Courage: The Mother of the Virtues
July 15, 2015 3 Comments
There are countries in Europe where the native considers himself as a kind of settler, indifferent to the fate of the spot which he inhabits. The greatest changes are effected there without his concurrence, and (unless chance may have apprised him of the event) without his knowledge; nay, more, the condition of his village, the police of his street, the repairs of the church or the parsonage, do not concern him; for he looks upon all these things as unconnected with himself and as the property of a powerful stranger whom he calls the government. He has only a life-interest in these possessions, without the spirit of ownership or any ideas of improvement. This want of interest in his own affairs goes so far that if his own safety or that of his children is at last endangered, instead of trying to avert the peril, he will fold his arms and wait till the whole nation comes to his aid.
I was reminded of it the other day when a car dull of passengers watched an 18-year-old stab a 24-year-old to death, without taking any action whatsoever. In fact, they apparently thought they did the right thing, one of them saying this:
What I don’t wish is that I had somehow tried to attack the assailant. I am a little bit larger than he was, but I would not have won. It’s scary, because if we had been sitting closer and had seen the attack start I probably would have tried to help, and would have been stabbed.
By the way, the perpetrator was huge: 5 foot five and a 125 lbs. 20 or so passengers couldn’t possibly have taken him! The story reminded me of something else. Remember Drummer Lee Rigby, butchered on the street a few yards from his duty station, in London, a few years ago? A the time we had a robust debate on Jess’ site about it, which is here. If one reads that article, one will find a dichotomy. Passivity and dependence on the police by everyone from the UK, and uniform incredulousness at such nonsense from the Americans, who uniformly advocated taking care of business. That’s hardly unusual is it. We, as Americans, have always been that way. Tocqueville also said this:
… in no country does crime more rarely elude punishment. The reason is that everyone conceives himself to be interested in furnishing evidence of the crime and in seizing the delinquent. During my stay in the United States I witnessed the spontaneous formation of committees in a county for the pursuit and prosecution of a man who had committed a great crime. In Europe a criminal is an unhappy man who is struggling for his life against the agents of power, while the people are merely a spectator of the conflict; in America he is looked upon as an enemy of the human race, and the whole of mankind is against him.
It looks to me, and to others as well, as the nanny state is turning us into passive children like the Europeans, or as some say beta males. John Daniel Davidson reminds us:
[…] The main reason I don’t regard it as important is that this was not the answer to some sort of metaphysical mystery. It was not a moment that revealed what I would really do in a crisis, because I was never in that much doubt about how I would act—or at least, how I should act. It’s not that I had a specific plan or some special training that gave me confidence. It was simply that I knew it is possible to act when action is needed, and I expected it of myself.
That’s what’s really disturbing about the reaction to this case: that this expectation of courage is totally disappearing. Courage is now viewed as exotic and unusual and unproven and unknowable—rather than a normal and expected part of being a man.
Or consider the account of a woman who was abused and threatened over a long period of time by two belligerent girls on a Metro car, while 30 other passengers averted their eyes and pretended not to notice. Yet she concludes, “I don’t know if I would have helped me.” Really?
This is about way more than whether you’re good in a brawl. Physical courage is just one form of courage, and when we give up on it, we’re giving up on other forms of courage that we need just as much—particularly moral courage and intellectual courage.
Ironically, the same people now making excuses for cowardice are the kind who engage in exaggerated Kabuki theater displays about how evil slavery was and how terrible the Confederate flag is and how much they furiously oppose them—150 years after it took any courage to do so. But how do they think slavery was defeated? Who do they think took down that flag the first time around? By their own admission, they would have been the ones averting their eyes when they saw a master beating a slave. They would have been the ones to make compromises and concessions every time John Calhoun thundered.
Incidentally, that same day, in Colorado, a woman, costumed as a wench at a Renaissance Festival, put a man in a headlock after he stole a jouster’s sword. Colorado is not DC, at least yet. 🙂
C.S. Lewis said, “Courage is not just one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”