0268023581, 2001006435

Table of contents :
The secret sources of strengthening : philosophical reflections on courage / William Desmond
Stoics, Christians, and the courage to be / Leroy S. Rouner
Facing reality / Rémi Brague
Courage in Shakespeare / Geoffrey Hill
The virtue of courage in the Mencius / Philip J. Ivanhoe
Courage, duty, and Robert E. Lee / John M. Taylor
Courage is a verb, do it / Daniel Berrigan
On courage and democratic pluralism / Lucius T. Outlaw, Jr.
Courage : heroes and antiheroes / Robert Cummings Neville
Guts is a habit : the practice of courage / Katherine Platt.

Citation preview

Courage Edited by Barbara Darling-Smith



Volume Twenty-Three

Volume One

Volume Twelve

Mijth, Symbol, and Reality

On Community

Volume Two

Volume Thirteen

Transcendence and the Sacred

Selves, People, and Persons

Volume Three

Meaning, Truth, and God

Volume Fourteen

Can Virtue Be TaughtP

Volume Four

Foundations of Ethics

Volume Fifteen

The Changing Face of Friendship

Volume Five

Religious Pluralism

Volume Sixteen

In Pursuit of Happiness Volume Six

On Nature

Volume Seventeen

The Longing for Home Volume Seven

Knowing Religiously Volume Eight

Civil Religion and Political Theology

Volume Eighteen

Is There a Human NatureP Volume Nineteen


Volume Nine

Human Rights and. the World’s Religions

Volume Twenty

Volume Ten

Volume Twenty-One

On Freedom


Volume Eleven

Volume Twenty-Two

Celebrating Peace

If I Should Die

Religion, Politics, and Peace

Copyright © 2002 University of Notre Dame Notre Dame, Indiana 46556 All Rights Reserved Manufactured in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Courage / edited by Barbara Darling-Smith, p.

cm. — (Boston University studies in philosophy and religion ; vol. 23) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-268-02358-1 (cloth : alk. paper) 1. Courage. I. Darling-Smith, Barbara, 1954BJ1533.C8 ,C68 179'.6—dc21

II. Series.

2002 2001006435

°°This book is printed on acid-free paper.



C& A oo.

To Robert Cummings Neville Creative Philosopher and Theologian, Wise Dean, and Loyal Supporter of the Institute.

His Institute lectures have united insights from East and West to illuminate the possibilities of the human spirit, and his own commit¬ ment to justice has inspired us with his humaneness, his compassion, and his courage.






Contributors Introduction

xiii •

Barbara Darling-Smith


PART I: COURAGE IN PHILOSOPHY AND LITERATURE The Secret Sources of Strengthening: Philosophical Reflections on Courage • William Desmond


Stoics, Christians, and the Courage to Be • Leroy S. Rouner


Facing Reality


Rerni Brague

Courage in Shakespeare

Geoffrey Hill

The Virtue of Courage in the Mencius

54 Philip J. Ivanhoe


PART II: COURAGE IN WAR, PEACE, AND NATION BUILDING Courage, Duty, and Robert E. Lee Courage Is a Verb; Do It

John M. Taylor

Daniel Berrigan, S.J.

On Courage and Democratic Pluralism • Lucius T. Outlaw, Jr.

83 94




PART III: COURAGE EVERY DAY Courage: Heroes and Antiheroes • Robert Cummings Neville Guts Is a Habit: The Practice of Courage

119 •

Katherine Platt


Author Index


Subject Index



Boston University Studies in Philosophy and Religion is a joint project of the Boston University Institute for Philosophy and Religion and the University of Notre Dame Press. The essays in each annual volume are edited from the previous years lecture program and invited papers of the Boston University Institute. The Director of the Institute, who is also the General Editor of these Studies, chooses a theme and invites participants to lecture at Boston University in the course of the aca¬ demic year. The Editor of each volume selects and edits the essays to be included in the volume. In preparation is Volume 24, Promise and

Peril: The Paradox of Religion as Resource and Threat. The Boston University Institute for Philosophy and Religion was begun informally in 1970 under the leadership of Professor Peter Bertocci of the Department of Philosophy, with the cooperation of Dean Walter Muelder of the School of Theology, Professor James Purvis, Chair of the Department of Religion, and Professor Marx Wartofsky, Chair of the Department of Philosophy. Professor Ber¬ tocci was concerned to institutionalize one of the most creative features of Boston personalism, its interdisciplinary approach to fundamental issues of human life. When Professor Leroy S. Rouner became Direc¬ tor in 1975, and the Institute became a formal part of the Boston Uni¬ versity Graduate School, every effort was made to continue that vision of an ecumenical and interdisciplinary forum. Within the University the Institute is committed to open inter¬ change on fundamental issues in philosophy and religious study which transcend the narrow specializations of academic curricula. We seek to counter those trends in higher education which emphasize techni¬ cal expertise in a “multi-versity” and gradually transform undergradu¬ ate liberal arts education into preprofessional training. IX



Our programs are open to the general public and are often broad¬ cast on WBUR-FM, Boston University’s National Public Badio sta¬ tion. Outside the University we seek to recover the public tradition of philosophical discourse which was a lively part of American intellec¬ tual life in the early years of this century before the professionalization of both philosophy and religious reflection made these two disciplines virtually unavailable even to an educated public. We note, for example, that much of William James’s work was presented originally as public lectures, and we are grateful to James’s present-day successors for the significant public papers which we have been honored to publish. This commitment to a public tradition in American intellectual fife has im¬ portant stylistic implications. At a time when too much academic writ¬ ing is incomprehensible, or irrelevant, or both, our goal is to present readable essays by acknowledged authorities on critical human issues.


Thanks are due to each author in this collection—for their contribu¬ tions to this study, for their graciousness in response to editorial revi¬ sion, and for the courage each showed in tackling this subject of human interest and importance. I am also most grateful to Lee Rouner for his editing help and his cheerful moral support, to Anna Lannstrom for her professional and good-spirited management of all the myriad details of the lecture program, to Emily Lyman and Syd Smith for their assistance in preparing the manuscript, and to Adam Wright for his kindness in creating the author index. As always, a large debt of gratitude goes to our colleagues at the University of Notre Dame Press. Executive Editor Ann Rice has been a joy to work with this year, as she is every year. She and Direc¬ tor Rarbara Hanrahan, Associate Director Jeffrey Gainey, Rebecca DeBoer, and Wendy McMillen have all made collaboration collegial and even fun! And we are all very thankful to the Stratford Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, and the Pew Charitable Trust for their financial sup¬ port of the lecture series on Courage from which these essays came.



DANIEL BERRIGAN, S.J., is a poet, priest, and activist living in New York City, where he works with AIDS patients. He is the author of numerous books of poetry, prayers, Bible study, peace making, and social protest, including Jubilee! 1939-1989: Fifty Years a Jesuit; No Bars to Manhood; The Geography of Faith (with Robert Coles); Night Flight to Hanoi; Ezekiel: Vision in the Dust; Job: And Death No Dominion; a play entitled The Trial of the Catonsville Nine; and an autobiography, To Dwell in Peace. He served as consultant to the movie The Mission, in which he also played a Jesuit priest. REMI BRAGUE received his Ph.D. from the University Paris IV and has taught at several European universities. His book Europe, la voie romaine has been translated into eight languages. He has written numerous articles, is author and editor of several books, and has presented a number of broadcast talks. He serves as Pro¬ fessor of Philosophy at University Paris I (Pantheon-Sorbonne) and has twice been John N. Findlay Visiting Professor of Phi¬ losophy at Boston University. BARBARA DARLING-SMITH, Assistant Professor of Religion at Wheaton College, served as Assistant Director of the Boston University Institute for Philosophy and Religion from 1988 until 2000. Her B.A. is from Spring Arbor College and she received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Boston University. She edited Can Virtue Be Taught?, Volume 14 in Boston University Studies in Philosophy and Religion, and has written a number of articles and reviews. xiii



WILLIAM DESMOND was bom in Ireland, where he received his B.A. and M.A. from the National University of Ireland, UCC. His Ph.D. is from Pennsylvania State University and he has taught at a number of U.S. universities. He has been Professor of Philosophy, Institute of Philosophy, Katholieke Universiteit Leu¬ ven, since 1994. Professor Desmonds books include Being and the Between and Ethics and the Between, both of which are being translated into Chinese, and Philosophy and Its Others: Ways of Being and Mind, which has appeared in Portuguese translation and is also being translated into Chinese. GEOFFREY HILL is University Professor, Professor of Literature and Religion, and Co-Director of the Editorial Institute at Boston University. Bom in England, he studied at the University of Ox¬ ford, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Leeds. He has published books of drama and criticism along with mul¬ tiple works of poetry, for which he has won numerous awards. His most recent books are books of poems entitled Triumph of Love (1999) and Speech! Speech! (2000). PHILIP J. IVANHOE is the author, co-author, editor, and co-editor of numerous volumes, including Confucian Moral Self-Cultiva¬ tion; Virtue, Nature and Agency in the Xunzi; and The Sense of Anti-Bationalism: Zhuangzi and Kierkegaard’s Religious Thought, among others, and has written many reviews, review articles, and essays as well. He is Associate Professor of Asian Languages and Cultures and of Philosophy at the University of Michigan and has taught at Stanford University, where he received his B.A. and Ph.D. ROBERT C. NEVILLE received his Ph.D. from Yale and has also received honorary doctorates. A former President of the Ameri¬ can Academy of Religion, he is Professor of Philosophy, Religion, and Theology and Dean of the School of Theology at Boston University. Among his many books are God the Creator; The Cos¬ mology of Freedom; Reconstruction of Thinking; The Puritan Smile; Behind the Masks of God; Eternity and Time’s Flow; The Truth of Broken Symbols; and Boston Confucianism: Portable Tradition in the Late-Modern World.



LUCIUS T. OUTLAW, JR., is Professor of Philosophy and Director of African-American Studies at Vanderbilt University. Prior to going to Vanderbilt in 2000, he was at Haverford College, where he held the T. Wistar Brown Chair in Philosophy and received nu¬ merous teaching awards. He studied at Fisk University, Dart¬ mouth College, and Boston College, where he received his Ph.D. in Philosophy. Professor Outlaw has written On Race and Phi¬ losophy as well as numerous articles, and he is currently working on Race, Reason, and Order. KATHERINE PLATT received her B.A. at the University of Min¬ nesota and her Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London, where her disserta¬ tion research took her to the Kerkennah Islands of Tunisia. She is Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Babson College and has also been Research Associate at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. The author of a variety of articles and reviews, she has contributed to a number of volumes in Boston University Studies in Philosophy and Religion. LEROY S. ROUNER taught at the United Theological College, Ban¬ galore, India (1961-1966), before becoming Professor of Philoso¬ phy, Religion, and Philosophical Theology and Director of the Institute for Philosophy and Religion at Boston University. He has edited twenty volumes in the Boston University Studies in Philosophy and Religion as well as Philosophy, Religion, and the Coming World Civilization: Essays in Honor of William Ernest Hocking. He is the author of Within Human Experience: The Philosophy of William Ernest Hocking; The Long Way Home (a memoir); and To Be at Horne: Christianity, Civil Religion, and World Community. JOHN M. TAYLOR is the author of numerous books in history and biography, including Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E. Lee and His Critics and William Henry Seward: Lincoln’s Right Hand. The latter is the subject of a recent PBS documentary. He has also contributed to numerous journals, including American Heritage, Military History Quarterly, and the Washington Times. He lives in McLean, Virginia.


Is courage a dramatic quality exhibited only by infantry soldiers who plod stealthily through land-mine-laced jungles and by spies who steal state secrets in order to save the free world? If so, then we ordinary folks can applaud it and marvel at it, but we don’t need to think much about it or worry about trying to be courageous in our everyday lives. My experience of truly courageous people, however, gives the lie to such a narrow view of courage. One variety of courage that I’ve observed in family members and friends is their determination to go on living with grace and love even in the face of severe suffering. They courageously refuse to give up or to give in to gloom and despair, despite terminal illness and excruciating pain, or deep depression, or grief and loss. I’ve also seen courage in people in the Twelve-Step movement, who pursue and somehow find the courage to take the difficult steps required in dramatically changing their lives. The Twelve-Step pro¬ gram has found great inspiration in the “Serenity Prayer,” which cher¬ ishes not only serene acceptance but also courageous action: “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Serenity would be an edifying topic for a future volume, but here our emphasis is on courage, and the authors in this collection all bring their own wisdom to the discussion of courage. These authors agree that courage is not just for the few, the dramatically heroic. Some of them do invoke awe-inspiring instances of death-defying courage, but all recognize that courage is required of every one of us. The book’s first section is entitled Courage in Philosophy and Literature. William Desmond explores the transcendental and transcendent dimensions of courage in “The Secret Sources of 1



Strengthening: Philosophical Reflections on Courage.” Courage, for Desmond, involves living despite an awareness of our fragility, despite the threat of death. One instance of courage praised by Desmond is to recognize our enemy as kin, and therefore to lay down our weapons. Desmond argues that before we can be courageous we are “en¬ couraged”: courage comes to us not from within ourselves but from beyond ourselves. Courage is not wholly determined by our knowing or our will, though both are part of the picture. Courage comes from a deeper source, a primordial love of being which precedes our own volition and convinces us of the goodness of our “to be.” Yet ethical courage even transcends the affirmation of ones own being. Desmond concludes by pointing to the courage of the martyr, one who, like Socrates, witnesses to truth even when truth-telling means death. Leroy Rouners essay “Stoics, Christians, and the Courage to Be” also explores the notion, advanced by Desmond, of a power outside us. In fact, asking for help from God, who is in and with us (and therefore, in some sense, outside us) differentiates, for Rouner, the Christian approach to life from Stoicism and its contemporary variations. The Stoic approach to pain, argues Rouner, is to cultivate in ourselves “spiri¬ tual iron”—that is, the discipline to create distance between ourselves and others so that they can’t cause us pain. Rouner indicts this glorifi¬ cation of detachment as anti-humanist, since in this endeavor to avoid pain Stoics also avoid love: “humanistic values are based in love for the human, and love—for all its rewards—is always also a source of pain.” The Christian solution to pain, on the other hand, is found in the cour¬ age to accept life with all its pain and in the faith that God will, in the end, “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Rev. 7:17). Rouner reminds us that the goal of theologian Paul Tillich was to reinterpret traditional Christian doctrines for contemporary culture, and Rouner himself tackles that ambitious project. Rouner accepts Tillich s interpretation of faith as courage in The Courage to Be. Then, taking Tillich’s reinterpretation project one step further, Rouner sug¬ gests that original sin be understood in today’s terms as ontological loneliness, since, in his view, twenty-first-century persons will readily admit the reality of loneliness in our lives. The reinterpretation is logi¬ cal, since both guilt and loneliness stem from the human condition of separation from our real self—the self God created us to be—which is also separation fiom God. And Christian faith means affirming coura¬ geously that this separation will be overcome—and with it, sin and guilt



and loneliness will be overcome—in reunion with God and with our essential selves. In his essay on “Facing Reality,” Remi Brague joins Lee Rouner in finding wisdom in Tillich’s motif of “the courage to be.” For Brague this means that a metaphysical grounding for morality is unavoidable, and the existence of courage proves this. Courage demonstrates that the Good is prior to Being, when courageous people choose their own death—their own nonbeing—in order to be faithful to the Good. Here Brague, like Desmond, sees genuine martyrdom as a shining example of courage. Further, Brague, following Nietzsche, finds that the virtue called for in modem times is intellectual honesty. Desmond had described the courage of a philosophical witness such as Socrates to tell the tmth, even when death will result. Brague characterizes intellectual honesty as the courage to face the truth. This type of courage has some his¬ torical precedent but is primarily a new requirement for today— connected, suggests Brague, with modernity’s attempts to dominate nature. Geoffrey Hill’s essay “Courage in Shakespeare” looks at depic¬ tions of courage in a writer seminal in shaping modern ideas. Cour¬ age is to be found in Shakespeare’s military heroes such as Prince Hal of Henry IV, to be sure. But it is also evident in “the patience and re¬ sourcefulness of women—Viola in Twelfth Night, Rosalind in As You Like It, Helena in All’s Well That Ends Well,” among others. Hill researches the theme of courage in Shakespeare’s predeces¬ sors as well—such as Sir Thomas Hoby, who provided an influential English translation (The Book of the Courtier) of Castiglione’s Libro del Cortegiano. Desmond had explored the role of knowledge in cour¬ age; and Hill points out Hoby s insistence that courage must include self-knowledge: “A fond person [that is, a fool] can not be saide to be stoute harted.” Sir Thomas Elyot is another English writer Hill studies in the generation preceding Shakespeare. In his The Boke Named the Gouemour, Elyot utilizes numerous varieties of courage, including “valiaunt courage,” “wanton courage,” “noble courage,” “courage inuincible,” “furye or rage, whiche they calle courage,” “desperate courage,” “vyle courage,” and many more. As is apparent from this listing, courage in Elyot is not always morally laudable. Hill credits Shakespeare too with a keen and incisive awareness of the ambiguities and complexities in



human courage. Coriolanus, for example, exhibits bravery in battle without magnanimity or self-insight, while Othello demonstrates “mag¬ nanimity without discretion.” A bridge from our theoretical section to explorations of concrete examples of courage as ethical action is provided by Philip Ivanhoe s essay “The Virtue of Courage in the Mencius.” Ivanhoe shows that all of Aristotle’s examples of andreia (“courage”) come from military com¬ bat. But Aristotle’s idea of courage as, in Ivanhoe s words, “that excel¬ lent trait of character that enables people to pursue the good through the difficult and dangerous,” can be applied more widely than simply to warriors. The Confucian thinker Mengzi (Mencius) sees courage in a broader context, and therefore Aristotle’s understanding can be enriched and deepened by the writings of Mengzi. Certainly soldiers display courage, says Mengzi, but it is a petty courage, differentiated from “great courage.” The service to which courage is put is crucial in evaluating courage as great or petty; as in Hill’s discussion of Elyot, Ivanhoe notes that in Mengzi there can exist courage (“petty courage”) which is not oriented toward the Good. Mengzi s category of “great courage” means courage directed toward morally praiseworthy ends, and it is the result of a continuing process of self-cultivation. With long practice of such self-cultivation, virtuous persons are able to choose the moral action undeterred by any diffi¬ culty or danger. The second section is entitled Courage in War, Peace, and Nation Building, beginning with John Taylor’s essay on “Courage, Duty, and Robert E. Lee.” Taylors essay studies courage in wartime—on the battlefield, in the planning room, and in prisoner-of-war camps. He gives examples of courageous war prisoners (John McCain and others) and courageous generals, including Eisenhower and U.S. World War I general John J. Pershing. And he notes that in Civil War times bravery was plentiful among soldiers—based on a number of factors including duty, commitment to the rightness of their cause (on both sides), desire for honor, and peer pressure. But he devotes the bulk of his essay to a consideration of Robert E. Lee and his courage. Taylor sees Lee’s courage as a lifelong quality, illustrated vividly in his choice in April of 1861 to reject the command of the federal army. Taylor describes repeated examples of Lee’s courage which continued throughout the war. Yet he notes Lee’s abiding commitment to obey civil authority. And Taylor raises a haunt-



mg question: did this unquestioning allegiance to authority lead Lee to betray his own loyal soldiers? Taylor makes a point similar to Ivanhoe s: “courage cannot stand alone. . . . Courage can be found in the service of unworthy as well as noble causes. ... It is best employed in combination with judgment, compassion, and righteousness.” Mengzi’s insight as explored by Ivan¬ hoe would be useful here in judging that courage in unworthy causes is a petty courage. Taylor had argued that Lees courage was part and parcel of his religious faith. Daniel Berrigan’s piece, “Courage Is a Verb; Do It,” brings a completely different perspective to the question of religion and war. He finds in the famous Isaiah text “And they will hammer their swords into plowshares” a summons to peacemaking. Berrigan indicts conventional Christianity for failing to preach this summons—and for complicity in war making, for being “the hand that laid a blessing on the forging of swords.” In his take on the question of submission to authority which Taylor had raised about Robert E. Lee, Berrigan argues that courage is not found in allegiance to authority. What courage really requires, says Berrigan, is to challenge the bellicose authority of the state, to take that word of Isaiah seriously and devote ourselves to the work of dismantling weapons—in our time, to be precise, nuclear weapons. This is the work laid upon all of us, argues Berrigan: “it must be done by ourselves.” He recognizes how impossible this sounds and finds in the very impossibility—and the dire necessity—the guaran¬ tee that this is indeed the summons of God. And to show that the cour¬ age for such “impossible” work can be found, he provides examples of the teachers, housewives, farmers, priests, nuns, and others who have been arrested in nonviolent war resistance actions. Lucius Outlaws essay “On Courage and Democratic Pluralism” concludes our section on war and peace and nation building. Like Tay¬ lor and Berrigan, Outlaw explores historical events. Taylor had focused on Lees courage in the Civil War, and had commented in passing that though Robert E. Lee found slavery an evil he was prepared to live with that evil “until Providence ruled otherwise.” Outlaws paper finds other white icons of U.S. history guilty of making the same Faustian compromise to accept slavery. He indicts them for their lack of cour¬ age in challenging the evil of slavery and racism. He argues that the United States was founded as a nation-state on inequality between white and black Americans and built on a pact to keep silent about the



costs to the identity and personhood of black people. This acceptance of inequality, in Outlaw’s view, was based on whites’ fear of other races and fear of losing privilege. He revisits the Civil War discussed by Tay¬ lor, and sees in that war the “reckoning”—the logical conclusion to a nation built on injustice. Outlaw moves from historical failures of courage in the process of nation building in the United States to a consideration of the cour¬ age required today. He notes that even in our day fears of the other are still with us—racialized fears—and he calls for courage from each of us in confronting and overcoming those fears. He voices his hope that all of us will join together in constructing a multiracial, multi¬ ethnic democracy which finally realizes the promise of justice for all our citizens. Courage in everyday life is the theme of our final section, Cour¬ age Every Day. Outlaws summons to courage from each one of us in our public life as citizens constructed by our racial identity shares a common theme with our final two essays. Robert Neville enumerates several varieties of courage to which all of us can and should aspire in his “Courage: Heroes and Antiheroes.” One of them alludes spe¬ cifically to the race tensions in our society which had concerned Out¬ law: Neville’s category of the courage of self-identity applies to people who are targeted in some way by majority culture, such as AfricanAmericans in the United States and gay and lesbian persons. Other kinds of courage are the simple courage to dare, where we invest our¬ selves in family, friends, and community; and the heroic courage to dare, where we dream extraordinary dreams and then commit our¬ selves to living those dreams even though they run counter to society’s expectations. He also describes the courage to stick to it, which in¬ cludes both not giving up and continuing to change so as to keep our creative contributions fresh and to avoid falling into ruts. The courage to face random harm entails keeping going when violence or trauma has destroyed the meaning in one’s life. Neville’s essay ends with the kinds of courage he finds most noble: the courage to be alone and the courage to love. These two are finked. The first involves our deep recognition that in the end, despite our con¬ nections with others, we remain other to each other—and yet we keep loving in the face of this aloneness. Neville’s depiction of the courage to love shares Lee Rouner’s awareness that choosing to love makes us vulnerable to being hurt by those we love. The courage to love, notes



Neville, means “investing yourself in family and friends whom you know can turn on you or, worse, die on you.” Loving at its most pro¬ found is expressed in courageously loving God, that is, being grateful for this life despite a clear-eyed recognition of its tragedies and its obstacles to meaningfulness. While Neville’s essay explored some dramatic examples of courage, such as “march[ing] in front at Selma, at Tiennamen Square,” his major emphasis was on varieties of courage each of us can develop. And Katherine Platt’s paper, “Guts Is a Habit: The Building Blocks of Cour¬ age,” similarly calls for courage from each of us. Even though her pri¬ mary examples are an Auschwitz prisoner and a Vietnam veteran, the lessons they teach about courage are available to us all. Ivanhoe had highlighted Mengzi’s insistence on the importance of a long process of self-cultivation in the development of courage. Platt makes a related argument. She describes courage as a habit that de¬ mands practice—practice in the sense of working at a skill regularly to improve and in the sense of a spiritual discipline. In the interests of providing a practical blueprint for attaining courage in our own lives, Platt presents a model of the elements necessary to practicing courage: “inner honesty, consciousness of choice, vision of the courageous action, intention, and decision to act.” Platt finds illustration of these components of the habit of cour¬ age in Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” Much of O’Brien’s storytelling focuses on experiences of Vietnam veterans—and O’Brien’s perspective on these soldiers differs strikingly from Taylor’s perspec¬ tive in his discussion of Civil War soldiers. Some of the motivation for the brave actions of Civil War forces, Taylor had noted, was peer pres¬ sure and concern for reputation. Platt cites O’Brien’s point that just this concern led him to make the cowardly decision to go to Vietnam— instead of Canada, which he saw as the courageous and ethical choice—because he “was embarrassed not to.” It led young Vietnam soldiers to “kill and die, because they were embarrassed not to.” This need to appear heroic to others, argues Platt, interferes with an indi¬ vidual’s own living out of courage by removing one’s own awareness of choice, one of the vital building blocks in the practice of courage. Platt’s other example is Primo Levi’s memoir, Survival in Ausch¬

witz. Despite Levi’s confessions of his own failures of courage amidst the indignities and dehumanizing conditions in Auschwitz, Platt finds in Levi’s reflections the building blocks of courage. Contemplation of



our own previous less-than-courageous actions, argues Platt—if it includes an honest admission that we could have chosen otherwise and a recognition of the action we wish we had taken—can be part of the practice of courage. And we can also practice by observing not only others’ triumphs of courage, but also their failures in courage. These essays present a multitude of descriptions of courage— from the determined pursuit of duty in Taylor s picture of Robert E. Lee to the Plowshares antinuclear activists praised by Berrigan; from Outlaw’s vision of the courageous struggle to build justice into our nation to Neville’s image of the courage it takes to love a lonely God who is just beyond our reach. Each essay in its own way demonstrates how difficult and daunting it is to acquire courage—and how great the temptation is to despair of ever reaching that goal. Rejecting despair is the first step toward courage, but how can we do that? Whether or not we agree with Desmond and Rouner that cour¬ age comes from a source outside of ourselves, Platt’s insistence on cour¬ age as a habit that we can practice provides a source of hope with which to combat despair. In Platt we see that our past cowardice can be, with strenuous labor and wrenchingly honest reflection, woven into the tap¬ estry of our present and future choices to practice the habit of courage.


