structure, yet also characterized by a hazardous herd mentality and an isolated manifold to which people justify themselves their own alienation. The generalis anima in this regard is both much more popular yet much more detached, and as a result more venomous towards the sustaining of an orderly society. 

The Need to Think Little

The merits of localism are always bound to a circumstantial, material basis, to which proper critiques are merited among what Daniel McCarthy labels as a sort of “Rousseauian Conservatism”. Yet at the same time, one must come to grips that the modern project, the project of “thinking big” is brought to its fullest aim, either it is means of globalization or the greater expansion of the political consensus along national lines of division. However, one such person, Wendell Berry, saw that great issue in his essay “Think Little”, a small piece detailing the flaws of thinking big, either it is its demotion of a proper or natural individualism within the binds of community or the preservation of one’s home and landscape. What Berry writes in the end, is a defense of “oikophilia” along civil and intellectual lines.

Berry brings about the case that, in his essay “Thinking Big”, we have gone on to sacrifice some of the basis for essential foundations to what makes nations run. Those essential foundations are linked within the local community and its shaping of the individual, which as sociologists such as Robert Putnam illustrate, is fraying away and fragmenting. In his essay, Berry goes on to write, 

“What we are up against in this country, in any attempt to invoke private responsibility, is that we have nearly destroyed private life. Our people have given up their independence in return for the cheap seductions and the shoddy merchandise of so-called “affluence.” We have delegated all our vital functions and responsibilities to salesmen and agents and bureaus and experts of all sorts. We cannot feed or clothe ourselves, or entertain ourselves, or communicate with each other, or be charitable or neighborly or loving, or even respect ourselves, without recourse to a merchant or a corporation or a public-service organization or an agency of the government or a style-setter or an expert. Most of us cannot think of dissenting from the opinions or the actions of one organization without first forming a new organization. Individualism is going around these days in uniform, handing out the party line on individualism. Dissenters want to publish their personal opinions over a thousand signatures,” (Berry 51-52).

As we proceed to designate tasks for ourselves and our community to faceless bureaucrats and machines, those responsibilities, and therefore the underlying virtue and solidarity bound to them, are made faceless and alienating. Our leviathan culture may grant us some semblance of security and leisure, yet at the same time, it is a culture that is blind and faceless, detached from excellence and detached from the self. Dissent is no longer a stand, it is a fad, and community as well is swept under the broadside. However, Berry also writes, 

“What I am saying is that if we apply our minds directly and competently to the needs of the earth, then we will have begun to make fundamental and necessary changes in our minds. We will begin to understand and to mistrust and to change our wasteful economy, which markets not just the produce of the earth, but also the earth’s ability to produce. We will see that beauty and utility are alike dependent upon the health of the world. But we will also see through the fads and the fashions of protest. We will see that war and oppression and pollution are not separate issues but are aspects of the same issue. Amid the outcries for the liberation of this group or that, we will know that no person is free except in the freedom of other persons, and that man’s only real freedom is to know and faithfully occupy his place – a much humbler place than we have been taught to think – in the order of creation,” (Berry 57).

While Berry obviously uses the analogy of agriculture, he goes on to point to a deeper truth in the profound order bound within the very gifts of what makes us in the image of our Creator. To create, and to especially do so in order, is to embark on the resettling and habituating of the heart, to bind yourself within freedom known for generations, the creation of continuity. Continuity is one of the most fundamental rights of any human being in the end, and a system and or ideal that proceeds to disturb that right brings the whole order of political society out of balance. Now, this isn’t to dismiss the likes of political or philosophical realists, as common sense dictates that order is not only capable of being sabotaged by the self, but one’s rivals and enemies. Yet at the same time, in the capacity to still “think little” one gets the freedom to challenge those who only “think big”. This was the practice of monasteries countering against the feudal order, and in the American context, it was an innovation of the older order – one bounded to aristocracy and landed gentry of the European continent. While maybe only found in parts and segments of America today, our thumos may yet still yearn for true freedom.


Wendell Berry, The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry 

Wendell Berry, Essay, Think Little