In his reply to our article, Matt Franck honors us with a thoughtful reflection on the city-soul analogy and the limits of the body metaphor in thinking about politics. Unfortunately, Franck misunderstands our use of the city-soul analogy and our systems analysis and, therefore, mischaracterizes our position.

The city-soul comparison is an analogy. It can never imply a one-to-one likeness. As Chesterton said, it cannot be inferred from the bipedal nature of man that fifty men are a centipede.

Plato taught that the well-being of social wholes is a kind of unity and its illness a kind of division. The improvement of Aristotelian and ultimately Thomistic analysis was to clarify that the city is not a substantial unity. It is, rather, a unity of order. All societies (families, churches, polities, etc.) are real unities. The unity of their members consists in their joint pursuit of a common purpose.

It is emphatically not the case that membership in a social whole reduces one to a mere cell in a super-organism. That is the radical socialist or communist error. Membership in social wholes does not negate one’s dignity as a human agent, but is essential to it. To be clear, all social wholes are systems, but not all systems are social wholes.

It is thus a deeply mistaken understanding of systems analysis to claim that it renders Trump a non-person and portions of the electorate into “role-playing fractions of human personhood.” Systems analysis uncovers the formal dimension of relationships, by analyzing the patterns of interaction among parts or members. Our analysis was nondeterministic, because persons are efficient causes—they can change the system through free acts of will.

For instance, marriage therapists suppose that couples can understand the bad systems they are living in and create a new, and healthy, homeostases. One common system in marriage is characterized by the roles of Pursuer and Withdrawer. One spouse nags the other about household tasks. The other spouse withdraws. The worse the nagging, the worse the withdrawal, and vice versa. This is a defective relationship—and the point of systems analysis is to help people achieve the flourishing of which they are capable. By helping people understanding their relationships in terms of systems, IFS therapists help people realize their full dignity.

Our essay showed that Trump, Clinton, and parts of the electorate have taken on roles in a defective system analogous to defective internal systems. This doesn’t imply that voters are mere subrational furies of passion. Of course they are agents endowed with rationality. Still, the analogy to the individual psyche holds, because the impassioned sub-personalities encountered in IFS therapy are agential and thus have the note of personhood. We think that we are within the Platonic-Aristotelian-Thomistic spirit on this point. All three recognized that the passions have a spark of their own, and thus resist the despotic control of reason and will.

With Aristotle, we maintain that the student of politics must study the soul. We think it would be a mistake to erect a wall of separation between psychology and political science.


Kody W. Cooper is an assistant professor of political science and public service at the University of Tennessee–Chattanooga.

Brandon Wall is a marriage and family therapist in Iowa City.

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