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

The Secret Sources of Strengthening: Philosophical Reflections on Courage WILLIAM DESMOND

I. COURAGE AND KNOWING Courage is something that we take for granted as understood, recog¬ nized, and recognizable in everyday life. And yet once one tries to say quite what it is, one finds oneself quickly in the middle of perplexity. A person or people shows courage; but what is being shown, and what are its sources? It seems to elude one the moment one tries to make specific what just a moment ago showed itself so strikingly. Why is this? This might seem rather discouraging, but, as often happens with philosophy, discouragement often encourages us to come to grips with what eludes us. Of course, language like “coming to grips with” is full of implication for courage. “The initially hidden essence of the world has no power to resist the courage of knowledge”—so proclaims the mighty Hegel in his inaugural lecture in Heidelberg. There you have it: perplexity to begin with, but hold fast, call upon courage, and the initially hidden essence of the world will not be able to hold out. I hear Hegel preaching: do not be discouraged, knowing will triumph! But what of courage itself? Consider how we speak here. “Holding fast”: as if it were also natural to “give way,” not to confront what seems to oppose us; as if we need to hold fast, because something risks undermining us. So we call upon courage. But can we do that as if courage is an act of will? Isn’t there something about courage that exceeds an act of will? Cour¬ age does not simply come on us; it surges forth from sources very hard to pin down. We do not call upon courage; rather, something is called forth from us in courage. Is it a resource, at once deeply intimate to our being, and yet other to our total self-command? Do we “hold out” be¬ cause something other, or perhaps some enigmatic inner resistance. 11


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

“holds out” against us? Or is it almost the reverse of this—we call on courage and something is held out to us, and then the initial recalci¬ trance no longer holds out against us? Is there a “being encouraged” before “being courageous?” Suppose Hegel is right: because we have had courage, knowledge comes. But from where does the courage come? Not first from the know¬ ing itself. Knowing, it seems, is successful on the basis of a courage it in¬ vokes but that it neither fully understands nor can explain. Grant this line of argument, and it suggests that our coming to know is a being given to

understand, with emphasis on unknown sources of knowing that release us, free us into the understanding. Think of the suddenness of some hap¬ penings of knowing. Eureka! As if one were being gifted with hearing things or seeing things in a sudden access of understanding.

II. COURAGE AND WILLING Courage traditionally is spoken of as one of the cardinal virtues. A virtue here indicates the flourishing of a human power or powers. A courageous human being shows a settled character by holding fast in a certain way in situations that threaten his or her being. Is courage an action or a reaction, or both? It certainly is a reaction, since it is called forth in situations where the person seems threatened. Were there no threats, courage would not be necessary. But courage is also an action, since it expresses itself in deeds. I act courageously; and in¬ deed because I habitually act that way I come to show a courageous character. But are there still deeper sources of courage? Courage is called forth when we are threatened. This seems to indicate that we need to understand the nature of the enemy if we are to understand courage.1 Courage stands fast, and issues in deeds, against a threat that is hostile or potentially hostile to my being. The hostility may be minor or major. And in the major instance, the threat to my very being, to my life, asks for courage as a response. Thus most accounts of courage seem to stress a form of self-affirmation. This oc¬ curs in the Stoic view of courage, in thinkers like Spinoza and Nietz¬ sche, and also in Heideggers ‘resolve.” Courage is an energy called forth in the face of a threatening enemy; it is self-affirmation despite an other that opposes. Thus, courage indicates an intimate frailty of our relation to others, a frailty that can easily turn from accord into war

The Secret Sources of Strengthening


and hostility. Courage means living in this precariousness in such a manner that ones self-affirmation is not stifled. But there is more. What kind of response is the courageous self-affirmation? Isn’t it a kind of willing? What I am as will holds fast; it maintains itself in the face of the threat. This is not a matter simply of knowing the threat; it is knowing the threat and willing not to be destroyed by it. One may well be destroyed, but courage wills not to be destroyed. And there may be forms of courage that accept ones own destruction but courageously affirm values even at the cost of one’s life. I will return to this idea in my discussion of the witness or martyr. But it is not enough to say that courage is a willing. It is, but so is rashness. The difference is knowledge. Where rashness is foolhardy, courage demands a discernment of the fitting expression of one’s being. Courage is a knowing willing, a discerning willing. A threat must be

known as threat in some way for courage to be called forth. If one is not aware of any danger, one recognizes no need for courage, and none is called forth. Yet the knowing involved might be quite vague, a mere presentiment of something possibly hostile. Such presentiment is an equivocal suggestion that may take on firmer form, though it may also vanish as an anxiety of nothing that casts before itself the spell of un¬ real danger. Thus a rationalistic approach seems insufficient. Courage is not identical to rational knowledge. The knowing willing in courage ex¬ ceeds complete rationalization and cannot be fully expressed in uni¬ vocal propositions. We cannot quite say what it is that we know. This means, not that courage is irrational, but that it is planted in a deeper ontological soil of the human being. Courage sends its roots deep into the overdeterminate original source of being. This source makes determinate happenings and knowings possible, but is more than all of them. Is not this why there is something excessive about courage? Nei¬ ther the calculating intellect nor the will can fully determine it. And yet it happens, happens with its own powerful elemental determinacy, but in the happening something more is shown than can be univocally determined. Aquinas is one of those who thinks of will as following intellect. But does not intellect rather follow will? Doesn’t intellect follow the

ontological love of being P After all, knowing emerges from a desire to know, a desire that must be at work before determinate knowing. Like courage, knowing has deep roots. Furthermore, courage also seems


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to entail a willing that predates will, inseparable from this basic and elemental love of being. And the courage of this more indeterminate willing makes determinate acts of courage and knowing possible. There¬ fore, should we not call this more original happening of courage an

encouraging? For we do not produce this original courage; our very being gives witness to its already being at work in us. If this is so, there is a source of strengthening other than us at work in the most intimate recesses of our willing. One might well ask, Is this source of courage which is in us yet

other than us not just the basic vitality of life itself and is it not opposed to knowing? Yes and no. One thinks especially of the vitality of young people: they will try anything, we say, risk anything. Are they coura¬ geous? In a certain sense, yes: they show a kind of natural, spontaneous courage, the very bravado of being that spontaneously marks the being as vital and self-affirming. Yet that same bravado of being can as easily be merely rash, hence stupid rather than courageous. It is surely when the knowing of threat has entered into this spontaneous bravado of being that a different courage to be is needed and perhaps called forth.2 Intellect can indeed corrode or destroy this bravado of being: “Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, /And thus the native hue of resolution/Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought” (Hamlet 3.1.84-86). Courage is deliberate will, but it is also rational understanding. Courage points to a willing of being that is prior to a knowing of being. This willing is not opposed to knowing discernment, but it cannot be entirely determined by knowing. Sometimes, courage arrives; other times, courage fails; and this too suggests that courage is somehow other than us. It is not quite that I fail in courage, but that courage fails—as if the source had dried up. I am complicit perhaps, but I am also either the one benefited or the one abandoned by courage. Cour¬ age cannot be an explicit determinate knowledge; it cannot be a simple deliberate act of will; it seems more in between an indeterminate will¬ ing and a deliberate act of will. Courage is transitional. And the darker source of strengthening from which it reaches more articulate expres¬ sion in deeds continues to resist complete determinate expression. Even when courage becomes a knowing willing, it is more than what can be determined. Its strength originates in an enigmatic giving not first known or willed determinately. In sum, whether the self-affirmation of courage is a willing or a knowing, there seems to be something more or other than self in it.

The Secret Sources of Strengthening


III. COURAGE AND THE PASSION OF BEING We speak of a self-affirmation in courage, against the threat to ones being, but we now see there is a certain equivocity in all of this, not only with respect to the other-being, but also with respect to self¬ being, and its own immanent otherness. Perhaps the major tendency in understanding courage has been to emphasize the conatus essendi, the endeavor to be, in the face of what threatens that being. But we can so emphasize conatus that we cover over what I will call the passio essendi: the passion of being, or “to be.” Thus Spinoza: conatus is the essence of a being. I think this is a univocalization of an essential equivocity or doubleness. To be is to be plurally, not univocally, medi¬ ated. To be is not only to be self-mediating but to be intermediating with what is other than us, and indeed intermediating with what is other in the intimacy of our own self-mediation. Let us return to something elemental. There is a certain delight as each being affirms its own being. To be is to be good. We each will to affirm ourselves and to persist in being. This looks like Spinoza’s

conatus essendi, but I think it is more complex. What is this basic love of being? We talk about self-love, for instance, and some claim that this is all there is. Love of the other, altruism, they say, is only covert or masked self-love. But what is this so-called primary self-love? We are perplexed. Reflections on courage are similarly enigmatic. If a being loves itself, is it already in some relation to itself? If so, is this love mine, and alone mine? The human being does not pro¬

duce this love in the first instance; it finds itself already in this love of being. Does this mean that something other than self is at play, before the self even wakes up to itself as loving itself? Is there a sense of the love of being that already from the outset is more primal than selfaffirmation? Does self-love emerge from sources of affirming that are not merely self-love? If we are given to be, before we can affirm our own being must there not be a passio essendi more primal than any conatus essendi? This would be a suffering or passion of being more elemental than any striving to be. “Suffering” here does not necessarily mean “pain”; we can suffer joy, be “surprised by joy,” as Wordsworth put it. The delight in the “to be” as good is such a suffering of ontological joy. We are in communication with ourselves, and with what is other than ourselves, because we are already opened to the powers of receiving and giving.


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This passio puts its roots most deeply into the idiotic sources of selfhood, which are not directly reachable. “Idiotic” here carries some¬ thing of the Greek sense of the intimate. It suggests singularity as lived from within out, something resisting complete objectification or com¬ plete subjectification. The more determinate “subject” comes to be out of this more intimate, idiotic energy of making a self.3 And yet this idiotic source also has everything to do with the singular communica¬

bility of the living being itself. Often this passio essendi comes to more overt attention only indirectly. Necessarily we live out of it, and just as inevitably it seems we do not mind it. We mind it more when the more surface determinations of self-making dissolve, and we are returned, often painfully, to the idiotic, intimate, also more vulnerable, source. Suppose then that the conatus essendi presupposes the passio

essendi; our “being given to be” comes before our striving to be who we want to be. Suffering of this being as gift is more primal than the courage that affirms the goodness of our being. If this is true, then even this “courage to be” cannot be confined to self-affirmation. It also affirms what passes beyond self, since we now see that what it means to be a self passes beyond self, into intimate sources of ontological giving that we do not produce ourselves. There is a great temptation, when we turn to courage, to focus so much on the foreground of the conatus that the import of the pas¬

sio essendi is made secondary. We should be looking the other way round, relative to the primacy of the passio essendi. This temptation reflects a desire to stake a mastery over self and the precarious condi¬ tions of life. But if we do this only in terms of the conatus, we cover over the elemental givenness that indeed makes the conatus possible. We might be tempted by a defiant “courage” that will entirely revolt against the ontological gift of the “to be.” Think here of a kind of courage which prides itself on being

determined. Thus Lady Macbeth, when Macbeth’s courage was fail¬ ing him: “but screw your courage to the sticking point and we’ll not fail. . . .” This kind of courage determines the person to be thus and thus. These faces of “courage” often impress us with their resoluteness. But they are foreground faces—masks in which something more than the foreground face enacts itself. A very important issue here would be the courage of daring evil, or of evil daring. This is something Nietz¬ sche fakes in his call for courage beyond good and evil. The evil dar¬ ing is the courage of Macbeth. Macbeth is a play about warrior courage

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and its overreaching, and the hatred of the passio essendi in the form of “pity” or the “milk of human kindness.” It is also about the karma of the equivocal, about sticky evil. There is an evil daring whose pride in determining itself leads to perdition in the darkest sense: damnation.4 Such a form of determined courage is therefore a counterfeit ver¬ sion of courage. Its affirmation of itself has, in fact, failed fully to open itself to what is communicated in the presentiment of threat, as related both to its own inward otherness and to the sources of being, whether immanent in itself or transcendent to it. It has not faced up to and en¬ dured the full disclosure of its own ontological porosity of being, and what is communicated there. And it is in that porosity of being that the secret sources of strengthening are attendant on us. Many views of courage overstress the conatus essendi and either subordinate passio essendi or else misunderstand it in too negative terms, and not more affirmatively as constitutive of the good of the gift of the “to be.” It becomes univocally our vulnerability to threat, to the encroachment of other-being. Its essential equivocity as between self¬ being and other-being, as between what one is and what is not one’s own, is reduced. Other-being becomes a hostile presence against which one must be on one’s guard. Courage, on this view, must always be a standing fast against, and “in spite of.” If we grant the affirmative role of the passio essendi, then we have to think of courage in terms of an en-couragement. Before being coura¬ geous there is a being encouraged. The “en” may refer us to the im¬ manence of the source of the courage within oneself; but the source, as communicated or offered from attendant powers, is not to be called “mine,” or one’s own. The “en” refers to the communication of onto¬ logical power in the elemental porosity of being in which one comes to be. One is courageous because one has been encouraged. To be is to be encouraged to be. There is no courage to be without this primal encouragement to be.

IV. FOUR FORMS OF COURAGE: FROM THE VITAL TO THE TRANSCENDENT What light does this equivocal condition, mixing passio essendi and conatus essendi, shed on some different forms of courage? I will say something about the following four forms: first, courage relative


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

to vital self-insistence; second, courage in the form of affirming life, in face of a threat; third, courage in the form of affirming a way of life; fourth, courage in the form of affirming worth beyond my life and ways of finite life.

First form: Here courage is intimately related to the vital self¬ insistence of a human being. Some individuals exhibit an energy of being that faces more forthrightly into the world, and into the hazard of what is other to them. They exhibit a certain vitality of being that seems irrepressible. Every being shows this, but some stand out more than others, who by comparison seem merely timid. Some selves spon¬ taneously overflow with the affirming energy of the “to be” more than some others do. Thus we call them “full of life.” This is a kind of given¬ ness of character, not much acknowledged by those who say all is nur¬ ture, but evident enough if we are not bewitched by such theories. Some individuals seem to have natures more vitally self-affirming in this more overt sense. An interesting question here is to what extent this form is more tilted towards a kind of masculine extroversion, where the conatus all but smothers the passio. Feminine feel for the nuance of the passio essendi must surely yield a different formation of these vital energies; the self-insistence will not be quite the same. Is this why philosophers have so admired courage, as seeming to epitomize the power of the

conatus? Think of Nietzsches injunction to be hard, and his contempt for the effeminacies of his time. Or Aristotle: the coward runs away when danger appears; he is soft. The Greek word for “courage”—he

andreia—has the tinge of what used to be called “manliness.” Is this why the cowardly is sometimes referred to as “womanish”? Think of how boys speak of being a “sissy.” “Manliness,” however, is a word not now much in use. Why? Until recently, armies were the exclusive pre¬ serve of men. Thus, for Aristotle, courage is most displayed in fighting in battle. Would this mean that women have less to do with courage? Surely not. When discussing women and courage, more would have to be said about the passio essendi and the giving of life. But is this vital dynamic properly courageous, if it is simply ones nature so to give expression to itself? Does not the notion of courage necessarily entail the emergence for us of some sense of threat, threat that must also in some manner be known as such? If the original vi¬ tality is simply a spontaneous overflow, it does not quite fulfill this con¬ dition of knowing a threat, and hence is not quite courage either. And yet it is intimately related to courage, since there is something onto-

The Secret Sources of Strengthening


logically constitutive about such vital energies, since they are the given overflow of the affirming energies of the “to be,” lived intimately as good by us. Could one have genuine courage if it were not under¬ girded, under-grounded by this elemental ontological affirmation of the “to be” as good? For surely genuine courage must have something worthy to be defended, to be fought for—and is this not the worthiness of the “to be” to be preserved, that is, affirmed again as good? Vital courage is not the end of the matter, but it does call to mind something of this ontological worthiness at work, in our self-affirming being.

Second form: This bears on a more determinate affirmation of a life, but in the context of a threat known as such. That threat can take different forms: it can be a more or less nameless anxiety that insinu¬ ates itself into the very intimacy of our being; or it can be a more de¬ terminate threat, such as an assault on our aesthetic being, our bodily integrity. It can also concern threats to the kind of second character we have become, beyond the first character of the given vitality of being. We have become such and such a person, not by knowing threat, but by learning to face it, endure it, and transmute the vulnerability into an occasion of further self-transcendence. I am afraid, but courage in the face of what I fear not only overcomes fear; it makes me a land of per¬ son I was not before. Courage is intimately essential in how, as we put it, “we prove ourselves.” If one had nothing to prove, would one need courage at all? Or if one thinks one has nothing to prove, might it be because one thinks one has met the greatest challenge and proved equal to it? Notice the language here: it is the language of the conatu.s es¬

sendi. And, in fact, this surface of conatus causes us to forget what always lies in the background, namely, the passio essendi. The need of courage, the claims of courage realized, all presuppose the vulnera¬ bility of being that is constitutive of what we are in terms of this pas¬

sio essendi. Once again, if the conatus is dipped into the passio, must not this courage of second character also have to dip into this passio? The passio expresses itself, not in the form of the above vitalities, but in the form of a kind of existential, lived honesty about what one is: deeply fragile, even in the very courageous surmounting of fragility. One might wonder here about forms of boyish courage: it is not that they show courage, but rather eveiy such form of courage risks de¬ luding itself about this fragility. This fragility returns and hence the boy has to prove himself again and again. A man of sixty might still be a boy. There is no point at which he finally has nothing more to prove. For

Courage in Philosophy and Literature


every time he proves himself, he has hidden what drives him to prove himself, namely, the ontological vulnerability of the passio essendi. And the passio must come back, whether in victory or defeat, for this is simply his being. Those who have nothing to prove are either, as it were, as unmovable as a stone, and hence dead; or they have more radi¬ cally come to terms with the ultimate fragility rooted in the passio

essendi. They are not dead, but have taken a step beyond their own death, by coming to terms with this passio, which contains the origin of life, but also the twinseed of death. Notice how we are always drawn back to something more inde¬ terminate in the very determination of courage. But the indeterminate source has everything to do with the secret sources of strengthening. For it is not death that strengthens us, but the source of life that in affirming the good of the “to be” is more than death, more courageous than death. Courage of a life, of this life, in the face of a threat, is more determinate than the often formless overflow of vital energies, but it too is secreted from sources that root into more indeterminate reserves.

Third form: This is courage in the face of a threat to a way of life. The determinations of middle life come more and more into play here. A way of life is not an overflow of vital energies, though this is needed; nor is it mine or your life, though it is that too. It is the social incarna¬ tion of shared ways of being, often immensely plurivocal in themselves. It is a communal configuration of the ethos of being, and the human potencies of the ethical, in which individual and social value, or the sense of the worthy and worthwhile, are communicated in an im¬ mensely complicated intermediation. There are many forms of com¬ munal courage here: within the community, and between different communities in a larger intermediation; but also between this com¬ munity and another—for instance, this nation and another. This form of courage has often occupied philosophers: the courage that is either defensive of a society and its communal way of life, or offensive against possible threat that left unattended may balloon into a monstrous enemy and destroy the society. What is courage here? I mention two aspects, one internal to the community, the other more “external,” be¬ tween a community and an outside other. First, there is the courage of a community that will fight forces of disintegration within itself. A police force can embody this kind of immanent courage. The enemy within is often the most insidious, it is

The Secret Sources of Strengthening


said. It is true because what is entailed here is not only rival formations of conatus essendi (this faction against that), but also imposing forms of social conatus that force themselves on others. What is courage for one, is repression for the other. Think of the different modulations of courage as understood from the point of the view of the Confederacy and the Union: for one an honorable courage is for the other a bloody intransigence. Both can be right, and here is the tragedy. Though this is a social intermediation of courage, it is an inter¬ mediation that serves the self-mediation of the people. Hence it may be immanently defined by the encouragement of outstanding insiders: think of the way Churchill—a leader right for war, but an unsuitable braggart for peacetime—kept the spirits of the people up. His charisma intermediated the immanent social encouragement of the nation’s courage. Or the communal courage may take shape through the defi¬ nition of the outsider as the enemy, in order to mobilize the secret sources of strengthening. In other words, the self-insistence of a people, now called its historical right to self-determination, requires the courage to insist on itself and its own way of life (call it a culture or tradition) over against the alien way, either encroaching from outside, or occu¬ pying it as an invasive force. How is courage called up here? The conatus essendi has to call upon secret resources in the pas-

sio essendi of a people5—for this is closer to what it loves more ele¬ mentally, and often can only be appreciated by living it from within, living it in the intimacy of its happening. The language of a people, while something overt and determinate, is often the carrier of these se¬ cret resources, especially in its religious and poetic reserves. Hence the importance of language in liberation movements, fledgling nationalist causes, and so on. The passio of a people is spoken by its poet who most deeply must be religious, as porous to the ultimate sources of origina¬ tion. Language, the right word, calls forth courage for a people to be itself, to become what it is in promise. Of course, there are languages which encourage what is base in a people too. In our time we have known the outrageous daring of great demagogues such as Hitler. If one controls the images one may tap into secret sources of strengthening, or weakening. A charismatic leader has an intuitive power to speak to those secret sources; the conatus essendi can be impotent without recourse to the passio essendi. Think also of the way enemies to “national security” are sometimes conjured, as if out of nothing. That they are conjured as if out of nothing is crucially


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

important, for the “nothing” ultimately refers us back to the forgotten fragility in the passio essendi that under-grounds even the most pow¬ erful conatus essendi of an empire. In times of peace and stability, this self-determination in com¬ munal intermediations may not be exposed to unsettling distur¬ bance. But then something at odds with an absolutized social selfdetermination can emerge, either from beyond a community’s own boundaries, or from within its own social intimacies. “The other, out¬ side” is not always an enemy demanding courageous resistance. The other may be the communicating face of a more universal intermedi¬ ation beyond this self-determining community. Here political courage meets the demand for a transformation into religious courage. Within the intimacies of a society, there may be those who have been violated, or consigned to conditions incompatible with the human dignity we so jealously guard for ourselves. Ethical courage is needed to acknowledge the deficiencies of our given society. Ethical courage says: we can and will do better. This is more than a social knowing, though it asks an honesty of a society it is not always willing to grant. It solicits a communal willingness in excess of the stabilized norm. Nothing of this willingness grows to effective life unless it exceeds the more cautious ploys that preach satisfaction with the present form of social self-determination. We see its power when it takes on the momentum of what we call a “movement.’'’ In an ethical “movement” secret energies of the passio essendi emerge to social showing. These can transcend the vital and the self-affirming towards a more universal ethical concern.

Fourth form: This form of courage relates to steadfastness in the face of threats to values beyond ways of finite life. As much is sug¬ gested above in the opening of a more universal intermediation beyond the second mediation of a particular society, and also in the acknowl¬ edgment of the unconditional worth of the human to which we are asked to hold in ethical courage. If the first form of courage is a certain extreme that recedes into the half-hidden roots of vital life, here is an extreme at the other end. The “beyond” of finite life is at stake, and the glorious vitalities of the middle space have to be given over to an equally half-hidden source. This means moving on the boundary be¬ tween life and death, between being at all and not-being. One might object that this is to overstate the matter. But, in fact, all forms of courage are involved in the mix of life and death, and the

The Secret Sources of Strengthening


threat of the latter to the former. The boundary between these is not just at the end, but is in the middle, and indeed in the beginning, in that being given to be is contingent happening, not a necessary occur¬ rence. The line of this boundary runs through all life in the between, and in the middle range of human concerns. It becomes most evident in moments of supreme threat, where the always immanent possibility of not-being shows itself with devastating effect. There is a reawakening here of the passio essendi, beyond the

conatus—for instance, in compassion for the others suffering, or in granting that the barbarian other, the hostile other, even the enemy, is also my brother. What courage would be needed to live these reali¬ zations? What would strengthen one to place oneself before others in such a potentially radical vulnerability? One throws away ones weapons. What encourages one to throw away one’s weapons? Is it not foolhardy? Or is it that a good higher than the finite goods of the moderate hu¬ manized middle makes a call on us? We are visited by an intimation of transcendent worth that is no aesthetic frill; that disturbs the selfsatisfaction of the human; that cannot be determined through ourselves alone; that cannot be univocally known with the self-certainty we often crave; that places us in a constitutively equivocal space of hav¬ ing to risk what we cannot prove in advance; and that, if confirmed at all, can only be confirmed in the wager of courage itself. This is reli¬

gions courage beyond ethical courage, certainly on the ambiguous boundary of the ethical, in that it is, most of all, not subject to our com¬ plete self-determination. Think of this religious courage as a reawakening of what is prom¬ ised in the passio essendi, expressed in transcendental, transcending, and transcendent potencies of the ethical.6 Let me elaborate. The transcendental potency refers to the constraint of uncondi¬ tional obligation that the moral imposes. This concerns the transcen¬ dental givenness of unconditional worth relative to the human person. It is not just respect for the moral law that is needed, but an ethical courage that is more than vital self-affirmation. For ethical courage to do the good may in some situations put that vital self-affirming energy in jeopardy, and yet this risk is granted as a must. We undergo that “must” in that we “must” do what is asked of us. If I am not mistaken Kant does not have anything much to say about this as courage, and the secret source of strengthening here, except to tell us: “Just do it!” But

what if we cannot “just do it” through ourselves alone?


