By Bruce Mabley
More than 350 years ago, an English political theorist named Thomas Hobbes wrote an influential book called Leviathan. His purpose was to somehow see his way clear to choose a side in the English civil war. He sought to establish ‘scientifically’ which side was right – either the King’s supporters or Olivier Cromwell’s Protestant roundheads. It is not fundamentally important which side Hobbes supported since Leviathan provided arguments and political cover for both sides to advance and promote their cause. What was legendary was the reasoning Hobbes used to link human psychology and behavior to political institutions and life.
For Hobbes’ own theory, ‘glorying’ is an important concept inasmuch as an incorrect estimation of one’s own power (Hobbes defines this as ‘the value of a man’) can result in serious negatives consequences. If, as Hobbes believes, we can live in a state of nature, which is defined as the ‘war of all against all’, clearly miscalculating one’s own value can have deadly consequences.
Although no one, and especially me, believes that we are living in any kind of a pure Hobbesian state of nature, it does seem to be apparent that Hobbes was right about glorying as it applies to our present array of political leaders. Here is Hobbes’ definition of glorying, and vainglory:
Joy arising from imagination of a man’s own power and ability is that exultation of the mind which is called GLORYING, which, if grounded upon the experience of his own former actions, is the same with confidence, but if grounded on the flattery of others, or only supposed by himself for delight in the consequences of is called VAINGLORY. (Leviathan, Of the Passions, chapter 6)
Hobbes wants to assert that imagining and calculating one’s own power continues to be a very subjective process. Let’s take US President Donald Trump who Hobbes may well argue dips his sword much more often in vainglory: that is a tragic miscalculation of his power based on the flattery of others. Or, is his vainglory nothing more than an example of his delight in the consequences of his fertile imagination about his own power? Probably American adult star Stormy Daniels would have a more accurate account for Hobbes to reflect on.
If you believe Stormy’s detailed interview with 60 Minutes regarding the Trump encounter, she called him out on his glorying in the first five minutes questioning whether this line actually convinces women to sleep with him. Then, upon leaving the washroom, Stormy observes the crestfallen Donald perched like a wounded bird on the side of the hotel bed wondering why the glorying technique was not working this time. There would be little vain glorying on that night!
Or would it be the recent steel and aluminum tariffs imposed on US allies (Canada, Mexico and the European Union) under the auspices of a bizarre and obscure Act of Congress dealing with threats to national security that would qualify as glorying. For the moment, given the swift retaliation of the allies, it looks to be more vain glorying and the tariffs will hurt the US economy as much as any of the others. Meanwhile the aging US trade protectionist Wilbur Ross is currently visiting China and one wonders how many naps he will require to bolster his waking moments as the savvy Chinese trade negotiators look on bemused and befuddled.
Confusing glorying and vain glorying is a most noxious state of affairs and one that is apparently the private domain of Donald Trump. Lest we forget Hobbes’ warning that this confusion can be deadly. Any miscalculation of crises like Syria, North Korea or the Ukraine could and already has proved deadly.
Donald Trump has refocused political science back to politics and psychology. Policies based on any strategic understanding of international relations is out the window. In a sense, the arrival of Trump and deal glorying has brought back into focus what politics is really about. It has undercut the Ivy League professors’ pretensions of objectifying politics and world affairs into some rational fishbowl. Everything from trade deficits to immigration statistics to gun control and the responsibility for the carnage in American schools, all facts are buried or re-interpreted to the advantage of glorying. Political nihilism at the highest level has replaced international good will and cooperation required to tackle real problems like world poverty, climate change and authoritarian regimes like Bashar al-Assad’s Syria and others of a similar ilk.
The Korea Summit, the non-summit is a prime example of this. On again, off again, the secret is to know that the glorying on both sides simply invalidates the summit, its historical significance and any objective results. It is simply glorying, two intrepid leaders infatuated with their own importance and imposing their puerile thoughts on an unwitting population to the great delight of the Fifth Estate, always on the hunt for potentially sensational events many of which end in a whimper.
So, awaken Plato, Rousseau and Hobbes, the arrival of Donald Trump on the world stage has ensured that your works of political philosophy will continue to be read and revered. For what is politics, but the act of glorying and vain glorying replete with all the errors that human beings make every day. And especially one who has proved himself morally unfit for the high office of President of the United States, in the words of ex-FBI director James Comey. That the leader of the so-called free world is one of these erstwhile glory gluttons should not surprise us in the least. Surrounded by an army of dubious and noisy sycophants and family brethren in the White House, there appears to be an orgy of vain glorying. ‘Human, all too human’ as Nietzsche would have wisely reflected.
*Dr. Bruce Mabley is a former Canadian diplomat having served in the Middle East, and is the director of the Mackenzie-Papineau think tank in Montreal.