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If we were to take this question seriously, Kant s claims for au¬

tonomy would have to be qualified. There is an extraordinary footnote in the Critique of Practical Reason, when he is discussing God as a pos¬ tulate of pure practical reason. He speaks of Stoicism and strength of mind, and its elevation above the “base incentives of sense.” He speaks of the Stoic “heroism of the sage who, raising himself above the animal nature of man, was sufficient to himself. . . .” He refers to Christianity to place it in the same line as Greek ethics, even though he does men¬ tion holiness. And then he says: While Christianity may destroy the human confidence in being wholly adequate to the ideal of moral per¬ fection in this life, it nevertheless reestablishes this human confidence by “enabling us to hope that, if we act as well as lies within our power, what is not in our power will come to our aid from another source, whether we know in what way or not.” Aid from another source, and perhaps in a way that we may not even know? How can Kant, banner carrier of autonomous will and rational Enlightenment, say such a thing? Or is that other source just the enigma of the secret source of strengthening? If it is acknowledged, the ideal of autonomy must be severely revised, and the tendency to elevate the courage of Stoic selfsufficiency must be criticized. Otherwise, the enigma of the necessary

ethical courage is hardly acknowledged. The transcending potency of the ethical is this: our eros is in¬ spired by an opening to what surpasses our own self-transcending. Yet we can so insist on autonomy that we make courage into a refusal to appeal to an other source of aid, or strengthening. This insistence is very widespread after Kant. The conatus essendi claims it is the most courageous by standing fast against the vulnerability of the passio es¬

sendi, but this of course also means against itself—in the name of itself! This can be deeply ambiguous. There is a self-transcending that insists on itself alone, but more deeply as against itself, since the native eros to what is beyond itself is refused. What looks like self-transcending is no transcending, since it merely traverses a circle back to itself again. The heroism of self-sufficiency can be this false form of courage. There is a genuine self-transcending that has the courage to find against itself, and so seeks to be released beyond itself. In the intimate heart of conatus essendi as striving to be itself by being beyond itself, the passio essendi surges up with the mysterious solicitation that it is the “beyond” of self that self-transcending seeks, and not just itself again. The conatus essendi would, so to say, hum up its own self as a

kind of offering to this “beyond” of self

The Secret Sources of Strengthening


This surge of transcending requires its singular courage since it may have to go down into its own darkness to find that fire, to await communication of the secret sources of strengthening. And even when the strengthening comes, the exceeding of self beyond itself is not guar¬ anteed of success. It must be steadfast in a darkness of self-exceeding that may shake everything stabilized about its own consolidated form of being. Its intimacy with the passio essendi strengthens its courage for an exceeding in which its very being is placed on the line. I risk everything. I risk blessing or curse. I risk redemption or disaster. There is no "proof ” in advance. The courage of the risk comes from what is most intimate to me, but also from what is other and strange to me. Within me it comes to me from beyond me. In the immanent other¬ ness of my most intimate passio, an other otherness communicates a call and the secret strength to answer it. One is not alone. The transcendent potency of the ethical refers to the fact that the

passio is a passion of being that cannot hide behind the masks of its own forms of self-determination. It is as if God is also behind those masks created by the conatus essendi; as if God is behind them, is in the inti¬ macy of the passio and its secret mutations, so secret we as humans have only an inkling of what may be happening in our own most inti¬ mate being. When we know ourselves, we also know we do not know ourselves. Something is happening and one is not sure. What finesse and courage it takes to attend to this extremity of nuance in the soul! The enigma of encouraging sources is inseparable from our elemen¬ tal vulnerabilities. What would protect us from nakedness before God in the ultimate porosity of being? Our only “weapons” here seem to be lies. But these are not “weapons” but false defense measures against being true. Our passion before God is most violently stressed when we come to face death—our own death and also the death of a loved other. What is the courage before death, if here the conatus, endeavor, reaches its own limit? One may endeavor to be, but the endeavor faces its own “not”: I will not be, I am now “not to be.” Passio essendi becomes a suf¬ fering of the “not,” singularized in its own being as this I that is to die, whose to be is not to be. One can be awakened through suffering, through this suffering. But again this is a space of equivocity, for it can awaken one to de¬ spair. Or it can awaken one to a hyperbolic trust that might be called courage before death—though it is not the courage of the defiant Stoic, which is not courage before death but courage against death. I am


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

talking about an encouraging that is in death itself, not against death, but through this most dark of all undergoings. Courage as an extreme trust; trust risking its “yes” in the undergoing itself. Its “yes” to what? To itself ? But if only to itself, then it is finally to nothing, since it is to be nothing. II to what is beyond self, then perhaps it is to be itself in this being beyond itself. Either to nothing or to God. But a “yes” to nothing is not quite a “yes.” The “yes” to God may have to come to it¬ self beyond nothing, by saying its “yes” to its own nothingness, and then trust that a hyperbolic “yes” may strengthen it from beyond its own mortal destiny.

V. PHILOSOPHERS AND COURAGE I realize that philosophers often now squirm if anyone mentions religion or God. In charity to their comfort levels, I come down into the lowlands of the finite middle. How apply these reflections to phi¬ losophers themselves? Generally, philosophers are more at home in the ethos of the warrior. Many of their reflections on courage refer to the paradigm of the warrior. The risk then is a hypertrophy of the conatus

essendi, and an atrophy of the passio essendi. Think of Plato’s coupling of the spiritedness of the warrior (thumos) with the spirit of the phi¬ losopher. Of course, the Platonic philosopher is not a warrior, since the concern with justice makes peace a vital concern—the peace of the soul harmonious with itself and the cosmos, the peace of the society in which the different groups are at amity over the enterprise of the just social whole. And also, of course, the eros of the Platonic philoso¬ pher is, in some sense, intimate with the passio essendi, though also guarded about it. The Republic is clearly one in which the destructive rashness of unknowing courage is to be tempered by the wisdom of the philosophers. But what is the courage of the philosopher? Is it just a courage of knowing, if courage itself is not just a knowing? If not, then what are the sources of strengthening of philosophical courage itself? If they do not come merely from philosophical thinking itself, what do they come from? Nietzsche is different from Plato in that his call for courage is much less moderated by the necessity of phronesis in tempering the rashness of eros that overreaches its own limit too impetuously, and is more likely to precipitate disaster thereby than higher blessings. Nietz¬ sche’s call to war urges forward the conatus essendi, in the form of will

The Secret Sources of Strengthening


to power, alternatively contemptuous of and alarmed by the passio es-

sendi that might reveal its debt to the other, or bring on compassion. These latter are weaknesses for the cowardly. Could one say that the Nietzschean philosopher is willing to throw his weapons away? It is the

cynics who seem most to have done that. And yet their words, and per¬ haps their performances of an elemental wisdom, served to arm them in a culture open to the truth of extreme human vulnerability. And Soc¬ rates? Here we find the unarmed courage of knowing that it is better to suffer evil than to inflict. These are hard wisdoms properly to live. And yet what are the weapons of philosophy? Words, words, words. But are they weapons? What is the courage of words? Does any¬ one know the secret source(s) of the true word? If philosophy is an erotic activity, one has to ask again what are the sources of its own strengthening for knowing? Not knowing itself; for to know we have to be strengthened in the confidences that we can know, and this we can¬ not know before we know. We can only trust that we can, encouraged, impelled by an unknowing confidence that it is possible. If “being encouraged” is before “being courageous” is there not a “confiding”

(con-fides—a “trust with”) before “being confident”? What is the con¬ fiding? The confiding is an endowment, an entrustment. Is the speak¬ ing of the true word impossible without such a confiding endowment? The true word makes no sense if it is not referred to its endowing source. But we are the endowed, not the endower. We do not give our¬ selves the ultimate confidence; we are given to be what we are as know¬ ing with in the endowment of this confidence.

Sapere aude! So proclaimed the careful Kant in urging Enlight¬ enment and autonomy. What makes that daring possible? Is this dar¬ ing not dark to itself, and its source not determined by our autonomy? And yet Kant was one of the most cautious of thinkers when he arrived at the extreme and hardest questions. This timidity Nietzsche despised. Kant wanted to secure himself at every step, and not risk himself. If he had to risk himself with his postulates, even then he wanted the security blanket of moral necessity. Nietzsche s courage is a daring or audacity that exceeds rational enlightenment, and in this he is more rational than the rationalists are, for their securities are self-deluding. Nietzsche went more nakedly to war. But if die courage forgets the pas¬

sio es.sendi, and seeks to absolutize the striving of the conatus essendi in the form of will to power, then it is deficient in the finesse needed for the above harder question of the endowing source. Then the es¬ sential reverence of the philosopher is corrupted into the hubris of a


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

domineering thinking, a dictating thought. Nietzsches answer to the question, “Why do you say so?’ is “Because I say so!’’ Nietzschean courage has too much of that “say-so.” Does Hegel’s absolute knowing help us? But where is die courage then? Courage demands die risk of the unknown, and as we saw it can¬ not be accounted for in terms of our knowing alone. What then is the yes of the philosopher? Suppose God has absolute knowing, one might still ask: Does God show courage? Being all-knowing would seem to require no courage. Or would God’s knowing be absolute courage in a sense other than ours—courage to give, courage to encourage what is radically other than itself? Human courage needs non-knowing— needs the openness of freedom. But is it not also dependent on this original giving of difference? Does not this bring us closer to die “being encouraged” before “being courageous,” and the endowing source that confides confidence? These are difficult dioughts I cannot pursue further here. I con¬ clude with a final remark on two instances of human courage that do have reference to the ultimate: the courage of the warrior (see the third form above) and die courage of the witness (see die fourth fonn above). There can be a philosophical warrior; diere can also be a philo¬ sophical witness. Socrates testament was not just a warriors courage; it was that of one who apologized for a philosophical life. This is the witness of a martyr: one who witnesses. There is a courage of truth asked of the witness. One is to stand by the truth, so far as it has been vouchsafed to one. Vouchsafed: diis means an endowment, something given into ones trust. Courage here is die enactment of a fidelity to the endowment, to what has been given to one. The vouchsafing of truth entails an encouragement to courage. The source of die giving as odier than oneself is communicated there in one’s very being a witness, a tes¬ tament. One might have to risk one s life in terms of diis courage of the truth. This is not only applicable to canonized philosophical martyrs like Socrates. One drinks of more daily trials, wliere witnesses can be interfered with, say, by bribe or intimidation. That some witnesses do speak die truth in circumstances entailing risk to life is itself testa¬ ment to an unconditional call on us. It is because we can freely say “no” that courage is needed and enjoined. One can betray the call, and tell die untrudi, the courage of being true fails one, or one fails relative to trusting die sources of strengthening that offer themselves. Is the religious witness or martyr beyond the warrior? And be¬ yond the philosopher? Blood is not an argument, Nietzsche rightly said.

The Secret Sources of Strengthening


But is it a matter of argument here? In practice, Nietzsches “warrior” rhetoric often does stir up the blood. Yet the question is not only the

how of dying for something, but for what would one die? Are the wit¬ ness of the philosopher and that of the religious person in the same family, if they come down to the courage of an ultimate trust: in truth, in the good of the ultimate? Testament entails the courage of being

truthful; courage to be as truthful, even though one might have to die. Courage here is connected with the unconditional. The ultimate needs no courage, being encouraging rather than being courageous in our sense; we need courage for the ultimate. But since we are not ultimate,

can we give ourselves the ultimate in courage? What would that ulti¬ mate in courage be? Maybe that trust is more daily granted than we philosophers grant. Being religious has everything to do with our ulti¬ mate porosity between God and nothing. Is it only here that the “yes” is granted?

NOTES 1. See my “Enemies,” in Tijdschrift voor Filosofie (Spring 200 1): 127-51. I here thank Professor Ray Hart for his insightful comments on a draft of the present paper. 2. Paul Tillich, of course, speaks of the “courage to be,” in his book of that title, The Courage to Be (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1952), but I do not use the phrase in quite the same way; his emphasis seems again and again to fall on self-affirmation. 3. On the idiotic, see, for instance, my Perplexity and Ultirnacy (Al¬ bany: State University of New York Press, 1995), chap. 3; on the idiot self, see my Being and the Between (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), chap. 10. The theme is diversely explored in my Ethics and the Between (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001). 4. See my “Sticky Evil: Macbeth and the Karma of the Equivocal” in God, Literature and Process Thought, ed. Darren Middleton (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002); and “Murdering Sleep: Macbeth and Shestov,” in L’ Experience du Tragique, ed. R. Fotiade (Proceedings of the Shestov-Fondane Confer¬ ence, Paris, October, 2000; to be published in 2002 by Peter Lang). 5. I speak of “general eros” rather than “general will” with regard to a people’s sovereignty in Ethics and the Between, chap. 15, “The Community of Erotic Sovereignty.” 6. For a fuller account of the potencies of the ethical, see Ethics and

the Between, Introduction, and passim.

Stoics, Christians, and the Courage to Be LEROY S. ROUNER

In his book The Courage to Be, Paul Tillich notes that the discussion of courage in Plato’s Laches concludes with Socrates’ comment, “we have failed to discover what courage really is.”1 Socrates’ failure is more important for Tillich than the “successes” of some other philosophers, because Socrates made it clear that courage cannot be known without presupposing an understanding of humankind and the structures and values of the human world. So courage as a virtue cannot be under¬ stood without also understanding it as an ontological affirmation about the nature of being. Tillich admits that “there is no chance that I shall succeed where Socrates failed, [but] the courage of risking an almost inevitable failure may help to keep the Socratic problem alive.”2 I think Tillich is right that he did not succeed, but—like Socrates’ failure—Tillich’s is a major contribution. I want first to outline Tillich’s project, particularly in contrast with Stoicism; second to point out the difficulty he has in his Christian argument about overcoming the power of guilt and sin; and third to suggest that guilt and loneliness might make a more effective categoiy for his program than guilt and sin. Now if Tillich couldn’t solve the Socratic problem, who am I to think that I can solve the Tillichian problem? Nevertheless I make bold to have a go at it, partly because the issue is important, but mostly—I confess— because I find it so interesting. Tillich is less concerned with courage as a problem of ethics and agency than he is with the ontological affirmation about courage: courage as reflecting the nature of being, and being reflecting the nature of courage. There are two reasons for this emphasis in his book. One is theological and the other is therapeutic. The theological reason is that Tillich sought to “interpret faith through an analysis of courage.”3 He was persuaded that classical theo30

Stoics, Christians, and the Courage to Be


logical terminology had become incomprehensible and distorted in the modern world, and that philosophy could—once again—serve as an interpreter of theological meaning. Religious folk had come to think of “faith” as belief in the Bible, or trust in the authority of the church, or “taking on faith” something that one couldn’t prove or even under¬ stand. But for him faith was something more than a “religious” stance. Faith was a human necessity, not just the key to creative living, but a characteristic of human being. Without faith it would be impossible to withstand what he called “the power of nonbeing” which threatens human life in various ways. While defining faith as courage was, I think, brilliant on Tillich’s part, it was not unprecedented, and that was important for his “trans¬ lation” project. He was a philosophical theologian. There was an estab¬ lished theological doctrine behind each of his imaginative philosophical interpretations. He was putting new wine into old wineskins, telling us what faith as courage means today. So the great hymn to faith in the Epistle to the Hebrews concludes with a litany about acts of great courage: “Time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith con¬ quered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Heb. 11:32-34). The philosophical interpretation of faith as “the courage to be” was Tillich’s attempt to give a contempo¬ rary, comprehensible, and indeed universally human interpretation of a classical Christian conception “partly because I believe that ‘faith’ needs such a re-interpretation more than any other religious term.”4 So solving the Socratic problem is only part of his agenda. The therapeutic reason for focusing on the ontological status of courage is that Tillich had an underlying pastoral intent which was not limited to Christians. Karl Marx’s philosophy had wanted to change the world. Tillich’s philosophy wanted to heal the world. His theology of culture had argued that medieval heteronomy—the imposition of a “strange law”—had given way to modem autonomy in which individu¬ als were freed from external constraints only to confront a profound cultural loneliness which lacked any deep sense of community with others. This autonomous “age of anxiety” was characterized by three fundamental threats to our capacity for self-affirmation: fate and death, meaninglessness and despair, guilt and sin. The courage to be is not the


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

courage to deal with any particular object of fear; it is the capacity to overcome the objectless reality of fear itself in these three forms. In his theology of culture this leads to a postmodern period of “theonomy” in which those communal bonds would be restored without the “strange¬ ness” of medieval heteronomy, because the culture would rediscover the “God above God” who is the Ground of all Being. But “theonomy” is for another day. In this study we begin with a consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of Stoicism as the foil for Tillich’s interpre¬ tation of Christian faith as “the courage to be.”

STOICISM Early in The Courage to Be Tillich twice remarks that Stoicism is the only real alternative to Christianity in the modem West. Stoicism is a religious attitude (whether theistic, atheistic, or transtheistic) which deals successfully with two of the three major threats to the “courage to be”: the threat of fate and death, and the threat of meaninglessness and despair. Put simply, Stoicism offers a way to overcome these object¬ less fears which actually works. What Stoicism could not deal with was the threat of guilt and sin, but more about that in a moment. Tillich was surely right about the power of the Stoic option, partly for reasons which he did not foresee. Varipus versions of a Stoic phi¬ losophy of life are now at the heart of three important and interwoven strands in contemporary American popular culture: New Age philoso¬ phies of selfhood; the “therapeutic culture” of personal meaning and happiness; and neo-Hindu and neo-Buddhist interpretations of the good life. Stoicism—broadly conceived—is the view that the pain of living can be held at bay by inner resources of spiritual power which are avail¬ able to us all, but which most of us have left unexplored. When tapped into, they can protect us from the slings and arrows of outrageous for¬ tune, because they give us the courage to detach ourselves from those things that cause us pain. Detachment is the watchword for Stoicisms of whatever sort. The problem is pain; the solution is detachment from those things that cause us pain. Stoicism does not necessarily require a nondualistic metaphysics, but a nondualistic metaphysics does re¬ quire a Stoic ethic, because all relations are internal in a nondualistic worldview. Reality is all “in here” and therefore all our resources for

Stoics, Christians, and the Courage to Be


living a good life are “in here.” Since there is no “out there” it is no good calling on someone “out there”—like God—to help. So in New Age views of selfhood, and in the therapeutic culture, the practical implications of neo-Hindu and neo-Buddhist nondual¬ ism become operational in the internalization of human problems. New Age philosophies celebrate the “autonomous, evolving self” while proclaiming its deep identity with other human selves and indeed the selfhood of all living beings. In happy times, to hug a friend or a tree is to celebrate that identity. And in time of trouble, therapy emphasizes that we cannot change things outside ourselves; the only thing we can change is our own inwardness. Therapists are there to help us under¬ stand what needs to be done, but they can’t do it for us. Now the idea that there is a deep source of power within that can enable change is not entirely alien to the classical Christian theologies of the Middle Ages and the Reformation. There God was known as “in, with, and under” us and our world. In some ways our relation to God is internal; in others it is external. Our knowledge of God, for example, depends heavily on an internal relation; but Gods saving grace comes to us from the Gott mit uns, the God who is with us, since we cannot save ourselves. In Stoic views. Ultimate Reality or Universal Reason or some Holy World Power is entirely in us, and we are in it. So, in the Stoic view, we must forget those entreaties, like the Christian Lord’s Prayer, which are pleas for help from someone else: “Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and Glory for ever and ever, Amen.” Christians pray; that is, they appeal to someone outside them¬ selves for help. Stoics meditate; that is, they look inward for yet un¬ discovered resources with which to solve life’s problems. The Stoic antithesis to Jesus’ prayer is exemplified in Rudyard Kipling’s wonder¬ ful poetic ode entitled, simply, “If”: If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs, and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself, when all men doubt you, Yet make allowance for their doubting too. If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,


Courage in Philosophy and Literature Or being lied about, not deal in lies Or being hated, not give way to hating, And yet not act too good, or talk too wise.

If you can dream and not make dreams your master, If you can think and not make thoughts your aim, If you can meet with triumph and disaster And treat those two imposters just the same, If you can make a heap of all your winnings And risk it on one game of pitch and toss And lose, and start again from your beginnings, And never breathe a word about your loss.

If you can walk with crowds and keep your virtue And talk with kings, nor lose the common touch If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you If all men count with you, but none too much, If you can free your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your time long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the will that says to them “Hold on!”

If you can stand to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools Or watch the thing you gave your life to broken And stop to build it up with worn out tools, If you can fill each unforgiving minute With sixty seconds worth of distance run, Yours is the world and everything that’s in it, And what is more, you’ll be a man, my son!5

I overstate my point about the contrast between Stoics and Chris¬ tians in order to make it, since early Christian thought learned a good deal from Roman Stoicism, especially from its doctrines of the Logos and the natural moral law. In the end, however, Tillich notes that there is a profound distinction between the acceptance of cosmic resigna¬ tion in Stoicism and the faith in cosmic salvation in Christianity. Hel¬ lenistic Stoicism found a model in the death of Socrates, when the old mythological and aristocratic idea of courage as soldierly fortitude was

Stoics, Christians, and the Courage to Be


transformed into a democratic idea of courage as wisdom, as philo¬ sophical consolation in the face of adversity. This gave Stoic courage its power. In its doctrine of the Logos, Stoicism made reason the mean¬ ingful structure ol reality in general and the human mind in particular. Thus the courage of the Stoics was the courage to affirm one’s rational nature, in spite of everything that conflicts with its union with the rational nature of being itself. “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, and blaming it on you. . . .” There were two problems, however, which Stoicism was unable to overcome. One was the fact that effecting wisdom in one’s life is something that most of us can’t do. “If you can keep your head fine. But how many of us do? The other problem was that true Stoics detached themselves from the despair of personal guilt. Epictetus celebrates a quotation from Xenophon’s “Memorabilia” where Socrates says, “ I have never done anything that was wrong in my private or in my public life.”6 The Sto¬ ics were strong adults, morally superior to hoi polloi. They carried their moral strength within themselves. The Christians were by contrast, weak children, constantly calling on Daddy in Heaven for help, regularly confessing their sins. It is no wonder that the Christians won the battle for hearts and minds in the ancient world, since so few among us are really strong, morally and spiritually; and so many of us, alas, are wimps. There is a deeper issue here, however, which Tillich does not mention, and that is humanism. All full-blown Stoicisms, for all their nobility, are inherently anti-humanistic. The reason for this is that humanistic values are based in love for the human, and love—for all its rewards—is always, also, a source of pain. Yet Stoicism, in its various forms, is always an attempt to rise above pain. In classical India, for example, pain was the fundamental prob¬ lem which philosophy addressed. The question was, Why do we hurt so much? and the practical issue was, What can we do to get rid of pain? The extreme Brahmanical tradition held that anything that moves can hurt us, and that to detach ourselves from the world meant to detach ourselves from all that humanists would say makes life meaningful— wives and husbands, work, children, sociability, past delights, future prospects, everything. This radical detachment was an esoteric phi¬ losophy of life for the aristocratic few. It required a staggering amount of time, yogic self-discipline, and tough-minded spiritual focus. It was prepared to give up everything for the pearl of great price which was


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

complete inner peace. William Ernest Hocking, the Harvard col¬ league of William James and Josiah Royce who shared their interest in Eastern philosophies, spoke perceptively about the “spiritual iron” of the East. Later Roman Stoicism developed a social and political conscious¬ ness unknown in the Stoicism of ancient India, and celebrated the uni¬ versality of reason. Yet in spite of its emphasis on friendship and social duty, this anti-humanist theme persisted, because detachment was still the moral order of the day. John Herman Randall, Jr., argued that friendship and social duty were formalistic concepts in Roman Stoi¬ cism, not vitalistic ones. The Stoics, he said, loved to hear of the trou¬ bles of their friends because this gave them someone on whom they could practice the virtues of friendship. This may be “spiritual iron” but it is not humanism. Marcus Aurelius made the anti-humanist theme famous in his ghastly dismissal of hoi polloi: “The ordinary man prays, ‘O God, let not my little son be taken from me/ The wise man prays, ‘O God, when my little son is taken from me, let me not be disturbed/”7 The Christians, on the other hand, identified themselves with the Way of the Cross. They could accept the inescapable fact that fife is full of pain, believing as they did that, in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, the power and the pain of sin and death had somehow been overcome, and that, in the end, all our pain would be taken away by the grace of God; that “all would be well; and all manner of things would be well.” Contemporary neo-Stoicism has erased this anti-humanism. In its nondualistic forms, such as the popular Buddhist affirmation that all living beings are one in the universe, it speaks regularly about love for the other. Yet it forgets that love requires an “other,” and that there is no “other” in nondualism. And it has robbed Stoicism of its nobility, and has reduced detachment to “peace of mind” philosophies and senti¬ mental slogans like “I’m okay, you’re okay.” CHRISTIANITY Tillich s view of the “courage to be,” put simply, begins with the observation that there are various forms of courage necessary for deal¬ ing with specific objects of fear in ordinary human experience. Hence, the courage of the soldier—which has been the standard Western model of courage since Aristotle—combats the specific fear of death in battle. But Tillich is after something wider and deeper. He envisions

Stoics, Christians, and the Courage to Be


a courage which, unlike fear, has no specific object; a courage which living requires of us all, not just soldiers, since we all suffer in various degrees from “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” and, as Scott Pecks popular book, The Road Less Traveled, puts it so directly, “Life is hard.”8 Tillich takes his place with those dynamic philosophies of move¬ ment and development which he calls “philosophies of life,” from Nietzsche’s philosophy of the will to power and Hegel’s dialectical phi¬ losophy of Spirit to James’ pragmatism, Whitehead’s philosophy of process, and his own existentialist dialectic between being and nonbeing. These are also philosophies of human experience. Even Hegel’s infamous statement that “the rational is the real” has a pragmatic flavor to it; reality is “wirklich,” that which “works” in the world. In rereading Tillich’s The Courage to Be, I was struck with the dif¬ ficulty he has in centering his Christian affirmation of courage in the one dimension of anxiety which makes Christianity distinctive, the anxiety about sin and guilt. Tillich’s primary definition of the courage to be is the courage to accept the fact that we are accepted, in spite of the fact that we know ourselves to be unacceptable. The problem with this definition for a philosopher of experience— a philosopher of life—is that it has to meet with some general recog¬ nition that says “Yes, this is also my experience.” Otherwise it is only the esoteric view of an individual thinker. And for a philosopher who wants to heal the world by showing how our anxiety about fate and death, meaninglessness and despair, sin and guilt can be overcome, that recognition in experience is essential. When The Courage to Be was published in 1952 it was widely read and much admired. Tillich was on the cover of Time magazine, and the Christian community found his ideas very helpful. Tillich wanted to reach the culture at large, however. In one sense he was suc¬ cessful, and people did recognize what he said as true to their own experience, or at least their own hopes about their experience. The therapeutic culture loved his statement that the courage to be means the courage “to accept the fact that you are accepted in spite of the fact that you are unacceptable.” But the therapeutic culture interpreted that as a call to trust ourselves and believe that we are really okay, in spite of the fact that we don’t feel good about ourselves. Part of the difficulty here is that Tillich is so abstract that he is readily open to misinterpretation. The therapeutic culture, sensing rightly that his philosophy intended to be therapeutic, gave him a


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

reading which made his famous formula sound dangerously like psy¬ chobabble. They did not know, or they forgot, that Tillichs focus was on ontology. Both the courage of which he spoke, and the “unacceptablility” which that courage confronted, were not primarily psycho¬ logical phenomena. They were primarily ontological. Tillich was talking about “guilt and sin.” Guilt is the moral and psychological dimension of the problem; sin is the ontological dimension, and therein lies the problem. “Unacceptability” is an ontological category. It is not a state¬ ment about how we are guilty because we occasionally screw up. It is a statement about why we occasionally screw up, and that is because we are screw-ups by nature. We are sinners. To put it starkly, “unac¬ ceptability” is Tillich’s translation of what classical theology called “original sin.” Tillich’s Columbia colleague, the philosopher John Herman Ran¬ dall, Jr.—who much admired Tillich s work—once said he didn’t think that most Americans were ready to see themselves as sinners. And another of Tillich s colleagues and friends, Reinhold Niebuhr, had writ¬ ten extensively on “the easy conscience of modem man,” suggesting his agreement with Randall, even though he was on Tillich s side regard¬ ing the theology of human nature. In one of his few jolly moods Niebuhr once quoted a London Times editorial which said, “Original sin is the only empirically verifiable doctrine in Christian theology.” This was a joke—which a number of his contemporaries missed— because original sin is not an empirical fact. It is a revelation, result¬ ing from our confrontation with the Holiness of God. But if ever there were a contest for the most unpopular concept in the history of phi¬ losophy anywhere, the Christian concept of Original Sin would win hands down. In a famous outburst at the meeting of world religionists in Chicago at the end of the nineteenth century, the Hindu Swami Vivekananda won wild applause with the ringing statement “It is a sin to call men sinners!”9 Chinese philosophers, persuaded that the bad things in life come from imbalance in the social order and not primarily from the hardness of the human heart which knows not li and jen, are simply bemused by references to original sin. And even the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian inheritors of the tradition of the prophets tend to steer away from it. Niebuhr himself noted ruefully late in his career that it was probably a mistake to have emphasized the doctrine as much as he had because it gave people the impression that he was a fundamen-

Stoics, Christians, and the Courage to Be


talist, and thus the message of his “Christian realisin ’’ was harder to get across. Today, when religious liberalism rules and the theology of the love ol God predominates, when voices of judgment have been muted, and calls for the acceptance of those who were previously rejected come from everywhere, the idea of original sin has virtually no constituency. In our culture there would seem to be only victims, not sinners. Today most of us would scoff at Socrates’ statement that he had never, ever done anything wrong. Most of us are quite ready to admit that we have screwed up from time to time. More than that, if we were really honest, most of us would probably confess to occasional moments of deep-seated uneasiness about ourselves. None of this, however, would add up to a conviction that we are inherently “unacceptable” before God or the moral law of the universe. But when Tillich talks about the advantage of the Christian promise of cosmic salvation over Stoicism’s cosmic resignation, it is because Christianity celebrates the ontological courage to be in spite of the ontological “power of sin and death.” So Tillich is offering a solution to a problem most people don’t think they have. And he knows it. Toward the end of the book he regu¬ larly props up his argument with phrases like these, all from page 181: “Man is not necessarily aware of this source. .. .” “Whether we recog¬ nize it or not...,” “... whether we know it or not.” He is telling people what their experience really is, even though they don’t experience it that way. As a philosopher of life and of human experience this is a dubious procedure. Ironically, one of the early criticisms leveled at The Courage to Be was that it was not really Christian, because it never mentioned Jesus, and spoke vaguely about a “god above god,” which was not orthodox doctrine. In fact, Tillich was more orthodox than many recognized, and it was this orthodoxy about sin and guilt which put him in a philo¬ sophical bind. The courage to be, as an ontological category, overcomes the ontological power of sin. To say that “we are unacceptable” is to say what classical Christian theology has always said, and that is that sin is a characteristic of our human nature. But the only way we can know that is through revelation, not through ordinary experience. So Tillich’s message of cosmic salvation falls on deaf ears because of “the easy con¬ science of modem man.” “Original sin” is a complicated idea, and not even John Calvin liked it. He spoke of “this dreadful doctrine.” For our purposes its


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

important feature is its ontological status. It is a characteristic of human nature. But most people don’t experience it as such. What is at stake here in the continuing struggle between the Stoics and the Christians is whether the Christians really can articulate a widely persuasive view ol how the courage to be overcomes the moral malaise which I think many if not most of us feel from time to time. What Tillich s argument needs is an ontological category which would be recognizable in most people s experience. It would need to be consonant with guilt, which is a psychological experience, and it would have to be consonant with an ontology of original sin without directly relying on it.

LONELINESS Consider the role of loneliness in Tillich’s analysis of the human situation. In his systematic theology he uses the Platonic myth of the fall as a means of interpreting the Christian understanding of human sinfulness and the so-called fall of humankind. The issue here is the ontology of selfhood. What is the fundamental nature of the self? Repeating Kierkegaards imaginative myth of “dreaming inno¬ cence," Tillich argues that the self becomes itself only in that act in which it chooses its own particularity. Prior to this choice it lives in ‘dreaming innocence” because it hasn’t done anything. In the mythical instant of this choice, however, innocence is lost because the self be¬ comes finite, contingent, responsible, self-defensive. Ironically this pri¬ mordial act of self-affirmation, while necessary for the self to become itself, is also the act in which innocence is lost, and we become sinners because we choose our existential selves. To be finite and contingent is to be free, but it is also to be tainted with the imperfections of a world in which being and nonbeing are always intertwined with one another. So Tillich speaks of two selves. There is the “essential self” of “dreaming innocence,” still united with God. There is also the “exis¬ tential self,” fragmented by the world of finitude and contingency, threatened with meaninglessness and despair, fate and death, guilt mid sin. These threats are the substance of life’s difficulty, the things that make life hard, but they all exist in the context of this fundamental separation of the existential self from its true, essential self. This sepa¬ ration of the self from itself, and hence its separation from God, is the condition of sin. In classical Christianity sin is simply separation from God. We know we are sinners only in confrontation with the Holiness

Stoics, Christians, and the Courage to Be


of God. The existential experience of that confrontation and separation is cosmic loneliness. Cosmic salvation is not just acceptance in spite of our unacceptability. It is the end ol loneliness in our reunion with God. And here the courage to be as “self-affirmation” is not the choice of the existential self; it is faith in the reality of the essential self, and its grounding in the reality of Being Itself, which is the reality of God. Loneliness is the experienced absence of some person or personal presence who has been a significant part of one’s life and is now gone away. Everyone has been lonely in some specific way at some par¬ ticular time—like the first time away from home—but these are brief moments, readily repaired by a phone call or a visit. Then there is a deeper loneliness, touched with a sense of moral and spiritual desola¬ tion. Most of us have had flashes of it at work or at home, often quite unexpectedly. We sometimes wake in the middle of the night, our mouths tasting like the bottom of a bird cage, feeling fearful and in¬ explicably alone. Or we simply pause in the midst of a busy day and feel somehow unconnected to anything or anyone, including our¬ selves. These are not moments of specific fear, just moments when we feel suddenly lost in the stars, and our connection to others somehow dissolved. Loneliness becomes an ontological dimension of the human con¬ dition in the disparity between the existential self and the essential self. The simple fact of conscience is our existential experience of that sepa¬ ration. Conscience is the memory of that essential self which stands over against our existential selves. We all say lightheartedly, “Well, nobody’s perfect,” but a dirty little secret hidden in the human heart is that we are not happy about that. We blush to admit it, even quietly to ourselves, but in a faint, far-off corner of our souls we have some¬ times had a flickering awareness of what it might be like not to be rest¬ less, or yearning for we-know-not-what, or guilty, or bored, or anxious. We can almost remember—are we making this up? did we dream it once?—when we really were who we knew ourselves truly to be, and had a fleeting, now half-forgotten taste of “the peace which passes all understanding” as a result. This is the Augustinian memory of our inner relation to the imago dei, the image of God in which we are made, and which haunts our deepest hope for ourselves. The Stoics, on the other hand, have not lamented loneliness; they have embraced it. It is what “spiritual iron” is all about: the guts to be lonely. Stoics do not suffer from the distance between themselves and others; they purposefully create it in order to be free from the pain that


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

intimacy causes. The cosmic resignation of Stoicism accepts the fact that things in the finite world of contingency are always going to be the way they are, and that the only freedom is inner. In the end, for Sto¬ ics, our identity with the Logos or the Holy World Power promises a land of surcease from pain which is either some vague notion of being, intelligence, and bliss, or simply a naturalistic conception of death. It will, in any case, deliver us from the pain of living. The Christians “trust in the Lord,” having had the courage to be in this life in spite of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. The wisest among them have had faith in a final resolution of our loneliness when our existential selves would be reunited with our essential selves, and thus be reunited with God. Tillich s problem was that sin, as part of the human condition, was not persuasive to those beyond the Christian religion whom he wanted to reach, because it is not an existential experience; it is a Christian rev¬ elation. Therefore his response to the Stoics lacked philosophical—that is, universally human—credibility. My suggestion that one substitute loneliness for original sin has the advantage of more widespread philo¬ sophical credibility, since people are much more ready to recognize themselves as lonely than they are to recognize themselves as sinful. But does occasional loneliness lead to ontological loneliness any more than occasional guilt leads to ontological sin? I’m not sure.

NOTES 1. Plato, Laches 199E. 2. Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univer¬ sity Press, 1952), p. 2. 3. Ibid., p. 9. 4. Ibid. 5. Rudyard Kipling, “If,” in Life Prayers, ed. Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), pp. 211-12. 6. Xenophon, “Memorabilia.” 7. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.40. 8. M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth (New York: Simon & Schuster 1978). 9. Personal account of Professor William Ernest Hocking who was present at Vivekananda’s lecture.

Facing Reality BEMI BHAGUE

I will here venture some steps toward an ontological understanding of the virtues—some steps more, since the overall project of such an understanding was already drafted by Paul Tillich. I will follow the hint he gives us right at the beginning of his book on courage: “courage must be considered ontologically in order to be understood ethically,”1 though I will look at the phenomenon from another vantage point. The virtue of courage can help us more than other virtues, for in courage the onto¬ logical dimension of virtue comes more clearly to the fore. Courage is commonly thought of as standing ones ground in front of danger, and above all, in front of the supreme danger, that is, death. The courageous person faces death, that is, nonbeing. Thus, courage has something to do with being or not-being. Courage cannot be thought through without our climbing toward some high metaphysical peaks. Schopenhauer saw that: courage involves what he calls a “natural meta¬ physics.”2 This unspoken metaphysics is not conceived of, properly speaking, but merely grasped by feeling. Yet metaphysics is not exactly popular in modern times, especially as far as ethics are concerned. Many people look for an ethics that casts its moorings away from meta¬ physics. Therefore, in order better to tackle my topic, I will have to shed some indirect light on what happened in modem times.

A TRANSCENDENTAL VIRTUE What is at stake with courage is nothing less than the transcendentals—not in Kant’s meaning, nor in Emerson s, but in the sense clas¬ sical metaphysics gave to this word. Let me briefly refresh our memory. Among the properties of things, some can be pigeonholed safely in a particular category. “Red” is a quality, not a substance, nor a quantity; “two feet long” is a quantity, not a quality, and so forth. On the other 43


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

hand, some properties don’t fit easily in any box, and transgress the boundaries that divide the categories: Being, the One, Truth, and finally, the Good, the very example given by Aristotle. The Good can be a substance, namely, God—we still use “Goodness” as a euphemism for God, in phrases like “thank Goodness” or “Goodness knows.” The Good can be a quality—virtue; it can be a quantity, that is, the proper and harmonious size; it can be a point in time—kairos, the nick of time.3 Courage involves a definite way to articulate the transcendentals in relation to one another. An ancient author saw in the virtue of courage an argument in favor of a ranking between the Good and Being. This author is known under the name of Salustios—not the historian Sallustius, who wrote in Latin in the first century before our era, but a Greek who authored a short treatise on the gods and the world, probably around 362 of our era. This work is a tract synthesizing the basic tenets of late paganism, in the framework of the attempt of the emperor Julian to promote a revival of paganism against Christianity. We read there: “Some in fact, seeing that all things possess being, have thought that the First Cause was being. This would be correct if things that were in being were in being only and were not good. If, however, things that are are by rea¬ son of their goodness and share in the good, then what is first must be higher than being and in fact good. A veiy clear indication of this is that fine souls for the sake of the good despise being, when they are will¬ ing to face death for country or friends or virtue.”4 Courage means preferring the Good over Being. Hence, it speaks in favor of the su¬ premacy of the Good over Being. What is at stake with courage is a basic metaphysics of sorts. For Salustios, this metaphysics is some sort of a simplified Neoplatonism. We recognize Plotinus’ key statement on the supremacy of the Good over Being. This sentence arises from two sources: first, the identification of the Good with the One; second, an interpretation of Socrates’ famous utterance in Plato’s Republic: “the Good is beyond Being (epekeina tes ousias).”

MODERN TIMES: COURAGE AS DANGEROUS Is such an utterance still understandable for modern people? Courage used to be first among the virtues. When Aristotle studied them, he explicitly pointed out that courage would be dealt with first.5

Facing Reality


The virtue of courage makes less sense for us today. To be sure, we meet many brave people, but basic metaphysical assumptions have changed. As a consequence, courage is no longer required as a basic necessity. We can be courageous as individuals, but we need not be courageous any longer in order to be authentically human. This sea change is the achievement of modern political philoso¬ phy, ushered in by Hobbes. Hobbes parts company with the ancient idea of a supreme Good that we should strive to imitate, or at least that illuminates our enterprises. There is no highest good; but there is a supreme evil, death, and especially violent death. We do not gather in societies to reach a common good, but to avoid the evil that can come from each other or from nature. The city is grounded on fear: “We must therefore resolve, that the original [sic!] of all great and lasting societies consisted not in the mutual good will men had towards each other, but in the mutual fear they had of each other.”6 Fear is what binds men together. No bonds would hold without fear of the consequences of the breach.7 Fear makes us law-abiding.8 In a word, fear is “the Passion to be reckoned upon.”9 Hobbes goes so far as to define courage as a kind of fear: fear is “aversion, with opinion of hurt from the object.” Courage is “the same, with hope of avoiding that hurt by resistance.”10 On the famous frontispiece of Hobbes’ Leviathan, the State is represented as a giant with crown and scepter, swinging a sword. His chest and arms are made of tiny human bodies. The giant emerges above the horizon, so that we can’t see the lower part of his body. Why does he conceal his hind legs from our gaze? What is the dirty secret of those stumps? This giant is definitely not a giant on feet of clay. It is a giant on cold feet, and the colder, the more stable. To be sure, all modem philosophers did not follow suit. But mod¬ em philosophy as a whole tried to ground our political existence not on virtue, but on necessity alone. Some even tried to show that public benefits arise from private vices! Modern political philosophy, then, is generally based on the sober reckoning of interests. It is less sanguine about human nature than the Ancients. It is safer to ground a city on our care for the conservation of our bodily existence and for the preser¬ vation of our property. For the Ancients, the political nature of humankind was taken for granted. The problem was not how the city was to be grounded. It might be how to ground a particular city, such as Plato’s Callipolis. It was not how to account for human life in a society. Hence the place


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

of courage. It was not the highest virtue—perhaps it was even the lowest—but it was the first, the most fundamental, because it enabled the city to survive. For modem people, on the contrary, the city is an artifact and has to be grounded. Fear furnishes it with a strong basis. Hence, unlimited courage would be a nuisance. People who don’t fear death can do all kinds of mischief. Courage used to be what was required for us to face danger. Now, courage is itself dangerous. How could courage remain a “virtue”?

MODERN TIMES: COURAGE AS NECESSARY Yet this is only one face of the coin. Looking at the other will com¬ pel us to confront an antinomy. For, at the other end of modem times, we encounter a philosopher who puts courage, or some sort of courage, at the peak of all virtues: Nietzsche. He writes as the title of what remained a fragment: religion of courage” (Religion der Tapferkeit). The first subtitle is “passion for Redlichkeit,” a word which we can translate as “intellectual honesty,” or “probity.”11 Nietzsche foresees a new virtue, a new kind of courage (Mut) that humankind lacked till the present day.12 Nietzsche plays with the root for courage (Mut), and says that this virtue is at the same time magnanimity (Grossmut) and pride

(■Hochmut). This virtue ranks among the youngest and least ripe; it was unknown to Socrates and to the Christians.13 What is neither Ancient nor Christian must be “modern”; indeed, the very definition of mo¬ dernity could be this attempt at steering a middle course between paganism on the one hand and, on the other, Judaism and its Chris¬ tian aftermath—between “Athens” and “Jerusalem.” Hence, probity is an exclusively “modern” virtue. It is the only new virtue. Says Nietz¬ sche: this last virtue, our virtue, is called: probity. Everywhere else we are only the heirs and perhaps the dissipaters (Verschwender) of virtues that were not collected and accumulated by us.”14 Elsewhere, Nietzsche suggests another view: probity, though it was unknown to the Christians, might stem from Christianity all the same, more precisely from Christian asceticism.15 This fits with Nietz¬ sche s idea of a self-destruction of morality: the very urge to be honest, which is in the last resort a moral exigency, spurs us to unmask our allegedly moral instincts.16 Morality itself, as probity, sets itself as a duty

Facing Reality


to negate itself.1' This critique is “a more sublime sense of probity,” “the most sublime kind of honesty” (Rechtschajfenheit),18 What is new? Nothing very much as far as the content of the virtues is concerned. Courage and honesty are old virtues. But they are welded together: the humdrum, bourgeois virtue of honesty and the lofty aristocratic virtue of courage combine to produce the ultra¬ modern virtue of intellectual honesty. Furthermore, Nietzsche not only puts forward the virtue of intel¬ lectual honesty; he asks the question of its possibility. The rhetoric of the Enlightenment emphasizes that human beings should get rid of anthropomorphism. It even understands the progress of human civi¬ lization as the process through which we lay aside anthropomorphism. Now, the question arises: how can this be possible? How can a certain animal avoid seeing the world through its own eyes—avoid being, so to speak, automorphic? No horse would object to hippomorphisin and condemn horseplay; no dog would refrain from acting doggedly as being cynomorphic. What has to be explained is not anthropomor¬ phism, but the farewell to anthropomorphism. What sort of thing must humankind be if humankind can overcome anthropomorphism? Finally, Nietzsche does not content himself with debunking mo¬ rality. He is not the first to unravel the hidden roots of moral behavior. The French moralists had done that in the seventeenth century. On the other hand, Nietzsche may be the first to reflect on the very motiva¬ tions of the debunkers and to ask the question: why should we look at the truth, if truth is painful?

HAS PROBITY ANCESTORS? The idea according to which the virtue of courage is required in order to face truth is not self-evident—far from it. No wonder that it should appear relatively late in the course of the history of human thought. Let us check this by looking for ancient or medieval forerun¬ ners of probity. There are some older occurrences, or at least there are some pas¬ sages in ancient and medieval thinkers that could suggest that they had an inkling of intellectual probity. One early hint I could spot is to be found in Averroes. In his Commentary on Plato’s Republic—to be pre¬ cise, in a summary of this dialogue—Averroes lists the qualities that he


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

wishes to be present in a king. There are nine of them. The last but one is courage. This does not come as a surprise, since the leader of a politi¬ cal community must face dangers of all kinds: external wars, civil strife, and so forth. But what is surprising is that this courage is not military or chic, but intellectual in nature. It is the courage to shake off the opinions which one has grown up with, if they do not rest on solid argu¬ ments. Averroes requires of the king “that he be courageous. For one who has no courage will be unable to despise the nondemonstrative arguments on which he has grown up, and especially if he has grown up in these cities.”19 The passage is all the more interesting for our understanding of Averroes’ position since it contradicts word for word a famous passage from the "Incoherence of the Incoherence.”20 Its underlying assump¬ tion is the existence of a natural hierarchy of arguments. Apodictic arguments are the peak, the highest rung on the ladder of knowledge; they correspond to Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics. The next are prob¬ able arguments: the syllogisms are valid, but the premises on which they are grounded are only generally accepted among the majority of people, or competent people. They correspond to Aristotle’s Topics. There are lower kinds of arguments: sophistic, rhetoric, and poetic. Courage is the virtue that respects the natural hierarchy of arguments. An even earlier philosopher, Farabi, draws a parallel between this scale of arguments and tire Platonic allegory of the Cave.21 He does that in a work the original Arabic of which is lost, but that we possess in a Latin translation. Each and every treatise belonging to the corpus of Aristotle’s work on logic corresponds to a step toward the light, fol¬ lowed by a path leading backwards to the Cave. Nondemonstrative arguments are probably generally accepted opinions which are the nourishing soil of life in a city. Casting them away amounts to throw¬ ing aside the last shackles and leaving the Cave for good. The courage required by such an enterprise amounts to overcoming old and com¬ fortable habits. On the other hand, nowhere in Plato—or, for that matter, Farabi or Averroes

do we read that facing truth as such could require courage.

To be sure, looking at the sun can or even must produce some unpleas¬ antness. When the prisoner leaves the cave, he is exposed to the daz¬ zling light of the sun. He winces and blinks and tries to avert his gaze from the source of pain. Looking at the sun requires courage. But the prisoner does not even have to show his mettle. He has to be dragged

Facing Reality


upwards against his will. He is compelled by other people, who force him to stand his ground. The important point is that no special kind of courage is required to accept reality as such. What requires some pluck is overcoming the habit of dwelling in the shade. But truth itself is immensely rewarding. It is the Good. Plato expresses this through several images: truth is the food of the human soul, it is the sun that lets it grow, and so forth.

THE WORLD AS FRIGHTENING Let us now return to our own cave, the modem one. I have con¬ tended that intellectual honesty is indeed modem. Can we reconstmct the genealogy of probity? Hobbes and Nietzsche are apparently at log¬ gerheads on the topic of courage. In fact, the logic of the modern project is at work here. The modern project includes an attempt to dominate nature. We must dominate it in order to do away with our fear; only then will we feel at home, or comfortable, in it. Hobbes places among the incentives to peace and orderly living, alongside the fear of death, desire for a commodious life.22 This requires that we should know nature more and more thoroughly. Mathematical physics in the style of Galileo is Hobbes’ point of reference. The sight of nature that modem natural science unveils in front of us, however, is not that pleasant. It has nothing to do with what we consider as “good”; thus we feel estranged in it. As a consequence, an antinomy arises: science, which was meant to alleviate our fears, cre¬ ates new fears-—not through its consequences in technology, but as sci¬ ence itself. The revolution in modern cosmology brought in its wake a new look at the world as a whole, resulting in disenchantment. This modern outlook on nature retrieves stances that are to be found in the Ancient world, but not in its mainstream thinkers. For Epicums, the only fear that philosophy allows is fear of fear; the very function of philosophy is to do away with fear.23 And we read in Lu¬ cretius that contemplating the immensity of the heavens produces fear.24 The same stance is to be found in Pascal—not as the expression of Pascals own feelings, but as a sentence that is meant to capture the attitude of the free thinker that Pascal plans to convert: “The eternal silence of those infinite spaces frightens me.”25


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

The Epicurean answer, or at least the Epicurean first answer, is not courage. Courage is praiseworthy; it is a virtue; but it involves a ten¬ sion of the soul which feels fear yet keeps it at bay. Therefore, it is not compatible with peace of mind, absence of trouble. Courage is better than cowardice, but it is hardly more than a second best; courage is what we should not need. How is it that we, modern people, can’t simply forget all about reality, but have to face it? Mastering nature requires that we know it, and this requires courage. Knowing nature as it is requires some sort of courage because nature is not beautiful any longer. To be sure, there are beautiful things in nature. But Truth, or the true nature of nature, is no longer beautiful. It used to be so, before modernity. The very name of kosnios, “jewel,” suggested it. Now, for us, reality is no longer something that we can welcome as a gift; it is something that we have to cope with, to face with courage. Nature is no longer beautiful; it is sublime. Burke may have been the first to see this when he analyzed our feeling of sublimity: he quotes Horace to the effect that “the last effort of philosophical fortitude [is] to behold without terror and amaze¬ ment, this immense and glorious fabric of the universe.”26 Nature as sublime arouses fear; we must hold our fear in check if we want to be able to see sublimity. Courage is the virtue that enables one to see nature as sublime. Little wonder that Nietzsche, in a passage that I quoted above, used the adjective “sublime” to describe the new kind of probity he praises. This was not a flight of bombastic rhetoric, but a most precise concept.

COURAGE TO LIVE Let us come back to the text by Salustios that I saw as an instance of the ancient stance toward Being. He took the virtue of courage as bearing witness to the fact that Goodness is above Being. But “being above” does not mean “being opposite to.” On the contrary, Being was supposed to be pervaded with goodness, flooded by its light that gave it meaning and legitimacy. No ancient thinker of the classical trend ever conceived of Being as being bad, or even axiologically neutral, neither good nor bad. This was the choice of marginal currents: the first one was Gnostic; the second one was Epicurean. But both were expelled from the world ol late antiquity. The mainstream classical formulation

Facing Reality


is the so-called doctrine of the convertibility of the transcendentals: whatever is, is as such good. We find this identification everywhere in ancient and medieval metaphysics.27 But we no longer make this identification. Courage used to be, primarily, the correct stance in the face of death, because death is the most frightening thing.28 At present we need courage in the face of life as well. The divide between life and death is not as clear-cut as it used to be. Life is itself a kind of death. This courage in the face of life is a strange thing. As a rule, courage supposes that we expose ourselves to danger, which supposes that we could dodge it. As far as life is concerned, it is Hobson’s choice. We are in for it, anyway. We can’t volunteer for birth. Pascal expressed this with a veiy simple image: “nous sommes embarques,” we are on board. To be sure, we can walk the plank if we feel like it. But we can’t refuse to board the ship. As a consequence, the only kind of courage that is left, and I thereby come back to Paul Tillich, is self-affirmation.29 This formula is a watered-down version of Nietzsche’s clarion call to a heroic stance, which he symbolized in the figure of the god Dionysos. According to this tragic view, we have to look at life without pruning it of its horrible sides: suffering, dismemberment (as in the Greek myth), death. And we have to say yes to the whole show. So courage in the face of life’s tragic realities means to affirm life. This may be very well as a choice for oneself. But to what extent can we bring other people onto the stage of such a tragedy? Another essay in this volume chose a common physiological meta¬ phor for courage—“guts.” Another common metaphor alludes to an¬ other part of the human body, of the male body to be precise. We should give a bit of thought to considering what courage has to do with the natural function of this part of our body, that is, reproduction. Apparently, nothing very much. In fact, a great deal. The question is whether we love life or not. We can love what is good, or at least beautiful. The world is neither. At first blush, there is no question: we love life. One of the most hackneyed phrases in obitu¬ aries is: “he/she loved life.” Well, who does not? Still, we commonly mistake love for life with love for our own life, for our own being alive. To us, our life is, as the idiom has it, “dear.” If loving life boils down to loving oneself, it is not an extraordinary feat. Since we happen to be alive, we have to live on—indeed, to fight for “dear” life. And in many cases, fortunately, we will think that life is fun.

Courage in Philosophy and Literature


But this is a far cry from foisting life on other people, which we do whenever we beget children. Loving life means fostering it. Some sort of courage is required not only for us to live on as individuals, but for us to further life as a species. And we can’t do that unless we think that life is not only fun, but good. Good, period. We need what I will take the liberty to call a minimal metaphysics. In a nutshell, it would again bring together Being and Goodness. As I said at the beginning, mingling metaphysics and morals is no longer popular. But the question is whether we can afford to do otherwise.

NOTES 1. Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univer¬ sity Press, 1952), p. 1; see also pp. 24, 29. 2. Arthur Schopenhauer, Paralipomena, ch. 8, §111; Werke, ed. v. Lohneysen (Damstadt: WB, 1976) 5, p. 243. 3. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1.4. 4. Salustios, On gods and. the world 5.3 (ed. A. D. Nock, p. 11). 5. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 3.6.1115a6. 6. Thomas Hobbes, “Philosophical Rudiments Concerning Govern¬ ment and Society,” Of Liberty, ch. 1, §2 (English Works 2, p. 6). 7. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan 1.14 (ed. Macpherson, p. 192; see p. 196). 8. Ibid., 2.27 (ed. Macpherson, p. 343). 9. Ibid., 1.14 (ed. Macpherson, p. 200). 10. Ibid., 1.6 (ed. Macpherson, p. 123). 11. Friedrich Nietzsche, “Fragment, Winter 1880-81,” 8 [1]; KSA, t. 9, p. 384. 12. Friedrich Nietzsche, “The Dawn of Day,” 5, §551; KSA, t. 3, p. 321; Schlechta, t. 1, p. 1271. 13. Nietzsche, “Dawn of Day,” 5, §456; KGAW, 5.1, p. 279. 14. Nietzsche, “Fragment, Fall 1885-Spring 1886,” 1 [145]; KSA, 1.12, p. 44; KGAW, 8-1, p. 40; on the idea of a dissipation of what our forebears accumulated, see Fragment 14 [226], Spring 1888, KSA, vol. 13, 398; or Will to Power, §68b. 15. Friedrich Nietzsche, Gay Science, V, 344; Schlechta, t. 2, pp. 206-8 and Genealogy of Morals, 3.24, pp. 888-91. 16. Nietzsche, “Fragment, Fall 1881,” 15 [15], KSA, t. 9, p. 640; Spring 1884, 25 [101], KSA, t. 11, p. 35; [447], p. 132; see “Fragment, Fall 1887,” 10 [45], ib., p. 476.

Facing Reality


17. Nietzsche, “Fragment, Summer 1886-Fall 1887,” 5 [58], ib., p. 206;

KGAW, VIII-1, p. 210. 18. Nietzsche, “Fragment, Fall 1885-Fall 1886,” 2 [191], KSA, t. 12, p. 161; KGAW, VIII-1, p. 159. 19. Averroes, On Plato’s Republic 2.2.9, p. 62, Ilf. (trans. Lerner, p. 73). 20. Averroes, TT, 20, §5, p. 583, 1-6 (trans. van den Bergh, p. 360). 21. Farabi, Didascalia in rethoricam Aristotelis ex Alpharabii, ed. M. Grignaschi, in Deux ouvrages inedits surla rethorique [sic] (Beirut, 1971), §38, p. 213. 22. Hobbes, Leviathan 1, ch. 13 (ed. Macpherson, p. 188). 23. Epicurus, “Key doctrines,” 11-13; engl. Long-Sedley, t. 1, p. 155. 24. Lucretius ,5.1204-40. 25. Blaise Pascal, Pensees (ed. Brunschvicg), n.206; see n. 194. 26. Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautifid (1757), 2.5, ed. A. Phillips (London: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 63. The quotation is from Horace, Epistles, 1.6.3-5. 27. See Aristotle, Generation of Animals 2.1.731b30; Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed 3.10, p. 317,5f; Pines, p. 440; Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica la, q.6, a.4, sed contra, etc. 28. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 3.6.1115a26. 29. Tillich, Courage to Be, p. 22 (on Spinoza) and passim.

Courage in Shakespeare GEOFFREY HILL

Taken at the conceptual level, “courage” in Shakespeare is essentially what it is in the major English writings of the preceding generation, for instance, Sir Thomas Elyots The Boke Named the Gouernour, first pub¬ lished in 1531, and Sir Thomas Hoby’s 1561 translation of Baldassare Castiglione s Libro del Cortegiano, The Book of the Courtier, which had first appeared in the original Italian in 1528. At a rough count, there are just over seventy occurrences of the word “courage” in Elyots book, and around forty in Hobys. Throughout Shakespeare’s dramatic writ¬ ings the word “courage” occurs some seventy times, “courageous” ten times, courageously” twice. Those occasions in which, though the word itself is not used, the principle or ethos of courage is manifestly present, must be virtually beyond computation. In Shakespeare, “courage” occurs most thickly in the English Histories, according to the relevant page of an archaic concordance.1 After that come the major tragedies; but the Comedies and late Romances are also represented. Indeed, to revert for a moment to the idea or ideal of courage, with or without the sanc¬ tion of the word itself, I would suggest that it is an eminent quality in the major Comedies and the Romances and is particularly associated with the patience and the resourcefulness of women. Viola in Twelfth Night, Rosalind in As You Like It, Helena in Alls Well That Ends Well, Imogen in Cymbeline, Marina in Pericles, spring immediately to mind. In attributing qualities of courage—not only to young unmarried women but also to matrons and the middle-aged (Hermione and Paulina in The Winter’s Tale, Queen Katherine in Henry VIII)_Shake¬ speare gives his own impresa to a style of psychological and moral address already well established. He could have encountered it, though there is little or no direct evidence that he did, in Elyot and in Hobys Book of the Courtier. It is appropriate to make a preliminary review of Hobys English translation in order to see what his word “courage” stands for. The first 54

Courage in Shakespeare


thing we notice, when we collate his version with Castiglione’s text, is that Hoby employs the word “courage” to represent a variety of Italian words and phrases. At times it stands in place of the Humanists’ key¬ word magnanimita, as in “Stoutnesse of courage” (La magnanimita). This warrants an editorial footnote in the edition I am using: “Stout¬ nesse of courage: cf‘magnanimity’ in the Aristotelian sense of the entire greatness of life.”2 Hoby employs “noble courage” (218) to translate magnanimita, “verie courage” (202) to render la vera magnanimita. “Stoutnesse of courage” (202) stands for magnanimita, but equally (203) for grandezza d’animo. E dell’ ammo invito becomes “with an invincible courage” (36); “valiant courage” (260) renders fortezza; hanno mostrato quell’ardire becomes “have declared that noble courage” (219), while in the same sentence “the most invincible cour¬ ages” translates i piu invitti animi. And so on. One might draw the inference that the English of 1561 was not quite equal to the task of matching precisely the plentitude of nuance available to Italian debates on the nature and qualities of courtliness, and to the multiplicity of considerations regarding true and false ur¬ banity. Such inferences were already drawn by the sixteenth-century English writers here under discussion. Sir Thomas Elyot conceives of the student (a royal offspring or child of the nobility seems tacitly understood) being set “continually” to “leme greke autours thre yeres” while being taught to “use the latin tonge as a familiar langage.”3 Elyot is quite open about the strangeness of English as an instrument of edu¬ cation and of courtly and learned debate. At one point he refers to “an excellent vertue where unto we lacke a name in englyshe,” adding, “Wherefore I am constrained to usurpe a latine worde, callyng it Maturitie: whiehe worde, though it be strange and darke ... the name ones [once] brought in custome, shall be facile to understande as other wordes late commen out of Italy and Fraunce, and made denyzens arnonge us” (97-98). The great Protestant educator Sir John Cheke, tutor to the young prince Edward (later Edward VI), provided a brief letter to go with the prefatory matter in Hoby s Book of the Courtier. It is dated 16 July 1557 and is addressed “To his loving frind Mayster Thomas Hoby.” It stands in the text where testimonies of commendation are generally placed, but the letter is as much mild reproach as it is praise. It is clear that Cheke would have preferred Hoby not to use words from other Euro¬ pean languages and to use instead “our own tung... written cleane and


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

pure, unmixt and unmangeled with borowing of other tunges . . (7). It is a happy irony that Shakespeare who, from Cheke’s purist stand¬ point, would be seen as one of the arch adulterators of “our own tung” (“The multitudinous seas incarnadine”) could also create his great effects with English “written cleane and pure” (“That my keen knife see not the wound it makes, /Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark/To cry, “Hold, Hold!”). Regarded from Cheke s narrow angle of vision, “courage” itself would have to be seen as borrowed from another tongue, even though its primary senses had been established in English by the end of the fourteenth century. The OED (1989) cites it as “a Common Romanic word, answering to a Latin type coraticum, from cor heart.” Its basic etymology is “the heart as the seat of feeling, thought, etc.; spirit, mind, disposition, nature” (c.1300). An early extension (c.1320) is “what is in ones mind or thoughts, what one is thinking of or intending; inten¬ tion, purpose, desire or inclination.” The OED asks us to consider the sense of the phrase “to tell all ones heart,” which is a parallel sense to to speak ones mind.” Chaucer took “courage” to signify “wrath”; Caxton took it to convey “haughtiness.” The modem sense—“That quality of mind which shows itself in facing danger without fear”—was es¬ tablished by the third quarter of the fourteenth century. To Hobys Castiglione translation the OED gives the first recorded citation of “courage” used as synecdoche, that is, taking the part for the whole: The prowesse of those divine courages”(289), meaning, the prowess of those persons of divine courage. There is at least one further in¬ stance of synecdoche in the book not noted by the OED: “There want not also many other noble courages” (242): there are plenty of other persons with generous souls (“Non mancano ancor molti altri animi generosi”). At the heart of Castiglione s ideal of the aniino generoso stands the imperative of self-knowledge: “Pero non si po dire che un pazzo sia animoso. Ma la vera magnanimita viene da una propria deliberazione e determinata volunta di far cosi” becomes, in Hobys mid-sixteenthcentury English, “Therefore a fond person [i.e, a fool] can not be saide to be stoute harted (animoso), but verie courage (vera magnanimita) in deede commeth of a proper advisement (una propria deliberazione) and determined will so to doe (202). This is the “verie courage,” I sug¬ gest, of Helena (All’s Well That Ends Well), Viola (Twelfth Night), Rosa¬ lind (As You Like It); of Cordelia (King Lear), Imogen (Cymbeline),

Courage in Shakespeare


Marina (Pericles), Hermione and Paulina (The Winter’s Tale), and Queen Katherine (Henriy VIII). Courage without self-knowledge is obstinacy, as it is with Coriolanus. There are numerous forms of courage that Sir Thomas Elyot in The Boke Named the Gouemour qualifies, most often by a prefatoiy adjective: gentill courage (18, 46), courage to studie (40), martiall courage (41), valiaunt courage (45, 129), wanton courage (60, 139), noble courage (76), courage inuincible (101), furye or rage, whiche they calle courage (109), valiaunt and fierce courage (154), desperate courage (157), vertuous courage (214), courage and appetite (244), inuincible courage (252), excellent courage and vertue (256), the stubbourne courage of an obstinate seruant (261), vyle courage (263), the courage of all men inclined to vertue (287). Hector (Troilus and Cressida) I would take to represent “gentill courage”; Troilus also, until his final scene when he degenerates towards desperate courage. Richard III dies with desperate courage. Lady Macbeth’s is a vyle courage. In sixteenth-century English prose of a political or theological cast I find that the harmony of the style derives in considerable part from the resonances of repeated key words. Elyot’s Boke Named the Gou¬ emour and Hoby’s Castiglione translation are characteristic. The many times rehearsed “courage” is a common factor; so is the repetition of the terms “diligence,” “diligent,” “diligently” (diligenza, diligente, diligentemente), meaning painstaking industry, constant vigilance in matters of detail. “Diligence” was also a key word with the sixteenthcentury Bible translators, particularly William Tyndale (his 1534 New Testament “dylygently corrected and compared with the Greke”). There are plays by Shakespeare of which it is possible to say: he wrote this with such-and-such a volume open on his desk. With the English history plays it is Holinshed’s Chronicle; with Coriolanus and other of the Roman plays it is Thomas North’s English translation of Plutarch. With the two courtly writings—Elyot’s and Hoby’s—I can make no such obvious and well-founded claim. I can say no more than that each modifies and enlarges the expository and debating language of its time, the language that Shakespeare directly inherited. Each is a book of polity, having to do with the training of princes and their chief magistrates, the governors of Elyot’s title. In his imaginative makeup Shakespeare was a populist and an elitist, a Christian stoic and an op¬ portunist. I deduce that the intellectual-elitist-opportunist energies of


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

works such as Elyot s Governor and Hoby s Castiglione would have fed directly or indirectly into his appetite for writing plays. In the Fourth Book of The Courtier: He that can command, is alwaies obeyed. And to commande is evermore the principall office of princes, which notwithstanding ought many times also to see with their eyes, and to be present at the deede doing, and according to the time and the businesse otherwhile also be doing themselves, and yet hath all this a part with action or practise. (280) In short, a prince is right to delegate but needs to get his hands dirty from time to time. It takes only a small redistribution of emphasis to suggest Machiavelli’s II Principe. Castiglione avoids the conclusions arrived at by his Florentine contemporary, even though one of the nobles who took part in the conversazioni at Urbino would become a double murderer.4 Castiglione s test-word is magnanimita; Machiavelli s check-word is virtu. It is not that Castiglione scorns virtu but that he distrusts the use of that word in certain political contexts: . . . some Princes suppose that their drift ought principally to be, to bring in subjection their borders, and therefore to traine up their people in a warlike wildenesse of spoile and murther, and such matters: they wage them to exercise it and call it vertue [e la chiamano virtu], (280) Shakespeare’s political characterizations seem to me to inhabit a middle ground between magnanimita and virtu. Prince Hal (Henry TV, parts 1 and 2), who becomes King Henry V in Shakespeare’s brilliant cold pageant play of that name, is a glittering instance of this. He undertakes war with France from a standpoint of manifest cynicism, following the deathbed precepts of his desperately cynical father: Therefore, my Harry, Be it thy course to busy giddy minds With foreign quarrels, that action, hence borne out, May waste the memory of the former days.

And yet, both before and after Agincourt, he is portrayed as a figure of magnanimity, of the animo generoso, in exchanging words with die common soldiers of his own army and in the marriage negotiations with his prospective in-laws, the royal family of defeated France.

Courage in Shakespeare


Are we intended to draw up a ledger here, seeing how or if we can balance out virtu with magnanimita? I think not. I go so far as to say that Shakespeare’s strongest grasp of human realities is shown in the way his imagination seizes on ambiguities in individual natures or in particular circumstances. These are not terms which I would apply to either Castiglione or Machiavelli or Elyot. Castiglione and Machiavelli are ironists. They automatically assume the latent inveterate nature of human fallibility in their presentations of ideal perfection. Of course, they work from opposite ends of the ethical spectrum, Cas¬ tiglione purporting to think the best, Machiavelli the worst, of human natures and motives. Elyot was a survivor in the court of King Henry VIII, the protege of, successively, Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell, and Sir Thomas More. Wolsey died disgraced, Cromwell and More were beheaded; Elyot died in his bed. He must have been an ironist too. The Boke Named the Gouemour—like The Courtier, from which Elyot probably cribbed the idea—advises that the Prince should be instructed in the quality of Temperance, Moderation, or Mediocrity. In the closing pages of The Courtier, one of the participants in the con¬ versazioni—Pietro Bembo—celebrates Love: Thou the most sweete bond of the world, a meane betwixt heavenly and earthly thinges, with a bountifull temper bendest the high vertues to the government of the lower, and turning backe the mindes of mortall men to their beginning, couplest them with it. (321)

“A meane” in this context is close to “mediatrix.” Hoby’s English translation introduces an ambiguity in one phrase, “bendest the high vertues to the government of the lower,” which requires clarification by collation with the original Italian: “inclini le virtu supeme al govemo delle inferiori.” Clearly the “high vertues” are to bend graciously (con¬ descend) to direct aright and to a good end the baser aspects of life. Hobys English—spiked on the syntactical ambiguity of “to” and “of”—might as well be saying that love causes the higher virtues to be gov¬ erned by the baser motions. We all know this to be a fact of life; there are several passages in The Courtier which acknowledge that “there is in our mind a variance betwen reason and greedie desire” (271) and that Platonic reverence and awe can with fatal ease be diverted, de¬ bauched, into “sensuall love” (306,307). With these acknowledgements


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

Hobys bendest the high vertues to the government of the lower” remains a suggestive ambivalence generated by the nature of English syntax. Nonetheless, when we read, or see, Shakespeare’s Othello it is as if the dramatists mind had snagged itself creatively on just such an ambiguity, such a sliding accidental. The character and speech of Othello, when first encountered, could well belong to the discourses in the Court of Urbino: She thank'd me. And bade me, if I had a friend that lov’d her, I should but teach him how to tell my story. And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake. She lov’d me for the dangers 1 had pass’d And I lov’d her that she did pity them. The story he tells Desdemona is Of hairbreadth scapes i th imminent deadly breach”; he is a man not only of "puissance” but also della grandezza dell’animo, del valore e della liberality of “. . . greatnesse of courage, prowesse and liberalise” (68). Yet the word “courage,” spoken only once in this play, is put into Iagos mouth (4.2.218) as a cynical travesty: “But, Roderigo, if thou hast that in thee indeed, which I have greater reason to believe now than ever (I mean purpose, courage, and valor), this night show it. In Othello, more terribly, more benightedly, than in any other of Shakespeare's plays, we witness the high virtues bent, by the agency of lago, to the government of (that is, to be governed by) the lower—the lowest—the basest instincts and appetites. One frequently hears characters such as lago referred to as Ma¬ chiavellian. But they are not, really. 1 he man of devilish cunning and adamantine malign will is a type the dramatists took more from antiMachiavellian propagandists, the hostile parodists of Maelnavelli, than from the man himself. Il Principe, first printed in Rome in 1532, “with the sanction and favour of the Pope,"' remained publicly untranslated into English for more than a century (Edward Daeres, 1640). Yet it was being read in England, by aristocrats such as Lord Morley and such preeminent statesmen as I homas Cromwell, very soon after it had ap¬ peared from the presses in Italy. Shakespeare's Henry IV and Henry V, and perhaps the Duke in Measure for Measure, negotiate more closely and coolly as students of the small Italian treatise.

Courage in Shakespeare


Machiavelli did something to the concept of virtu in 1532 that differentiated, even alienated, it from the resonance given it by Castiglione four years earlier in 1528. In Castiglione virtu is one of the types of courage which can be interpreted as the will and capacity to hold fast to le virtu supeme. If we encounter a tautology here it is not, I think, accidental. Virtu for Castiglione is the capacity to act virtuously; it is virtue in action, acting with courage, having “that courage of spirite which we seeke to have in our Courtier” (36), as Hoby renders it. In Machiavelli (and here I draw on L.A. Burd’s notes to his edition), the term is part oka collocation, per fortuna o per virtu, which appears repeatedly in the writings of Machiavelli—not only in II Principe, but in the Discorsi also. Burd observes that, for Machiavelli, “Virtu corre¬ sponds in some degree to the French habilete: any man who by his abilities, tact, and dexterous management of men and things attains his end, is said to possess virtu; the character of the means he employs or the object he attains are indifferent.”6 In die Discorsi, virtu in one place “signifies the ability of the legislator”; in another place it is applied to the achievement of Hannibal whom Machiavelli nonetheless calls

empio ‘pitiless’ and crudele—cruel as a tyrant is cruel.' Among Shakespeare’s characters who exemplify virtu in die sense of habilete (“tact and dexterous management”) I would give a con¬ spicuous place to Vincentio, Duke of Vienna in Measure for Measure. Sickened by the city’s corruption which, in office, he has failed to curb, Vincentio pretends to leave on an urgent diplomatic mission, handing the reins of government to his sanctimonious deputy, Angelo. The Duke does not in fact leave the city but, disguised as a friar, stays to keep an eye on governor and governed. His words that close Act I sc. iii—“hence we shall see / If power change purpose: what our seemers be”—anticipate his quasi-choric conclusion to Act III. Hav¬ ing rapidly discovered the attractions of lust, Angelo has decreed that unless Isabella has sex with him her brother Claudio will be put to death (he intends to put him to death anyway). The Duke discovers Angelo’s intention and says, at the end of his chorus-like soliloquy: Craft against vice I must apply. With Angelo to-night shall lie His old betrothed (but despised); So disguise shall by the disguised Pay with falsehood false exacting, And perform an old contracting.


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

Duke Vincentio, that is to say, has encouraged a forlorn lady, whom Angelo had jilted, to take Isabella s place in Angelo s bed. Vincentio s counterplot succeeds, not quite as Machiavelli prescribes, perfortuna

o per virtu but rather perfortuna e per virtu. Angelo is pardoned and marries his jilted lady; Claudio is saved; the Duke weds Isabella. The clue to this type of Shakespearean comedy is emblematized, as I see it, in the change of the Italian o to e. Commentators like to stress the Christian nature of this play, “Judge not that ye be not judged. For widi what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mette, it shall be measured unto you again” (Matt. 7:1, Geneva Bible, 1560). Commentators also see it as a play about the nature of equity. Equity was on people s minds then, partly because Catholic recusants and Calvinist separatists both appealed to it, seeking to miti¬ gate the punitive inflexibility of the Church of England in the matter of obligatory church attendance. Those who appeal to the Sermon on the Mount and those who appeal to the Court of Star Chamber (where equity suits were heard) unite in their conclusion that Measure for Measure shows “a sense of dissatisfaction with its own dramatic mode, concentrated in its notori¬ ously troublesome final scene, and a predominant harshness of tone, a savagery even in its clowning” (Riverside Shakespeare, p. 545). I have elsewhere committed thoughts to print on this perplexity: As with the Gospels, which it is allowed to resemble, in Measure for Measure moral uplift is not the issue. Scrupulosity, diffidence, shrill spirituality, conviction, free expression, come off as poorly as deceit or lust. The ediical motiv is—so we may hazard— opportunism, redemptive and redeemed; case-hardened on case-law, casuistry’s own redemption; the general temper a caustic equity.8 My final illustration of this theme—courage in Shakespeare— moves us on a few years in Shakespeare’s chronology to 1608-9, to the writing and staging of that violently enigmatic, expansively cryptic study of misconceived, misguided, misanthropic, inordinate courage. The

Tragedy of Coriolanus. There is no arguing against the facts of the matter. Coriolanus displays the “unconquered prowesse in arms” that

Courage in Shakespeare


is Castiglione’s princely ideal (288). Sir Thomas Elyot cites him in Book III, chapter 17 of The Boke Named the Gouemour simply as an exemplar of “valiaunt actes” and a becoming modesty in victory.9 Elyot, however, truncates a fable which originates with Dionysius of Hali¬ carnassus, Livy, and Plutarch. In all three, Coriolanus’s early and tri¬ umphal prowess in arms is marred by a singular failure to understand himself, a failure that terminates in his becoming a traitor to his city (Rome) and to his own cult of fortitude. As Sir Thomas Elyot notes in the heading and opening sentence to Book III, chapter 14 of The Gou¬

emour: “Of Magnanimitie, whiche may be named valyaunt courage”— “Magnanimitie is a vertue moche commendable, and also expedient to be in a gouernour, and is, as I haue sayd, a companyon of fortitude” (238). Coriolanus is prowess without magnanimity as Othello is mag¬ nanimity without discretion. Note particularly that Elyot says “com¬ mendable, and also expedient.” The major sense of that second term, established by 1398, was “conducive to advantage in general, or to a definite purpose; fit, proper, or suitable to the circumstances of the case.” The OED does not recognize the “depreciative sense”— “useful” or “politic” as opposed to “just” or “right”—any earlier than 1774. One enters a caveat here, of course: the common thoughts and common practices which eventually bring about a shift of meaning probably, almost certainly, exist and are evident in human minds and motives for generations before official etymology confirms the shift. The gravitational pull of original sin ensures that a preferring of the useful or politic over the just and the right remains a staple of human conduct across the centuries. There is a persistent credibility gap, so to speak, between official descriptive language and human behavior. Shakespeare’s contemporary Francis Bacon in a strikingly sober ap¬ praisal commended Machiavelli for cogently and succinctly drawing attention to this gap between what men and women ought to do and what they do in fact. This is the area in which I find that Shakespeare most character¬ istically activates his imagination. The age in which he worked was rich in volumes of official descriptive language. The courtesy books, the books teaching the elements of rhetoric, the official histories such as Polydore Vergil’s Anglica Historia, Mores History of Richard III, Holinshed’s Chronicles and Grafton’s Chronicle at Large, and the Greek and Roman histories were like oblique commentaries on English politics and politicking. At least they were read as such: for example, Sir Thomas


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

North s Plutarch and Suetonius’s Historie of the Twelve Caesars, trans¬ lated by Philemon Holland (1606). Shakespeare’s dramatic genius takes the domain of maxim and axiom, of motto, emblem and moral fable, and refracts it through the medium of human behavioral heterogeneity. My final gesture in an essay entitled “Courage in Shakespeare” is to point to the linguistic prowess, the semantic magnanimity, and virtu, with which his genius enacts itself in his arenas of words and deeds.

NOTES 1. Bartlett’s (New York, 1894). 2. Baldassare Castiglione, The Boke of the Courtier, trans. Thomas Hoby (1561) (London: Dent, Everyman’s Library, 1928), p. 273. 3. Sir Thomas Elyot, The Boke Named the Gouemour (1531), ed. F. Watson (London: Dent, Everyman’s Library, 1907), p. 35. 4. Castiglione, Courtier, ed. cit., p. 83, n. 2. 5. Niccolo Machiavelli, II Principe, ed. L. A. Burd (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1891), p. 2: “Bibliographical Note.” 6. Ibid., ed. cit., p. 178, n. 5. 7. Ibid., pp. 178-79, n. 5. 8. Geoffrey Hill, The Triumph of Love (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1998), p. 64. 9. Elyot, Gouemour, bk. 3, chap. 17, ed. cit., p. 247.

The Virtue of Courage in the Mencius PHILIP J. IVANHOE

INTRODUCTION One finds many accounts of courage in the Western philosophical tra¬ dition. As in the case of friendship, this may well reflect the fact that the tradition has its early roots in an elite male warrior culture—ancient Greece-—where courageousness in battle and comradeship in arms were central to success in life. In Homer we find a frighteningly attrac¬ tive and tellingly accurate, amoral conception of courage.1 It is a virtue in the sense of being a trait of character that equips its possessor for success in life, but success here is conceived narrowly in terms of per¬ sonal honor. Within such a conception, courage serves no clear end beyond the glory of those who possess it. For example, Achilles, the greatest of all warriors, possesses courage in abundance and yet, when slighted by Agamemnon, he allows his fellow Greeks to be slaughtered by the Trojans. Only his personal loss, the death of his beloved Patroclus, brings him back to the field of battle to meet his preordained and glorious death. Aristotle presents one of the most impressive and in certain respects elusive accounts of courage. His analysis of courage as a virtue can be understood at least in part as a reaction to earlier Homeric descriptions. For in order to qualify as a virtue, Aristotle insists that

andreia courage’ must contribute directly to the greater good of the polls. Courageous acts must also be reasonable in the sense of being actions that have at least some sense of accomplishing the ethical end toward which they are aimed. Macho displays of daring do not qualify as cases of courage; they serve no greater purpose and are overly rash. Aristotle describes courage as a blend of controlling fear and being properly inspired to act.2 He insists that a courageous person 65


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

must to some degree feel fear and that controlling this feeling is part of what constitutes courage. If one feels no fear in facing something genuinely dangerous, one shows a lack of perception, like a shell¬ shocked soldier who calmly strolls through a minefield. On the other hand, if one is terrified in the presence of a mouse, one lacks a proper sense of what it is rational to fear. Feeling fear is epistemologically important: without a proper sense of it one can’t begin to deliberate or act rationally in situations of threat or danger. And so, on Aristotle’s view, courage overcomes or corrects a natural, and in many cases rea¬ sonable, human tendency to fear certain kinds of things. Those with courage are able to control or manage their fear. They are motivated by the strength of their commitment to certain ideals, strengthened by confidence in their skills and natural abilities, and habituated to danger by repeated exposure. Coinage is a virtue or excellence of char¬ acter because it enables those who possess it to proceed in the face of danger and achiev e a wide range of goods that contribute to overall human flourishing. The truly courageous person must rationally assess the danger to be faced and deliberate about how to struggle against it to best realize the good for himself and others. .Aristotle argued, therefore, that genu¬ ine courage must be accompanied and in some sense informed bv the other virtues, for example temperance, justice, and wisdom. Re¬ gardless of exactly how one understands this aspect of Aristotle’s phi¬ losophy the unity of the virtues entails that any one who genuinely possesses any virtue must, in some sense, possess other virtues as well.3 While one can understand Aristotle as providing an “ethicized” account of courage, he is still concerned exclusively with a martial virtue; all of his examples of andreia inv olv e courage on the field of battle, and his conception of danger is narrowly construed in terms of the bodily harm of wounds and the prospect of death.4 Perhaps then it is more appropriate to say that he provides a civilized rather than a fully ethicized account of courage. However, his analysis surelv points to an explicitly ethical understanding of this virtue. For if we conceive of courage as that excellent trait of character that enables people to pursue the good through the difficult and dangerous, then there is nothing inherent in such a conception that would restrict it to cases of combat. A firefighter who puts himself in danger to rescue a child from a burning building and a worker who risks her livelihood or life fight¬ ing corporate greed in order to better the fives of her fellow workers are equally displaying courage in this sense.5 This broader conception

The Virtue of Courage in the Mencius


of courage would also enable us to appreciate more fully cases where courage is manifested as an ability to persevere in the face of adver¬ sity rather than erupting in episodic bursts of action. The person who carries on in good cheer while suffering from a debilitating medical condition, and the prisoner of war or conscience who endures pro¬ longed physical and psychological abuse and yet remains steadfast in his cause, require a broader and more nuanced conception of courage. One of the most profound and remarkable manifestations of courage is found in the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. For he risked and sacrificed everything in his remarkably patient, lifelong pursuit of the good. His example shows how far removed the concept of courage as a virtue is from violent and episodic displays of bravado. For he was explicitly dedicated to nonviolence and love in his struggle to realize the good. With this selective and too-brief discussion of some important Western accounts of courage before us, I would now like to explore the view of courage that we find in the writings of the fourth-century BCE Confucian thinker Mengzi (Mencius). I will return to several of the themes and issues that I have raised in my discussion of Western accounts of courage in order to illuminate Mengzi’s view, and I shall draw upon Mengzi’s teachings on courage to extend and enrich our understanding of this rare and important virtue.

MENGZFS CONCEPTION OF COURAGE Like Aristotle, Mengzi formulates his views on courage primarily in response to more “macho” contemporary conceptions of courage.6 However, unlike Aristotle and early Greek philosophers in general, Mengzi is not primarily interested in analyzing and describing the essential nature of courage or other virtues; rather he is interested in discerning and sorting different kinds of courage and seeing which among them is the most valuable type to have. Aristotle’s approach to the virtues led him to deny that macho forms of courage are real courage, but this is not an issue for Mengzi. Mengzi does not deny that macho behavior displays courage; but he does distinguish types of courage, seeing some as “petty” and others as “great.” “Petty courage” (xiao yong) is concerned exclusively with personal honor, though there are better and worse versions of this. The most trivial kind of petty courage is focused primarily on maintaining an


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

exterior show of honor, not flinching when beaten or blinking when confronted with danger. According to such a view of courage, any public breach of one’s honor must be met with decisive and uncom¬ promising reprisal. The figure Bogong You is a prime example of this type of courage." A better though still petty kind of courage is focused not on ones exterior display of honor but rather on controlling ones inner feeling of fear. This is better than the most trivial kind of petty courage. First, while it lacks a true understanding of what dignity consists in, it does not rely on a mistaken conception of dignity. Second, it is not con¬ cerned with maintaining an outward show but rather is focused on the cultivation of inner dispositions. The figure Meng Shishe is a prime example of this kind of courage. While Mengzi stops short of com¬ mending his courage, he notes that in contrast to Bogong You, “.. . he preserved what is essential.”8 In contrast to these forms of petty courage, “great courage” (da yong) is grounded in and oriented toward the good. Those who know that they are in the right are justified in their cause and this provides them with the motivation to confront and engage even the greatest of dangers. “If reflecting upon myself, I find that I am correct, then I go forward, even against thousands!”9 What exactly is the connection between goodness and great courage? Specifically, how does a proper relationship with the good generate the motivation needed to face danger and move toward one’s goal? As we shall see, Mengzi does not believe that knowledge of the good is sufficient. That is to say, a cognitive or abstract understanding that one is in the right, by itself, seems to offer little or no motivation to act. This is not what gives one the strength to remain steadfast and face down fearful obstacles. One must cultivate a special kind of dis¬ position in oneself in order to possess the courage to persevere in the face of danger. However, unlike the lesser kinds of courage discussed above, which at best manifest the cultivation of “vital energy” (qi), great courage arises only through the cultivation of a special "kind of moral or spiritual energy, what Mengzi calls the “flood-like energy” (haoran zhi qi).10 While knowledge of the good is not sufficient for great courage, it is necessary. For, as Mengzi was well aware, in order to aim at the good one has to have a clear sense of what kind of tiling it is. Such gen¬ eral knowledge helps one to recognize and aim at the good; it enables

The Virtue of Courage in the Mencius


one to orient oneself properly in a general sort of way. However, the ability to make specific and accurate moral judgments and the moti¬ vation to act upon them arises from the development and extension of ones innate moral senses, the “four sprouts” of compassion, right, propriety, and wisdom. One must develop these innate moral senses in order to become a reliable moral agent, much as a connoisseur extends her original yet untutored sensibilities in the course of mastering her particular art. What though does courage contribute to this process? It comes into play in those situations where one needs to control fear and be strongly motivated to move forward in the face of danger. It is important to keep in mind that moral action does not always require courage. 1 don’t need courage to help someone in distress if my help does not put me in any danger. However, should the help I am morally obligated to offer require me to face a real and formidable threat, then I will need an abundant reserve of haoran zhi qi ‘spiritual energy’—that special power that accrues to those who have, over time, worked to develop their moral sprouts—in order to do the right thing. Mengzi describes spiritual energy as “the companion of the right and the Way.”11 He further tells us that “it arises through the accumu¬ lation of right actions and cannot be obtained through a sporadic dis¬ play of the right.”121 understand these remarks as saying that spiritual energy, the motivational force of moral courage, is cultivated by the regular and repeated performance of right actions. An inner strength¬ ening through the repeated intentional performance of explicitly ethi¬ cal, often political, actions builds up ones courage. The kind of martial courage that most occupied Aristotle is the result of a variety of factors. Like Mengzi, Aristotle believed that true courage is developed through proper habituation which seems to entail both desensitivity to danger and a reinforcement of certain types of behavior. One can read Mengzi’s account as compatible with and allow¬ ing for both these senses of habituation; though he makes no mention of the former, he clearly believes in the latter. While Mengzi and Aris¬ totle disagree over the details of what the good in fact is, they agree that true courage is supported by a commitment to realize what is good. So, keeping in mind the qualifications mentioned above, our two phi¬ losophers agree that the cultivation of courage requires both habitu¬ ation and ethical commitment. However, Aristotle argues, and quite persuasively, that courage also depends on our thumos ‘spirit,’ specifi¬ cally on our desire for victory and our natural instinct for competition.


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

Moreover, confidence in the soldierly skills that they possess also bol¬ sters those who act with martial courage; this is true of the virtuous citi¬ zen as well as the professional soldier. These aspects of Aristotelian courage, the enlistment of our spirited nature into the cause of the good and our confidence in the skills we have developed, play no role at all in Mengzi’s account of courage. How might we explain these important differences? I will only suggest an answer here. Perhaps the additional factors that we find in Aristotle’s account do play an important role in the cultivation of mar¬ tial courage (indeed they are important parts of contemporary military training) but do not have a clear or necessary role in the cultivation of specifically moral courage. There is prima facie plausibility in such an explanation. It is not at all apparent that someone pursuing a danger¬ ous but ethical path is engaging and relying upon her natural com¬ petitive spirit and desire for victory, nor is it clear what skills would be of wide enough application to provide any reasonable assurance of suc¬ cess. (The image of the Dalai Lama “squaring off” against the Premier of China in a contest of skill from which only one will emerge victorious just does not feel right.) Perhaps the very nature of certain types of ethical activity makes such agonistic concerns largely beside the point or even inappropriate. This complex problem, however, is unfortu¬ nately well beyond the range of the present study. While I do not endorse all of the particular features of Mengzi’s views about different kinds of qi ‘vital energy,’ I do believe that his teachings about the cultivation and role of spiritual energy offer a folk psychology that helps us to understand important features of human moral action. I think that he is right to say that when we successfully complete an ethical action and reflect upon the nature of such action, we experience a special kind of satisfaction and even joy. These feel¬ ings help both to orient and to motivate future ethical activity. They help to orient us toward the good because such experience helps us to appreciate and look for various ways in which we can achieve good ends. They motivate future good actions both because we seek the satisfaction and joy that good actions bring and because such positive reinforcement produces the inertia of habituation. We develop a dis¬ position and a reserve of motivation to do what is good as we become practiced in moral action. The accumulated force of properly moti¬ vated and fully appreciated good acts—what Mengzi calls “the accu¬ mulation of right actions”—creates a motivational reserve that enlivens,

The Virtue of Courage in the Mencius


focuses, stabilizes, and sustains our commitment to the good and allows us to take on increasingly difficult ethical challenges. When Mengzi talks about cultivating his haoran zhi qi, I take him to be describing the process of building up this kind of motivational reseive. We use expres¬ sions like building up confidence” to describe a similar psychological mechanism, though Mengzi s account provides more detail and nuance about how the process works and how it can go wrong in the case of moral action. Mengzi offers his remarks about the cultivation of spiritual energy as part of a larger discussion in Mengzi 2A2 which begins by describ¬ ing various ways to achieve an “unmoved heart and mind” (budongxin).13 In the opening sections of this passage, Mengzi claims to have attained such a state at the age of forty and allows that his rival, the philosopher Gaozi, achieved this at an even younger age. The conver¬ sation then turns to the various kinds of courage described above. One of the clear implications of this part of the passage is that Gaozi achieved a petty version of an “unmoved heart and mind”—one that was forced and more show than substance—while Mengzi attained a greater, more natural form of “unmoved heart and mind.” Here—as in the cases of “courage” and “energy”—we see Mengzi identifying, sort¬ ing, and ranking various kinds o^budongxin. The expression “unmoved heart and mind” leads us to reconsider an issue that is important in any account of courage, namely, does the properly cultivated person—the ethically courageous agent—feel fear? As noted in our initial discussion of Aristotle’s analysis of courage, some sense of fear seems to be needed, for it serves an important epistemo¬ logical role. Someone wholly without fear would have a difficult time properly identifying, assessing, and dealing with potential threats. More¬ over, controlling fear seems to be at least partly constitutive of courage; the totally fearless person strikes many as more odd than admirable. Several contemporary scholars have offered interpretations of this aspect of Mengzi’s view of courage. Lee H. Yearley and Jiang Xinyan agree with Donald Munro in holding that Mengzi’s budongxin pre¬ cludes any feeling of fear on the part of the well-cultivated person.14 Bryan W. Van Norden endorses this interpretation, though with an ex¬ plicit qualification.15 Van Norden invokes a distinction between “being afraid” and “feeling afraid” which he attributes to James Wallace. He does so in an effort to rescue Mengzi from apparent contradiction, for, as Van Norden points out, in several passages Mengzi claims that


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

virtuous people who risk their lives are aware “of the goods they are sacrificing and are not indifferent to their own well-being.” According to Van Norden’s interpretation, Mengzi’s sages somehow can under¬ stand what is fearful and what fearful things can do to them; in addi¬ tion they are concerned about themselves, and yet they do not feel in any way fearful or disturbed when facing danger. The idea seems to be something like our ability to appreciate when two other people are in love because we understand what being in love is like. Or, more true to cases of facing something dangerous oneself, it is like realizing that one indeed loves another (being aware that one is in love with them) but one does not feel love for them. If such a thing were possible it would help alleviate the epistemological difficulties, mentioned earlier, that face anyone who holds that virtuous agents don’t have any sense of fear, for it would allow them to identify, assess, and respond to dan¬ gerous situations without feeling afraid. I am not convinced, however, that the distinction between “being afraid” and “feeling afraid” stands up to scrutiny. And I believe the same goes for Jiang Xinyan’s distinction between “the emotion or atti¬ tude of fear” and the “feeling of fear.” Being afraid of something entails the idea that one fears it. When we tell our children that there is no need to be afraid of some imagined fear, it’s because we want to relieve their very real, though unwarranted, fear. Jiang’s statement of this pur¬ ported distinction has greater prima facie plausibility but only because it obscures the difference between having an emotional resource and using that resource. To have the emotional resource of fear or love means among other things that one understands and appreciates what it is to experience such feelings and what makes them significant in a human life. However, when we use such emotional resources to iden¬ tify, assess, and respond to situations, persons, or things that present proper occasions to fear or to love, we don’t just have them as a re¬ source; we experience these feelings. As I will argue below, this does not mean that we experience them in their most intense or full-blown forms, but in order to have them function properly as part of our epis¬ temological machinery, they must be engaged and felt. To experience a feeling does not necessarily mean to feel its full force, much less be in its grip. In a similar way, one can feel sick with¬ out having all the symptoms of the flu and without being debilitated by the disease. Here is where we should look to draw important distinc¬ tions among various senses in which we can experience feelings like

The Virtue of Courage in the Mencius


fear or love. A person can feel love or fear in ways that enable them to identify, assess, and respond to such emotions—to really understand what such feelings are like and what significance they hold—without being overwhelmed by them. As I will argue shortly, this points toward a more plausible reading of Mengzi’s notion oibuclongxin, but such a reading requires that one abandon the idea that Mengzi s sage feels no fear. Before presenting the evidence for my proposed interpretation, though, I would like to say one more thing about the view that Jiang and Van Norden defend. In particular, I would like to challenge the idea that it can be attributed to James Wallace. Van Norden quotes from Wallace’s highly insightful work Virtues and Vices, In thinking of fear, there is a tendency to think exclusively of the set of physiological occurrences and feelings that accompany panic and terror. . . . Such physical changes and the feelings that accompany them, however, are but one aspect or facet of fear, which is a far more complex and complicated phenomenon. . . . Being afraid of something can be thought of as a syndrome of symptoms; in a particular case, certain symptoms may be par¬ ticularly pronounced while other symptoms may be slight or even missing altogether.16 I take Wallace to be saying that emotions like fear are in fact far more complex and subtle than we commonly take them to be. He implies what is a well-attested though often underappreciated fact, that human beings commonly think of such emotions in terms of para¬ digmatic or prototypical representatives of the kind. In the case of fear, the prototypes are panic or terror. Other cases of fear are seen as related to such prototypes by way of a general family resemblance. This tends to obscure the fact that certain characteristic features of the prototypes—particular “symptoms” like shaking, sweating, or labored breathing—“may be slight or even missing altogether” in many cases of genuine fear. Rather than establishing a dichotomy between “being afraid” or having the “emotion or attitude of fear” on the one hand, and “feeling afraid” on the other, Wallace is proposing something very similar to what I have described above. Just as in the case of having a mild case of a disease, one can have mild experiences of emotions like love or fear in which only certain “symptoms” of the prototypical example are present. A mild case of the flu is still the flu. One may not


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

manifest the full range of flu symptoms, and one may not be incapac¬ itated by the disease; but still it causes one to feel ill. A mild feeling of fear is still a feeling of fear. One may not show all of the prototypical symptoms of terror or panic, and ones fear may not leave one unable to act or in anyway moved to abandon ones aim; but still on e feels fear. This offers us a way toward a plausible and revealing interpretation of Mengzi s notion of budongxin. The expression budongxin is literally “not” (bu) “moved” (dong) “heart and mind” (xin), and like their English counterparts, the Chi¬ nese words allow for at least two interpretations. The first, discussed above, is the interpretation advocated by most contemporary scholars. On this reading, the cultivated person is “unmoved” in the sense of being wholly unaffected by the danger she confronts. On the second interpretation, cultivated people feel fear but are “unmoved” in the sense of not being deflected or deterred from the course they have cho¬ sen. I advocate the second interpretation on the grounds of both philo¬ sophical charity and collateral textual evidence. The case from philosophical charity has already been presented in our earlier discussions of Aristotle and the reigning interpretation. A person without any real sense of fear seems to lack the ability to reli¬ ably identify, assess, and respond to fearful situations, and their indif¬ ference to what is truly dangerous appears to be more a disability than an excellence. Moreover, such a view strains against the widespread intuition that at least part of what it is to be courageous involves con¬ trolling ones fear. For these reasons, a more charitable reading of Mengzi would allow that the sage feels fear but somehow is not un¬ done by it. Other passages in the text support such a reading. For example, in 6A10, Mengzi tells us, [My own] life is something that I very much desire. The right is something that I very much desire. If I cannot have them both, I will give up my life and choose what is right. [My own] life is something that I very much desire. However, there are things that I desire even more than [my own] life. This is why I will not do what is improper in order to preserve my life. [My own] death is something that I very much wu [loathe]. However, there are things that I loathe even more than [my own] death. This is why there are difficulties that I do not avoid.

The Virtue of Courage in the Mencius


Here Mengzi explicitly states that virtuous agents who face extreme adversity and risk death are fully aware of how bad it is and intensely dislike the prospect. Yet despite finding the thought of their own death repulsive, they do not turn away from such threats when these stand in the way of doing what is right. The good person feels the danger and loathes the prospect of dying but is unmoved in their pursuit of the good. In addition to such textual evidence, Mengzis general view, noted earlier, about the role that emotions and sensibilities play in true moral knowledge and proper deliberation, offers additional sup¬ port for understanding him as saying that the fully virtuous agent feels but remains undeterred by fear. The feeling of fear enables the virtu¬ ous agent to identify and assess what is dangerous, incorporate such judgments into her deliberations, and respond appropriately. And yet the virtuous agent is not deterred from acting, nor is her perception or deliberation eroded or undermined by fear; she manifests what Mengzi calls an unmoved mind. Mengzi s budongxin connotes, not a mind that is wholly unaffected by danger, but rather one that is not undone by fear. There is only one other passage in the Mengzi (6B15) where the notion of the heart and mind being moved or unsettled is discussed. The pertinent section of 6B15 says, And so when Heaven is about to confer a great responsibility upon someone, it will first visit suffering upon his heart and mind; it will labor his muscles and weary his bones, subject him to hunger and other forms of deprivation; it will confound and confuse his undertakings—all in order to “unsettle his mind” (.dongxin), exercise his nature and enable him to develop the capabilities that he lacks. While the parallel with 2A2 is imperfect, the use of the expression dongxin here supports the proposed interpretation of budongxin. For 6B15 tells us that it is only when people are profoundly shaken and undone by adversity that they are roused to steel themselves and develop their full potential. The passage describes a person who is both physically and psychologically shaken, exhausted, and disoriented. Here, dongxin means “to unsettle or upset the mind.” A person in such a state is beaten down, frustrated, and confused, and this purportedly is what stimulates them to develop themselves to face and overcome


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

such adversities in the future. This describes the person just starting out on the process of self-cultivation which is to lead to the ideal state of having a budongxin: the state in which one is unmoved by adversity or danger.

CONCLUSION In conclusion I would like to review and further explore some of the similarities and differences between Aristotle’s and Mengzi’s re¬ spective conceptions of courage, paying particular attention to some of the distinctive features of Mengzi’s view. Like Aristotle, Mengzi developed his account of courage in re¬ sponse to more macho contemporary ideas. Aristotle presents a civi¬ lized account of courage; he conceives of courage exclusively in terms of bravery on the field of battle but insists that such displays of courage must be directly linked to the greater good of the polls and regulated by other virtues. Mengzi presents a fully ethicized account in which courage is not exclusively or even primarily wedded to bravery on the field of battle. While Mengzi does draw illustrative contrasts and analo¬ gies between his ideal and martial courage, his paradigmatic examples of those with “great courage” are people who are steadfast and un¬ daunted in their pursuit of ethical or political—not military—goals. Another way of describing this difference in their accounts of courage is to say that Aristotle presents true courage as a domesticated version of a more fundamental and wild aspect of our nature whereas Mengzi maintains that the power of “great courage” arises exclusively out of a process of ethical self-cultivation. If one accepts my proposed interpretation of Mengzi’s view of courage, one will see Mengzi as agreeing with Aristotle in holding that even the fully cultivated person at times feels fear. Thus both endorse the intuition that controlling such fear is part of what it is to be coura¬ geous. Mengzi offers a distinctive and rich account of how one can come to control fear. In order to possess “great courage” one must undertake a process of moral self-cultivation and build up a proper reserve of “spiritual energy” (haoran zhi qi). In the course of this pro¬ cess, one develops an understanding and appreciation of what is right and a growing commitment to pursue it. Such people seek the good buoyed by their desire to experience the satisfaction and joy that comes

The Virtue of Courage in the Mencius


from reflecting upon past ethical actions and propelled by a deepen¬ ing reservoir of spiritual energy. In combination, these provide the virtuous agent with the motivation and inspiration to pursue the good through even the most daunting of difficulties. Someone who has cul¬ tivated herself in this way attains an “unmoved mind” which allows her to deliberate and respond to threats and dangers without being dis¬ tracted, deterred, or undone. Her love of the good and her ample reserve of spiritual energy effectively quell the fear she feels. Mengzi also is like Aristotle in endorsing a version of the unity of the virtues. However, here again we see important differences.17 Unlike Aristotle, Mengzi is not interested in the question of what real courage is. His project of identifying, sorting, and ranking different types of courage keeps him from a cluster of problems that haunt Aris¬ totelian accounts about the unity of the virtues. Mengzi accepts that courage in an ethically unworthy cause is still courage, but he doesn’t see this as a particularly important type of courage. Moreover, such courage is not necessarily united with other virtues. However, “great courage” presents a very different case. Since “great courage” arises only through moral self-cultivation, it is inextricably connected with and sustained by the other virtues and in particular by Mengzi s core virtues of “benevolence,” “right,” “propriety,” and the “feelings of right and wrong.” Though there are differences in their respective treatments, Mengzi and Aristotle agree that both habituation and a commitment to the good are crucial features of true courage. The habituation that can result from repeated exposure to danger is one important way we learn to deal with it, and such habituation entails both desensitivity to threats and behavioral reinforcement. True courage, or what Mengzi calls “great courage,” also must be informed and propelled by a com¬ mitment to the good. However, Mengzi does not seem to agree with Aristotle’s claim that confidence in one’s developing ability to deal with danger plays a critical role in the cultivation of courage. Nor does he seem to endorse the idea that moral courage taps into and redirects more wild or “spirited” aspects of our nature. In both cases, the dif¬ ference between Mengzi and Aristotle seems to point to a difference in types of courage. Aristotle may well be correct to insist on the fea¬ tures he argues for when bravery on the field of battle is taken to be the paradigmatic case of courage. Indeed, teaching new recruits to trust in their soldierly skills, and inciting them to tap into their natural


Courage in Philosophy and Literature

tendencies toward aggression, competition, and even revenge are cen¬ tral features of military training today. However, these insights seem less germane to moral struggles that he outside the theater of battle. For such cases, Mengzi has a great deal to offer. In particular he pro¬ vides a more adequate account of how we cultivate the “great courage” that senes as his ideal. Mengzi’s approach to the issue of whether courage presents anything like the unit)' of the virtues strikes me, at least initially, as more promising than Aristotle’s. While almost ever)7 virtue can go wrong, there seems to be an inherent ambiguity to the ethical valance of courage. Therefore an approach that begins by identifving, sorting, and assessing different types of courage seems like a good first step. How¬ ever, there is still a great deal of work that needs to be done before this issue can be considered settled. Such is also the case when we come to the details of how7 one cultivates the virtue of courage. I have sug¬ gested that Aristotle’s best insights in this regard tend to be more ger¬ mane to the case of courage under fire, but I do not mean to suggest that they do not find important applications in other cases of courage as well. These and related aspects of the virtue of courage require more extensive reflection and more careful analvsis than I have time to pro¬ vide here. I hope though that I have made at least plausible—perhaps even attractive—the idea that such work might best be done within a comparative framework that includes the early Confucian Mengzi.18

NOTES 1 - For a moving and insightful application of Homeric ideals of courage and camaraderie to analyze contemporary combat experience, see Jonathan Shay, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (New York: Atheneum Books, 1994). 2. For a lucid description of these features of Aristotle’s view of courage, see Charles Young, “Aristotle on Courage,” in Humanitas: Essays in Honor of Ralph Ross, ed. Quincy Howe (Claremont, Calif.: Scripps Col¬ lege, 1977), pp. 194—203. 3. The most illuminating discussions of this issue in Aristotle’s phi¬ losophy are “The Unity7 of Virtue” in John Cooper, Reason and Emotion (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999), pp. 76-117; Terence Irwin, “Disunity7 in the .Aristotelian Virtues,” Oxford Studies in Ancient Phi¬ losophy Supplementary Volume (1988): 61-78; Richard Kraut, “Comments

The Virtue of Courage in the Mencius


on Disunity in the Aristotelian Virtues’, by T.H. Irwin,” Oxford Studies in

Ancient Philosophy Supplementary Volume (1988): 79-86; and Gary Watson, “The Virtues in Excess,” Philosophical Studies 46 (1984): 57-74. 4. See Aristotle Nichomachean Ethics 1115a30ff. Aristotle did recog¬ nize that the “military courage” of professional soldiers—which relies solely on confidence in their soldierly skills—is only a semblance of real courage.

(See Nichomachean Ethics 1116b5ffand Eudemian Ethics 1229al2ff.) Never¬ theless, properly motivated and directed military courage—martial courage directed toward ethically good ends—serves as his ideal. 5. A similar point is made by Charles Young in “Aristotle on Courage,” pp. 201-2. 6. For examples, see Mengzi 1B3 and 2A2. Mengzi explicitly rejects unwarranted displays of courage. See, for example, 4B23 and 4B30. 7. Mengzi 2A2. 8. Ibid. For a discussion of this and related passages, see Philip J. Ivanhoe, Confucian Moral Self Cultivation, 2d rev. ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co., 2000), pp. 16-17. 9. Mengzi 2A2. 10. Ibid. 11. Ibid. 12. Ibid. 13. While I translate xin as “heart and mind,” it is important to note that Mengzi is here concerned not witii the heart and mind as a whole but rather with the disposition or intention to do the good. My thanks to Martin Powers for bringing this to my attention. 14. See Lee H. Yearley, Mencius and Aquinas: Theories of Virtue and

Conceptions of Courage (Albany: SUNY Press, 1990), pp. 144-59; Jiang Xinyan, “Mencius on Human Nature and Courage” Journal of Chinese Phi¬ losophy 24 (1997): 265-89; and Donald J. Munro, The Concept of Man in Early China (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1969), p. 153. 15. See Bryan W. Van Norden, “Mencius on Courage,” in Midwest Studies in Philosophy Vol. 21, Philosophy of Religion, ed. Peter A. French, Theodore E. Uehling, Jr., and Howard K. Wettstein (Notre Dame, Ind.: Uni¬ versity of Notre Dame Press, 1997), pp. 237-56. 16. Ibid., p. 248. 17. I have benefited greatly from Eric L. Huttons careful and insight¬ ful treatment of the unity of the virtues in Xunzi s philosophy. See his “Virtue and Reason in Xunzi” (Ph.D. diss., Stanford University, 2001). 18. My thanks to Mark Csikszentmihalyi, Stephen Darwall, Eric L. Hutton, T. C. Kline, LiuXiusheng, Martin Powers, Ian Proops, and Cynthia G. Swinehart for helpful comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this essay.



Courage in War Peace and Nation Building

Courage, Duty, and Robert E. Lee JOHN M. TAYLOR

My participation in this volume represents a bit of a challenge, for this topic is not easily defined. I have reflected on the number of ways in which one could make a really bad presentation. The possibilities are endless, but high on my list of perils has been to deviate excessively from courage and pontificate unnecessarily on related virtues, such as gallantry, heroism, and daring. Such meandering remains a danger, in part because qualities like courage, bravery, and endurance are closely related. But the Random House Unabridged Dictionary has been a friend. It defines bravery as “that confident fortitude or daring that actively faces and endures anything threatening.” At the same time, it notes that courage “implies a higher or nobler kind of bravery, especially as resulting from an inborn quality of mind or spirit that faces perils or difficulties without fear.” It can be helpful in considering courage to note what it is not. During World War II, my father. General Maxwell Taylor, commanded an elite army unit, the 101st Airborne Division. It was made up largely of volunteers—dead-end kids who loved jumping out of airplanes. My father used to tell of two paratroopers who got into a fight when one called the other “chicken.” Someone suggested a form of airborne duel—the two antagonists would eject from a plane, and the last one to open his chute would be the winner. On the day in question, a group of interested spectators gathered at the airfield. At the appointed hour a C-47 carrying the two rivals flew over, and the two men jumped simultaneously. Just when the onlook¬ ers were certain that neither chute would open in time there was a flicker of silk from one backpack and then from the other. According to my father, the one who had opened a split second later than his adversary confronted the loser and shouted, “I always knew you were yellow!” 83


Courage in War, Peace, and Nation Building

The moral of this tale, I believe, is that there is a difference between courage and bravado. Bravado has no “inborn quality of mind or spirit.” Military commanders have for centuries been obliged to deal with problems of motivation. How does one make soldiers risk their lives in the performance of duty for which material reward is negligible, and the penalty for becoming a casualty is ghastly? The American Civil War is an especially useful forum for a discussion of military motivation. Although every war produces its share of heroes and shirkers, many observers—contemporary and otherwise—have remarked on the brav¬ ery that seemed commonplace on Civil War battlefields. A Federal offi¬ cer who fought at the Battle of Antietam marveled at the valor of his enemies, writing, It is beyond all wonder how such men as the rebel troops can fight on as they do; that, filthy, sick, hungry, and miserable, they should prove such heroes in fight, is past explanation. . . . Though the air around them was vocal with the whistle of bullets and screams of shells, there they stood.1 When General John A. Wickham, chief of staff of the U.S. Army in the 1980s, made a visit to the Antietam battlefield, he was equally im¬ pressed. After examining a section of tire field where repeated Federal assaults had been thrown back, he remarked, “You couldn’t get Ameri¬ can soldiers today to make an attack like that.”2 Perhaps our soldiers today are smarter, and less disposed to fol¬ low orders blindly. But why did Civil War soldiers do it? By the stan¬ dards of European armies, they were poorly trained. Many officers were elected to their posts in what amounted to popularity contests; as a result, discipline was often lax. This situation makes tire fighting quali¬ ties of our Civil War armies especially remarkable. That the war in¬ spired courage as it did speaks to the values of that day. The concepts of duty and honor were important to nineteenth-century Americans. The culture of rural America held the individual, not society, respon¬ sible for his or her own actions, and valor on the battlefield was uni¬ versally respected. Letters from Civil War soldiers reflect the fact that much was expected of them, that character counted. A Confederate from Missouri wrote home, “I would be less than a man if in any way I fell short of the discharge of duty at my country’s call.”3

Courage, Duty, and Robert E. Lee


Civil War soldiers, moreover, were extremely sensitive to the view in which they were held by their comrades. Being seen as a brave sol¬ dier was especially important because many regiments came from the same locality. Behavior in battle, brave or otherwise, was likely to be¬ come common knowledge in ones hometown. The men in both armies reflected on what made a good soldier. A New England soldier wrote home, “I don’t know of a single fist-fighting bully but what he makes a

cowardly soldier.”4 If soldiers worried about how they were perceived by their com¬ rades, they also thirsted for glory. The first year of the war saw a rush to the colors in both the North and the South. Throughout the war, hopes of promotion and honors acted as a spur to many soldiers. They wrote home of their desire to distinguish themselves in battle and thus to gain promotion. This initial fervor, however, did not last. As the war dragged on and casualties mounted, enthusiasm waned. For any infantry attack to succeed there had to be “file closers”—reliable veterans who filled gaps in the line and discouraged malingering, by shooting the offenders if necessary'. At the same Antietam battlefield that so impressed General Wickham, the Confederate commander, Robert E. Lee, saw one of “Stonewall” Jackson s soldiers heading for the rear at the height oi the battle, carrying a Yankee farmers squealing pig. Furious, Lee ordered the soldier arrested and told Jackson to have him shot. With a battle in the balance, Jackson chose instead to return the skulker to a por¬ tion of the front where the firing was hottest. He emerged unscathed, prompting one of Lees aides to comment that the malingerer “had lost his pig but saved his bacon.” In summary, the fortitude of Civil War soldiers sprang from a number of sources, including a strong concept of duty, devotion to cause, peer pressure, and a desire for recognition. In most societies, bravery has carried with it recognition and reward. William James has written, No matter what a mans frailties otherwise may be, if he is will¬ ing to risk death, and still more if he suffer it heroically . . . the fact consecrates him forever.... We cling to life, and [if] he is able “to fling it away like a flower,” as caring nothing for it, we account him in the deepest way our bom superior.5


Courage in War, Peace, and Nation Building

But whereas bravery, as we have seen, may derive from many sources, courage—that “higher or nobler kind of bravery”—comes largely from within. Often, it includes an element of endurance. We know the stoiy of John McCain, who not only endured five years of Communist brutality, but also refused repatriation ahead of prisoners who had been captured earlier. We find such courage, however, not only among people like John McCain but in all who accept with grace ill health, bereavement, and misfortune. A good friend of mine, who was my superior at the State Department in the 1960s, became the highest-ranking American civilian to be captured by the enemy in Viet¬ nam. Phil Manhard endured five years of captivity, most of it in soli¬ tary confinement, and, like McCain, came close to death before his release in 1973. An interview following his return included the follow¬ ing exchange: Q: How did you occupy yourself for five years of solitary con¬ finement? A: I dwelt on the good things. I refused to succumb to self-pity. I’d go back and relive the happiest moments. ... I played over golf courses I knew in my mind. When a baguette replaced the rice in my meals, I molded bits of the bread into a chess set. Play¬ ing chess with myself was good therapy; the problem was that I always knew what move the other player was going to make!6 Courage can be personal, as it was for Phil Manhard, or it can be on behalf of a cause. In the final year of World War I, it was touch and go as to whether fresh American troops would arrive in France in time to turn back Ludendorff’s 1918 offensive. General John J. Pershing, commanding the American Expeditionary Force, was under constant pressure to feed American soldiers piecemeal into the trenches. Per¬ shing refused. He deplored the senseless war of attrition that he had observed from the United States, and he did not intend for his soldiers to be sacrificed in futile attacks against German defenses. He was not clear in his own mind how a degree of mobility could be restored to the Western front, but he was certain that American soldiers would be better off under American officers than under French or British command. He compromised at times, but for the most part he stuck to his guns. When we move to World War II, who better epitomized courage than Winston Churchill? We all know that Britain stood alone after

Courage, Duty, and Robert E. Lee


Hitlers legions had overrun France. Russia was not yet in the war, and there was sufficient isolationist sentiment in the United States to keep this country on the sidelines. What we now know is that there was strong sentiment in Churchill’s own party to negotiate with Germany, employing Italy as an intermediary. But Churchill viewed Hitler as a threat to every civilized value, and set about mobilizing first his own cabinet and then his nation for a struggle that would devastate Britain before victory was achieved. On a strictly military level, there are few better examples of courage than that demonstrated by General Dwight Eisenhower when he ordered the D-day invasion of Europe. The Western Allies were under heavy pressure to open the promised second front against Ger¬ many. To do so, however, would require the greatest amphibious op¬ eration in history across the ever-unpredictable English Channel. Although the Americans and the British had assembled an enormous force in sou thern England, it would be days—if not weeks—before the Allies’ numerical strength could make itself felt. The invasion was postponed once because of bad weather in the Channel, but on the evening of June 5, Eisenhower decided, after con¬ sulting with his weather men, that the invasion would take place the next day, when the winds and rain were expected to abate for a brief period. Had Ike’s gamble failed, the consequences would have been disastrous. Landing craft would have been swamped at sea. Those that succeeded in reaching the beaches would be ferrying sick, exhausted soldiers. Had the invasion failed—and Eisenhower had drafted a state¬ ment to be issued in this contingency—the war in Europe would prob¬ ably have been extended for several years, and Dwight Eisenhower would certainly not have commanded the next invasion. Both Pershing and Eisenhower could have hedged on critical de¬ cisions. Pershing might have deferred to the wishes of France’s leaders, on the ground that it was important to maintain Allied unity. But the cemeteries of France are filled with the headstones of British soldiers who were delivered to German machine guns by obliging British com¬ manders. Eisenhower might have postponed D-day until the weather forecast was perfect, even though the Germans would have been on high alert in such weather. Was Harry Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan a similar example of courage? I would argue that it was not, on two grounds. First, the stakes were not so high. Our enemy was on the

Courage in War, Peace, and Nation Building


ropes, and some historians maintain that Japan would have surren¬ dered in the summer of 1945 even if we had not employed the Bomb. But a second reason why Truman s action was not morally noteworthy grows out of Truman’s own attitude toward nuclear weapons. He saw them as just one more weapon in his arsenal, and indicated repeatedly after the war that he had had no compunction about employing them. What can one say about courage in connection with one of Americas foremost soldiers, Robert E. Lee? While most Americans may be familiar with Lees story in general outline, a brief refresher may be in order. Lee, the son of a Revolutionary hero—“Light-Horse Harry” Lee—was born and reared in Virginia. He decided on an army career, and carved out a brilliant record in a variety of humdrum post¬ ings. He served on General Winfield Scott’s staff in the Mexican War, and the combination of bravery and judgment he demonstrated in sev¬ eral reconnaissance missions led Scott to proclaim Lee the most prom¬ ising officer in the army. When the Civil War broke out, Lee was fifty-four years old. His hair was turning gray, but his broad shoulders and erect carriage conveyed a sense of strength and endurance. Lee’s good looks and handsome bearing had a special meaning for his contemporaries, for nineteenth-century Americans saw the face as a mirror to the soul. But in Lee’s case it was more than appearance; there was something about him that impressed people, whatever their station. Those who dealt with him regularly were exposed to Lee’s occasional temper, but never¬ theless recognized and appreciated his courtesy, dignity, and lack of pretension. Among the legends that surround Lee, it is said that he struggled through a sleepless night in April of 1861, torn as to whether or not he should resign his commission in the U.S. Army. Mrs. Lee later wrote of hearing the tread of his boots throughout a long night. Well, we do not know the cause of Lee’s insomnia, but his correspondence in the year before Lort Sumter indicates that Lee, although opposed to seces¬ sion, had concluded that his primary loyalty was to Virginia. No special courage here. At this time, on General Scott’s urging, Lee was being wooed by the North. An emissary for President Lincoln, Lrancis P. Blair, was sent to offer Lee command of the Lederal army then in formation. Lor Lee, the moment was charged with irony. He had served more than a decade in the U.S. Army at the regular rank of captain, and only recently had

Courage, Duty, and Robert E. Lee


been promoted to colonel. Now he was offered a general’s commission and the command of a great host. If ever there was temptation to reconsider ones commitment, this was it. Lees admirers would later compare it to the temptation of Christ. But no one has challenged Lee’s version of his response, and it required some courage: After listening to [Blair’s] remarks, I declined the offer he made to me . . . stating, as candidly and as courteously as I could, that, although opposed to secession and deprecating war, I could take no part in an invasion of the Southern States.7 If there was one virtue that Lee possessed in abundance, it was the courage of his convictions. And if this quality is in fact “an inborn quality of mind or spirit,” Lee would soon have ample opportunities to display it on a succession of American battlefields. Lee first took command of the army with which he would be long associated, the Army of Northern Virginia, in June 1862. At that time the Federal army under General George McClellan had advanced, inexorably, to a point where the spires of Richmond were within view, and the fall of the Confederate capital seemingly imminent. And when Lee took command of his army, he did so under stressful conditions, the wounding of its first commander, General Joe Johnston. Only weeks after taking command, however, Lee assumed the offensive. His plan was audacious for any commander, and even more so for one who had never fought a major battle. Lee planned to send the bulk of his 85,000 men against Federal forces north of the Chickahominy River, leaving only 27,000 Confederates to hold the line against 75,000 Federals south of the river. Only with difficulty could Lee sell this risky plan to Jefferson Davis, whose approval he required. Never¬ theless, in seven days of confused fighting, Lee maneuvered the enemy away from Richmond, and it would be nearly two years before the Fed¬ erals were again able to threaten the Confederate capital. Lee’s greatest single victory came nearly a year later in the Battle of Chancellorsville, and the circumstances are worth recalling. Although the Confederates had all but driven their enemies out of Virginia in the Second Manassas campaign, the Army of the Potomac now had a new, vigorous commander in General Joe Hooker, who obtained President Lincoln’s approval for a spring offensive. To keep Lee guessing as to his intentions, Hooker committed two corps to threatening Fredericksburg from the east, keeping five other corps with which to deal with Lee. To initiate his campaign he then


Courage in War, Peace, and Nation Building

ordered a large-scale cavalry raid to the west, with the aim of severing Lees communications with Richmond. Once Lee learned that his single rail link was cut. Hooker theorized, the Confederates would have to evacuate Fredericksburg and retreat. When the Confederates began to pull back, Hooker would cross the Rappahannock with three corps, march to Chancellorsville, and there attack the flank of Lees retreat¬ ing army. Hooker not only had a promising plan, but he had nearly a three-to-one advantage in manpower. The Federal commander told his officers, “My plans are perfect, and when I start to carry them out, may God have mercy on General Lee, for I will have none.”8 Time will not permit a detailed discussion of Lee’s Chancellors\ille campaign. We know the outcome. The Federal plan depended on Lee’s responding to Federal moves as Hooker expected him to, and this was not Lee’s way. He concluded that the Federal threat to Fred¬ ericksburg was essentially a diversion, and turned his attention to Hooker’s main force. Even then Lee had only 40,000 men with which to face Hooker’s 75,000. R was on May 2 that Lee, after conferring at length with Stone¬ wall Jackson, made his most courageous decision of the war: to send Jackson with half of Lee’s army on a 14-mile march to attack—if all went well—the exposed right flank of the Federal army. As we know, all went extremely well for the Confederates, and Jackson’s surprise attack routed the Federals. But if Hooker had chosen to attack Lee’s small holding force while Jackson was marching west, the road to Richmond would have been open. Was diere a secret to Lee’s success? He was modest to a fault, and the closest he ever came to offering a battlefield philosophy was in a conversation later in the war: “I plan and work with all my might to bring the troops to the right place at the right time,” he said. “Midi that I have done my duty. As soon as I order the troops forward into battle, I lay the fate of my army in the hands of God.”9 Lee s critics have pointed out that although Lee won victories, he won them at considerable cost in casualties. The human cost of Lee’s campaigns was indeed heavy, and was justifiable onlv because his bat¬ tles assured foi a time the survival of the Confederacy. Lee’s courage extended to risking his own life and the lives of his men on the battle¬ field. War meant killing. In this acceptance he differed from at least one of his Federal opponents. General McClellan, who was a brave sol¬ dier and a skillful military organizer, but who could not steel himself to make tough decisions when a battle hung in the balance.

Courage, Duty, and Robert E. Lee


Part of Lees strength lay in his religion, for Lee was not merely a pious soldier; he was a devout Christian whose profession happened to be that of arms. As a soldier, Lee waged war without demonizing the foe. He worked hard at being a good man, finding comfort in doing what he perceived to be his duty. His belief that a divine Providence ruled human affairs made him a conservative in temporal affairs— slavery he saw as an evil, but one that would persist until Providence ruled otherwise. An essential part of Lees personality was his respect for consti¬ tuted authority. When Virginia seceded from the Union, Lee went along, despite grave doubts about the wisdom of secession. During the war he maintained cordial relations with President Jefferson Davis, a notably prickly personality, because Lee never failed to accord Davis the deference he required. By any of our standard criteria, Lee was a man of courage as well as a brave soldier. But late in the war his courage would be tested in a curious way, as Lees deference to Davis became a factor in military operations. By 1864 the Army of Northern Virginia was no longer a mobile force, capable at any time of threatening Washington. In this extremity, Lee wanted to abandon Richmond and maintain an army in the field, much as Washington had done so effectively in the Revo¬ lution. But the development that Lee had most feared—trench war¬ fare to defend Richmond—had come to pass. Alas, even after Lincoln s reelection had destroyed the South s last chance for a negotiated peace, Davis could not bring himself to aban¬ don Richmond. And Lee, for his part, was tom between his respect for Davis and the office he held and his duty toward the ragged soldiers who had followed him so long. Lee was a private person, but on March 3 he conferred at length with one of his veteran corps commanders, General John B. Gordon. In a farmhouse outside Petersburg, Lee motioned Gordon to a seat and proceeded to read excerpts from the strength reports of various units. In Gordons recollection, the numbers were bad enough, but Gordon was unprepared for the accompanying picture of extreme destitution— the shortage of shoes, clothing, and blankets, as well as food. Lee asked Gordon what he would recommend under these cir¬ cumstances, and the latter offered three options in order of their practicality: surrender, abandon Richmond and seek to unite with Joe Johnston in North Carolina, or attack Grants lines, however hopeless that prospect. In the silence that followed, Gordon asked Lee what he


Courage in War, Peace, and Nation Building

thought, and the army commander agreed with his subordinate s gloomy analysis. Gordon then asked whether Lee had made his views known to Davis and the Confederate congress. In Gordon s recollection, [Lee] replied that he had not, that he scarcely felt authorized to suggest to the civil authorities the advisability of making terms.... He said that he was a soldier, that it was his province to obey the orders of the Government, and to advise or counsel with the civil authorities only upon questions directly affecting his army and its defense of the capital and the country.10 Lee would continue to do his duty, but where did that duty lie? His initial commitment to the Confederacy had sprung from a sense that he owed a stronger loyalty to Virginia than to the Federal union. Now, faced with defeat in the field, he was torn by his loyalty to civil authority and a competing loyalty to the soldiers who had followed him so long and fought so bravely. In the end, Lee saw his duty as requir¬ ing him to defer to civil authority, and he did so for as long as there was a functioning government in Richmond. Lees statement to Gordon of a soldiers responsibility would reso¬ nate throughout the American military for many decades. His belief that the army must remain apart from politics would be endorsed at various times by John J. Pershing, George C. Marshall, and Dwight Eisenhower. It is one reason why America has never had a “man on horseback.” But a nagging thought remains: Did Lee owe a greater fealty to Jefferson Davis than to his own soldiers? Should the man of courage not have confronted Davis, and demanded at minimum the evacuation of Richmond? So much for General Lee. As we noted earlier, courage can be demonstrated on ones own behalf, or on behalf of a cause. When John McCain speaks of what he experienced in the Hanoi Hilton, he gives the impression that he resisted his tormentors both as a matter of prin¬ ciple and as a surrogate for his fellow U.S. Navy aviators. But courage on behalf of a cause raises the question, What cause? In World War II, as the Allies reduced Hitlers principal cities to rubble, Germans were exhorted to endure through thick and thin, to stick it out together. And so they did, producing the weapons of war and fight¬ ing from street to street on behalf of a brutal, discredited regime. Japa¬ nese soldiers defended Pacific islands such as I wo Jima and Okinawa

Courage, Duty, and Robert E. Lee


so fiercely that Americans were unwilling to credit them with courage as it was understood in the West; rather, the Japanese were dismissed as fanatics. Though courage is not always employed in worthy causes, we tend to regard it, properly, as the virtue without which other virtues lose their meaning. What are convictions without courage? Perhaps our conclusion should be that courage cannot stand alone. Whereas other virtues—honesty, moral excellence, prudencemay be practiced independently, courage can be found in the service of unworthy as well as noble causes. Courage deserves its high place in the pantheon of virtues, but it is best employed in combination with judgment, compassion, and righteousness.

NOTES 1. Otto Eisenschiml and Ralph Newman, The Civil War as We Lived It (New York: Bobbs Merrill, 1956), pp. 262-63. 2. James M. McPherson, For Cause 6- Comrades (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 5. 3. Ibid., p. 26. 4. Ibid., p. 8. 5. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Library of America, 1987), p. 330. 6. “Interview with Phil Manhard,” Key Reporter, Winter 1996-97, p. 6. 7. John M. Taylor, Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E. Lee and His

Critics (Washington, D.C.: Brasseys, 1999), p. 48. 8. Stephen W. Sears, Chancellorsville (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1996), p. 120. 9. Taylor, Duty Faithfully Performed, p. 69. 10. Ibid., p. 207.

Courage Is a Verb; Do It



And God will judge between the nations, and will render deci¬ sions for many peoples. And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift sword against nation. Never again will they learn war. (Isa. 2:4) I suppose in the lexicon of most believers there are one or two com¬ manding texts, words that beckon up and away from “the paralysis of analysis,” as Dr. Martin Luther King had it. Beckon us to—doing it. At that point, perhaps, we touch on the point of Christianity itself, as Kierkegaard wrote. Surely he was the great and dour decrier of a Christianity that remained “an inert truth,” as Whitehead would put it; or a Christianity that remained merely “notional,” as Newman would put it. In any case, Kierkegaard scorned a religion dead and buried in the mind—a religion that put to naught an essentially commanding word and summons. Do it. To me, this text of Isaiah has been pure summons—a vigo¬ rous text, designed to set the human in motion. Stand there indeed, but do something! The congruence between the times in which the oracle was first issued, and our own times, is striking, unsettling, close. Isaiah spoke in the eighth century before Christ, a time of imperial darkness, of wars and rumors of wars, of duplicity in high places. Isaiah entered delib¬ erately upon this scene of desolating power. His method was, to say the least, unsettling to conventional re¬ ligion and politics. A religious figure, and the most political of men! Isaiah refused to separate public responsibility from the voice of God within. It was all quite simple; he had seen God; therefore.


Courage Is a Verb; Do It


It was, and is, a terrifying equation. He had seen God; there¬ fore he had a message for the king and the people. The premise and conclusion were forged with a fiery, dangerous simplicity; the sim¬ plicity of a saint or a madman. Isaiah seemed to have enjoyed a vogue, for a while. He was heard in the corridors of power; he had audience at the throne—for awhile. Then the war with Assyria broke; it proceeded bloodily, and was hardly resolved. Prelude to more violence; never an end of it. A war like every other war. And the fortunes of Isaiah were altered. War was resumed, his message darkened. Now he spoke only of doom and defeat; words perennially unwelcome to imperial ears. Isaiah said: the first war was only a first act. You shall now be invaded; Samariah will fall. So it transpired. And worse; eventually, a seige was laid to Jeru¬ salem by Sennacherib of Assyria. In those terrible years, Isaiah was, in one way or another, a pres¬ ence to be reckoned with. The imperial adventurers, whether foreign or domestic, felt the sting of his prophecy. He played a variety of roles: sometimes he reminds us of a court fool, sometimes of a dog impeding the wheels of the rampaging chariots. And sometimes he is an honored oracular presence, dwelling inordinately on bad outcomes to dubious enterprises. And oftener than may be thought healthy, he derides the foolish inflations of royal ego. And then, something else. He utters an oracle that seems to issue from a burning bush or a fiery epiphany. Isaiah announces—the impossible. The necessary im¬ possible, the absolutely crucial impossible; the impossible that must come to pass. That which shall come to pass, precisely because it is impossible. “They shall beat their swords into plowshares.” It is as though he were holding in suspension two fiercely incompatible elements, in a terrifying experiment. The necessary must somehow be joined to the impossible. Swords into plowshares. The oracle is absolutely crucial to the fives of nations, to the fives of individuals, to honor and a civilized sense of humanity. To the fate of the earth.


Courage in War, Peace, and Nation Building

But the oracle is also impossible of fulfillment. Therefore, the conclusion of Isaiah. Because the task is crucial, necessary; and because it is radically impossible—therefore it is true. It will come true. God has sworn it. “They shall beat swords into plowshares.” The oracle entirely sur¬ passes the human, even while it engages the human. Even while it com¬ mits, invites, commands, exacts vows, demands conversion of heart. It is in the unlikely suspension of these two, the surpassing of the human and the exaction laid on the human, that the truth of God is manifest. Indeed, the oracle surpasses the human. Is anyone in need of instruction on the subject of our helplessness, our lassitude, our sleep of death, our psychic numbness, our inertia of soul, before the uni¬ versal, dreadful nuclear predicament? And yet, and yet. The oracle, like a resurrecting command, beck¬ ons forth this very helplessness, this acceptance of dumb fate, this rehearsal of death. It implies this: You are not helpless, you are not objects of fate, you are not dead. Your despair is to your shame. Further, understand that it is not God who will beat swords into plowshares; it is yourselves. It is you, whom the times have beaten, literally—your spirit, enterprise, imagination, your very humanity— into the form of death; into that death before death which we name despair. Disarm. It must be done, and it cannot be done. And if it is to be done, it must be done by God; and it must be done by ourselves. The task is literally impossible; to our resources, to our will. More than fifty years of nuclear impasse testify, pitifully, cynically, to the impossibility. Nuclear disarmament? It is beyond all political wit and witlessness. It is impossible to Bussians, Americans, French, British, Chinese, Germans, Israelis. Impossible to Olaf Palme as to Ronald Reagan. Impossible to uncommitted nations and communist and capi¬ talist nations. The “kingdoms of darkness” and the purported kingdoms of light are equally plunged in darkness. And perhaps most striking of all, beating swords into plowshares is impossible to conventional Christianity. Such religon has offered the stalemated world, during most of these years, by no means a

Courage Is a Verb; Do It


suffering or witnessing church. It has had no oracles to offer the benighted nations. Indeed, the church could not, in any semblance of good faith, echo the oracle of Isaiah. No; the church has been the aider and abet¬ ter, the coconspirator, the hand that laid a blessing on the forging of swords. A blessing that is a curse. And yet the oracle sounds, with absolute assurance. “They shall beat swords into plowshares, their lances into pruning hooks.” “They” shall do this; which is to say, ourselves; in this generation, in our life¬ time, our adulthood—in no other. Shall our children be safe, our world salvaged? It is literally, and brutally, now or never. I fear falling into another sort of fatalism here. As though in say¬ ing “now or never,” I were saying something like this: “The famous clock of die nuclear scientists is ticking away, a time bomb. We stand to lose everything, unless we muster our resources and lay our weight to a great fulcrum, a nuclear accommodation—an Icelandic freeze, so to speak. All are agreed there are too many nukes; very well, let us reason together; let us find an acceptable number of nukes to live with, to be ‘comfortable with.’ Let us seek a marriage of convenience in Armageddon.” This is too easy in principle. It is also frivolous in political under¬ standing and doomed in practice. The oracle of Isaiah stands against all such absurd “peacekeeping,” a nuclear winter in the soul, pure numb desolate terror. Isaiah stands against; so does God. The oracle proceeds neither from expediency nor psychological necessity nor imperial arrogance, however veiled; not from armageddonists nor from nuclear nightmares; not from the spirit of blackmail, rancor, ideologies bloody or bloodless. It proceeds from a different source than these polluted ones. It pro¬ ceeds from the fidelity of God. The word implies a promise: disarmament shall happen; it is ir¬ resistible. No human will, no malevolence, no nation, not the most powerful imperium, can prevent it. The tone is absolute, for the prom¬ ise is uttered by God, and God is faithful. I have an image awakened by the text. First of all, a hand. Or bet¬ ter, many hands. The hands of women and men and children. Hands of farmers, hands of former warriors. Indeed, the text implies that all


Courage in War, Peace, and Nation Building

hands are symbolized by these two: the converted warrior, the veteran who casts his medals away; and then the farmer, cultivator, nurturer, cherisher, the “compleat ecologist,” the lover of children and of all the living. In any case, such hands, armed only with hammers, come down with force against a bared weapon. They bend it around, blunt its cruel edge, neutralize its threat. And more; for they are not mere destroyers. They transform instruments of death and maiming and blood. Trans¬ form them into something new, useful, prohuman. And yet more. In the act, those who beat the sword into its new shape are themselves transformed. You will pardon a personal vignette. As a little child, each spring I stumbled along after the plow, as my father turned the earth up, black and huge, one furrow upon another. A new, mild, breathing odor arose in the suave air, after the killing north country winter. I imagined that the giants of the earth were turning over in sleep, just short of awakening. Or I thought of the furrows as great coils of woven rope. A vast weaving of the tegument of the world was being enacted before my eyes. The child, it must be admitted, was not notably useful to the work; he went along, free and feckless, a contemplative of the new season, wandering, humming to himself, falling behind, catching up. Sometimes he had a sense of walking on black waters. The furrows dipped and rose, his unsteady feet were treading a kind of heavy earthen surf. Was the earth breathing? He remembers breathing the earth, that overpowering odor, the released soul of the soil. That world of the child, measured by later times, was small and restricted. It held before him a truth, but a partial one. Which is to say, he thought the whole world was like his world; that plowing the earth was the normal function of humans; that the odor of the earth was of soil, not blood or brimstone. He had much to learn. Only later, when he saw his four brothers enlisted for war, the truth—the reversal of the oracle of Isaiah—struck. The war was, in the cruelest of phrases, world war, total war. “For the duration,” as they said, the able-bodied laid down the plow and took up the sword.

Courage Is a Verb; Do It


Even that awful fact did not exhaust the event. In effect, the plows were not abandoned in wartime; they were beaten into swords. Swords had become the symbol of the human itself; the swordless, the unarmed (and more stigmatized, the disarmed) were simply less than human. They were shirkers, deserters, draft evaders, fit to be ostracized or jailed, or both. And if, here and there, a plow turned up the earth in those years, it turned up corpses and land mines and the discarded rusted tools of peace. During die war, the nation was conferring a new name on my four brothers. They were no longer farmers, steel workers, students. They were warriors; that was their honor, the new vocation conferred on them by holy mother state. Their lives took on an unlikely static beat. Their lives, like their clothing, went from multiform to uniform. So did their minds, their obedience, their civil baptism. They were pledged to kill; or to support those who killed. The boy learned something else. He learned a cruel new climate in which he must live. It was not yet a nuclear winter; and yet the air was like a sword at the throat. No more springtime; no climate of peace; always war, hot or cold. Hot war—Korea, Vietnam—and cold war in between. Never a season for plowing; always the season of die sword. He had much to learn, and he so slow a learner! It came to this: as long as the sword was in hand, die human vocation was violated; God lent neither presence, approval, nor blessing. In wartime, other gods, Mars or Vulcan or Jupiter, were in horrid charge, worldwide. This is the way it went, our lifetime. For decades, the gods plowed the earth with a sword blade; then they sowed die earth with dragons’ teeth: nuclear mines, bunkers, labo¬ ratories. And there sprang up a new and unheard-of race—nuclear warriors. Thus was a new history forged, an utterly spurious normalcy, a new sin. The new sin was the original sin in a new form, newly made original. And most appalling of all, conceived in the sin of war, a new species of human was born; call it the “normalized inhuman.” This phenomenon, the new human, as presented and authenti¬ cated, was a permanent figure of terror. The human was now one with the nuclear warrior.


Courage in War, Peace, and Nation Building

All other forms of the human, those which long centuries of tra¬ vail and glory had created, were thus placed in question. The believing human, the compassionate human, the just human; above all the peace¬ making human—these became peripheral to the main chance; they were severally tolerated or suspected or indicted or jailed. They were, in a sense, in the human race, but not of it. And what of the nations; more specifically, of the nuclear nations? Under such assault, the assembly of humans became, in concert, a sui¬ cide club; a mutuality of perfectly balanced hostility; teetering, bick¬ ering, lying, invading, cozening, controlling. The nations fulfilled, to the letter, the dark description of the inhuman in Paul’s letter to the Christians of Rome. The ecology of the world too, was monstrously altered; it became a forest of drawn swords, laid to the throats of the living. And still, that oracle of Isaiah. Heartening, despite all; the oracle was issued in a time analogous to our own. The lifetime of first Isaiah was as dangerous, as petrifying to the spirit, mindless, captive to illusion, appallingly belligerent. Indeed, nuclear developments have merely underscored once again the ancient stereotype and impasse faced by the prophet. A world at war, a world prepared for another war, a world grown inept in the sweet uses and skills of peace. An unlikely time to issue a word of hope! Indeed, the worst time, Isaiah dares imply, is the apt time! The kairos of God, the epiphany of God’s hope, enters the human scene at the moment when hands drop in helplessness, when all resources fail. The time when nothing can be done, when the new gods own the world—this is exactly the time of the toppling of unsteady thrones. If only we believed! I summon to our side the suffering servants of the oracle, those who have taken the hammer in hand, and beaten the nuclear sword into a plowshare. I summon Helen Woodson, mother of seven. Sentence: twelve years. Summon the Fathers Kabat, Carl and Paul. Sentences: twelve and eight years. Summon Larry Cloud Morgan. Sentence: eight years. Summon Richard Miller. Sentence: four years. Summon Darla Bradley, Jean Gump, Larry Morlan, Ken Rippetoe. Sentences: eight years. Summon John Volpe. Sentence: seven years. And so on, and so

Courage Is a Verb; Do It


on. Since 1980, over sixty Plowshares actions, over one hundred re¬ sisters. In former West Germany, England, Sweden, Australia, the United States. I summon them to our side, to our worship and intercession, sis¬ ters and brothers, Christians and Jews, prisoners and ex-prisoners of the oracle. Summon them; parents and grandparents, nuns and priests, Catholic Workers, missioners, chaplains, teachers. Summon them to our side, where they belong. Ignored as they are by the media, derided by prosecutors, scorned by judges, their fate of no great concern to churches and synagogues. In a lesser mode, but still a painful one, I summon my brothers Jerome and Philip, repeatedly jailed for nonviolent resistance. These women and men have made a beginning in the sorry and thankless task of fidelity to the oracle. No great claim; and yet through the courage of a few, the claim is repeatedly verified. They have made a human future less unlikely for all. They laid their hammer to the sword, and the beginning of a new creation has dawned in our terrify¬ ing world. The sword is turned aside; the plow renews the earth.

On Courage and Democratic Pluralism LUCIUS T. OUTLAW, JR.

... far from being socially undesirable this struggle between Ameri¬ cans as to what the American is to be is part of that democratic process through which the nation works to achieve itself. Out of this conflict the ideal American character—a type truly great enough to possess the greatness of the land, a delicately poised unity of divergencies—is slowly being bom.1

I The focal context of my discussion is the United States of America, from its Founding to the present, with concern for our likely and pos¬ sible futures. At issue is the always challenging matter of E Pluribus

Unum: how can we make of many, one? How can we fashion a unified, stable, just, and democratic nation-state with a citizenry who form “one people” out of a plurality of diverse peoples, out of individuals most of whom characterize ourselves, to significant degrees, in terms of racial and/or ethnic attributes? These racial and ethnic characteristics are given meaning and value and continue to be crucial for defining our personal and group-shared identities through which we would be co¬ citizens as well as persons. At the Founding of this nation-state, the demographic challenges of racial diversity were experienced, first and foremost, as fear by most of the peoples who regarded themselves as the “white” race and as the exemplars of manhood/womanhood—even as the avatars of humanity par excellence. This combination of fear and patriarchal/ matriarchal racial arrogance nurtured greed-driven imperialism and 102

On Courage and Democratic Pluralism


the well-rationalized capitalist enslavement, exploitation, and subor¬ dination of Africans and their descendants. The same agendas moti¬ vated and justified the genocidal holocausts perpetrated against the peoples, misnamed “Indians” by lost European explorers in search of wealth and fame, who had long before been the first settlers of this con¬ tinent. Thus, at the Founding of the “United States of America” as a supposedly liberal-individualistic and republican democracy, at the drafting of the Declaration of Independence (1776), and during the Constitutional Convention (1787-88), the deal making that was part of forming a Union of states out of independent colonies required other deals. It required agreement on an ontology and philosophical anthro¬ pology that defined “Indians,” by virtue of their raciality, as by nature not peers of white people and thus not eligible to be citizens of the new nation-state. This ontology and anthropology defined Africans and their descendants—“Negroes” all—because of their raciality as equivalent only to “three-fifths” of a white person and likewise ineligible for citi¬ zenship. In both cases the Founders agreed that “whiteness” must be the defining norm for liberal individualism and republic democratic humanism and politics. And they agreed that both the enslavement and the emancipation of Negroes must not be discussed openly in the places of public discourse in which the Union s business and the making of its future would be negotiated. Silence regarding these fearful matters was the mandated order of the day, the revolutionary terms and significance of the new nation-states Founding principles notwithstanding.2 Why? What was the source of the fear that, when combined with rapacious capitalist and sectional (that is, Northern versus Southern states’ rights) interests, gave rise to agendas so compelling as to sanc¬ tion, even promote, dehumanizing enslavement and genocide aided by strenuous vernacular, philosophical, theological, scientific, literary, and theoretical-political efforts? Why did what has been termed Euro¬ centrism become, in the fashioning of the United States of America, the complex project of simultaneously establishing and maintaining white racial supremacy in the guise of capitalist, liberal-republican democracy? To the mind of one African American female theorist, psychiatrist Frances Cress Welsing, the cause was the fear of “genetic annihilation” on the part of many of the settler-colonists and Founding patriarchs of the United States of America. They defined themselves as “white” in near absolute distinction to other, “colored” races; and they saw the


Courage in War, Peace, and Nation Building

Negro race as most different from themselves and thus the most dan¬ gerous threat to their presumptive racial “purity,” which was rendered sacred by theologies and natural philosophies of cosmos-ordering and notions of a “Great Chain of Being.” Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries leading up to and during the Founding of the United States of America, most of the prominent and influential white (and other) thinkers who bent their minds to the challenges of accounting for human bio-cultural diversities defined physiologically and culturally diverse peoples as different races. In so doing they took raciality—that is, what they thought to be the defining characteristics of each race—as anchored in God-created Nature s hierarchical order¬ ing of inherited characteristics that determined the group-shared capacities, thus the characters and moral significance, of virtually all persons, and their offspring, comprising the respective races. As Welsing and others have noted, a great many white folks of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who were the Founding race of the United States of America, the race/or whom this nation was founded, feared social and biological mixing with “inferior” colored races, the Negro race especially. They were afraid such mixing would “pollute” their racial purity and bring on their demise and, thereby, the demise of advancing civilization. Thus anti-Negro racism, while in service, in the U.S. South espe¬ cially, to the maintenance of an agricultural capitalist economy based on the labor of enslaved Africans and their descendants, was, in both the North and the South, fundamentally a defensive-offensive complex meant to ensure the survival and hegemonic position of “the white race.” This complex was a combination of passions, sentiments, beliefs, and convictions—often elaborated into, and, in turn, bolstered and le¬ gitimated by, scientific accounts (Natural Philosophy). All of these were central to the shaping of the action-guiding “habits of the heart” that came to be definitive of the very character of the Anglo-Americans, a racial character-type whose “passions, habits, and sentiments” were described with poignancy and accounted for genealogically by Alexis de Tocqueville.3 One interpreter of Tocqueville speaks of this impor¬ tant matter this way: The Union was constituted so as to respond effectively to a few great general needs ..., while the states had long attached men’s hearts through custom and unreflective patriotism. . . . The

On Courage and Democratic Pluralism


American majority exhibited ‘decentralizing passions.’ . . . Their lives were shaped not simply by needs, but by a willfulness informed by mores. Mores, one might say, ‘habits of the heart’ [Tocqueville’s phrase]..., consist of certain distinct forms pecu¬ liar to a people of which they are proud: they are forms of pride. They are at a distance from and sometimes at odds with needs, which as such are nothing to be proud of. Adhering to mores enables men to meet their needs as they wish, thus to some extent dissociating themselves from their needs, having an opportunity to take a critical look at them, and forming an opinion about them. The diversity of mores in America suggests a degree of freedom from needs, which are universal. The states and regions to which the hearts of Tocqueville’s Americans were attached had served to preserve their distinctive forms of pride.4 Pride of racial whiteness was constitutive of the identity of AngloAmericans, became normative for virtually all from Europe who would become “Americans,” and was the motivating and rationalizing resource for die quest for white racial supremacy. Racial whiteness, habitualized and sanctified, became ensconced in psyches, as well as in the foun¬ dational norms of the newly formed union of colonies into a federal republic. Consequently, Riese racialized habits of the heart were hardly to be subjected to critical looks that might compel that they be relin¬ quished in behalf of fashioning a multiracial, cosmopolitan democracy as projected—if not quite promised—by proponents of liberal indi¬ vidualism such as Immanuel Kant. Save for some seemingly overly ide¬ alistic (and to many also crazy) Quakers and a few others, the very idea of such a democracy was so threatening to many white folks, to most of their elected and appointed representatives, and to the Founding Brothers5 in particular, as to compel them to agree not to even discuss the matter openly. And those most adamant about imposing silence and avoiding attending to the moral and political implications of the enslavement and subordination otherwise of the Negro race tended to be persons who lived in situations that were to them most challenging demographically. According to Joseph Ellis, there was a high level of correlation between ideological positions with regard to enslavement or emancipation of Negroes and the demography of the local situation of the ideologue—that is, the degree to which the number of Negroes in the local population approached the threshold (or the tipping


Courage in War, Peace, and Nation Building

point”) at which white folks felt themselves threatened with a loss of control. Many of them feared this loss of control as tantamount to bio¬ logical, social, and political chaos, thereby to bio-cultural death.6 The pact of silence was brokered and the deals made. White racial supremacy as condition and purpose of the Union itself was thus as¬ sured, and pride in whiteness was dressed out in the masquerade of triumphant, “universal” Reason articulated in the “self-evident” prin¬ ciples set forth in the Declaration of Independence and in the Bill of Rights of the new American Man. From Mansfield and Winthrop again: Tocqueville says ... that all bodies, whatever they may be, have a ‘secret instinct that carries them toward independence.’. . . But the (white) American’s conceit is that his secret instinct is guided by rea¬ son and directed toward human perfection. That pretension must be maintained—dogmatically if necessary, as in the dogma of the sovereignty of the people—to serve as the basis of democratic freedom. Hence comes the Americans’ determination to locate universal reason in the universality of citizens.”' Of course, citizenship was hardly uni¬ versalized to include all adults. Thus the aim of this conceit was to pro¬ mote a rationalizing self-deception, a lie, that would relieve white folks of the responsibilities of finding the courage to face their racial fears and live up to the demands of their Founding principles. It was to relieve the thinkers among them, especially, of the deep existential dis¬ comforts of blatant contradiction, duplicity, hypocrisy, and dehumani¬ zation that they lived in building a new, racialized nation-state based on white racial dominance. However, the living of such stratagems exacts a toll of no small consequence: “It is especially when men will without respect for dis¬ tinctively human pride, when they ignore the human striving for rational self-determination, that their will becomes self-destructive.”8 Self¬ destructive, indeed. The conceit delayed, but did not eliminate, the reckoning, the critical review and divestiture of the too-large invest¬ ment in the pride in white racial supremacy, and the confronting of the fears that led to the formation and cultivation of such pride. And when the reckoning did come in the middle of the nineteenth century, it was in the form of a brutal civil war during which approximately 600,000 persons were killed in a struggle to resolve challenges so very apparent at the Founding. Some historians and political philosophers see in the Founding a nascent possible development of a complex political philosophy of republican and liberal democratic humanism that would take into

On Courage and Democratic Pluralism


proper account racial and ethnic pluralism. Yet an unstable alloy forged of economic interests (agricultural capitalism based on slave labor in the South, and commercial and mercantile capitalism in the North), liberal individualism, and republicanism (centering power in the indi¬ vidualism of white, property-owning, and/or veteran males, deployed primarily through state governments), trumped that nascent possibility. However, more than a few other persons considering this com¬ plex period of our nation’s history believe that no such political phi¬ losophy was ever on the table except in service to white folks. Very few persons at the start of diis nation’s history were prepared to be, had the courage to be, what we might term full-fledged democratic, cosmo¬ politan humanists, whether as individualists only or as pluralists. The Founders’ values were shaped by a social ontology of racial and eth¬ nic groups that generally included invidious hierarchical valorizations as part and parcel of the very influential notion of the Great Chain of Being. Joseph Ellis has concluded that since no nation-state conceived on such terms and made up of a diversity of racial and ethnic groups had ever existed, there was no model for those designing and building the new United States of America; nor was there even a fully conceived theoretical model of a “color-blind” multiracial democracy invoked to guide their efforts.9 Thus were the Quakers thought to be crazy, even by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, when in 1790 they broke the silence and petitioned the Congress to end the enslavement of Negroes and to emancipate those already in captivity. And none among the Founding Revolutionary Brothers, save ardent abolitionist Benjamin Franklin (though Hamilton and Adams were themselves opposed to the enslavement of Negroes), had the courage to step forth and en¬ deavor to lead white Americans in confronting and conquering their racial fears and pride. They lacked the courage to bring about a full and robust democratic humanism encompassing and enriching the lives of all peoples in the newly founded nation-state of nations (peoples). Silence, it was decided, was required in order to avert the breaking apart of the recently negotiated Union.10 Thus a deal was rebrokered in 1790 to guarantee silence and con¬ tinued enslavement of Negroes and guarantee white racial supremacy in service to agricultural and mercantile capitalisms as the constitu¬ tive agendas for the new Republic. Yet a breakup did, indeed, later occur, and reunification was achieved only after paying the stupendous costs of Union victory over the Confederacy in civil war. Still, the terms of settlement of the war, and certainly of Reconstruction, included


Courage in War, Peace, and Nation Building

the partisans of a federated Union of states conceding to the notcompletely-vanquished partisans of the “Southern way of life” (based on ardent white supremacy) the management “as they knew best” of the “emancipated” Negro race. The project of postwar Reconstruction was thus not to realize fully a multiracial democratic humanism. Another hundred years of struggles would be fought against the dehu¬ manizing lie of capitalist white supremacy masquerading as liberal and republican democracy, even through participation in two world wars to “make the world safe for democracy” while working to preserve white supremacy at home. Finally a more full-blown ideal of demo¬ cratic humanism amidst racial and ethnic diversity would gain some ascendance through the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements and begin to give new shape and motivating force to this nation s forming and sustaining agendas.


Today the imperatives for fashioning and realizing such an ideal have emerged with both greater forcefulness and increasing speed. As interpretations of the data now being released from the most recent census seem to confirm earlier predictions, our nation-state is becom¬ ing increasingly “colored.” White folks who trace their ancestry to Eu¬ rope will soon be a “minority” group if present trends continue. What at the Founding of the nation produced fears that motivated silence regarding the willful, hypocritical corruption of liberal, republican democratic principles and nurtured a tradition of ascriptive nativism centered unstably on (white) ethnicities and white racial supremacy is upon us yet again. Todays challenges of racial and ethnic demography raise the imminent prospect of peoples “of color” outnumbering white folk. Will racialized fears, pride, and greed prevail yet again? I am convinced that the lessons from the history of our nationstate’s Founding are compelling. So is the legacy from the long strug¬ gles to break free from the dehumanizing stratagem of preserving a modified white racial supremacy through yet another conceit—a scheme of fail and just racial apartheid in the masquerade of “separate but equal. Neither silence nor conceit, certainly not both in combination, is conducive to the long-term success of a nation-state that would be fully and truthfully humane and democratic for all its citizens. More

On Courage and Democratic Pluralism


recent lessons make the case all the more forcefully for the Impropriety of the stratagem of silence. One poignant example is the case of the former Yugoslavia. Once Yugoslavia was a federated nation-state of ethnic republics structured to a very significant degree by principles of self-managing democracy throughout many levels of social, political, economic, and cultural life. For a significant number of persons through¬ out the world, for me especially, this Yugoslavia once served as a model experiment in multiethnic democratic federalism. Indeed, I devoted substantial excited effort to considering seriously the writings of a number of Yugoslav theorists who had guided the practical efforts through which the self-managing democratic socialism was conceived and put into practice. These thinkers had been determined to create a form of democratic and humanistic socialism decidedly different from what, in the name of “Communism,” had been implemented by Lenin and the Bolsheviks and subsequently detoured by Stalin and associates into a brutal dictatorship. On a couple of occasions I even had the good fortune of spending time in Yugoslavia participating in seminars and talking and eating with some of these thinkers. Subse¬ quently I came to know and work with several of them. My concern was to determine, with their assistance, whether the history they were in the process of making offered resources for fashioning and realizing a decidedly more humanistic multiracial and multiethnic social, cultural, political, and economic democracy in the United States of America. However, as I became more and more knowledgeable about some of the socio-political writings of several influential thinkers whose efforts had contributed to the formation of the Yugoslav republic, I was baffled. In their theoretical works, especially, and subsequently in for¬ mal legitimations of the practices through which nation-formation and maintenance were accomplished, there was virtually no discussion of ethnicity! Perplexed, I asked several of my Yugoslav colleagues about the absence of such discussions in their otherwise so very rich and courageous revolutionary writings. Their reply: “We didn’t deal with it....” The guiding Yugoslav intellectuals, then, like Americas Found¬ ing Brothers (though there were women among the founding intel¬ lectuals of the Republic of Yugoslavia), had concluded a compact of silence regarding ethnicity in order to achieve federation. And when the federation began to unravel along ethnic fines, long-nurtured highoctane ethnic passions were ignited and became a blowtorch devoted to genocidal “ethnic cleansing.” My Yugoslav colleagues, and many of


Courage in War, Peace, and Nation Building

us in the United States and elsewhere who were their compatriots, were completely unprepared, intellectually and emotionally. Other examples from around the world—Rwanda, Canada, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, India vs. Pakistan, Germany, Great Britain, France, among others—make abundantly clear that demographic challenges of racial and ethnic diversities within a single political unit (and between or among political units) have not been resolved. Universalist principles of Modernity’s Reason have not tri¬ umphed over Tradition’s nurturing of what many heirs of Enlighten¬ ment convictions regard as anachronistic legacies of group identities fashioned by “thinking with blood.” Modernity was expected to be an axial moment in the history of (European) civilization in which Ratio¬ nal Man would attain maturity, that is, the full recognition of a free will constrained only by the principles of transcendental and practical Reason.11 But for Kant, a principal architect of this epistemological and ethical philosophical anthropology, only persons of the white race were capable of this axial form of maturity. And a great many of the other¬ wise seminal thinkers, the philosophes whose efforts we tend to regard as constituting the continental European, British and Scottish, and "American” Enlightenments, shared this narrow view. For all of the cele¬ brated, high-falutin’ talk of "‘Universal Rights of Man,” these thinkers, with a few very important exceptions, were self-identified as persons of the white race, and were not egalitarian racialists. The project of Modernity was a thoroughly racialist, and racist, combination of ven¬ tures. As a test of the veracity of this claim, one need only ask oneself whether the announced arrival of the Maturity of Man, seemingly exemplified in the intellectual accomplishments of now-canonical thinkers in what today is called “Germany,” could have been celebrated with a Bar Mitzvah—let alone a Bat Mitzvah. In our nation-state today, of course, the celebrations of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs abound. So, too, Kwaanza, a recently created commemo¬ rative and re-creative communal observance initially by and for folks of African descent, has become a national observance. In primary and secondary schools especially, increasing numbers of white and other nonblack children celebrate Kwaanza. There are, as well, other excit¬ ing manifestations of the nation’s cultural diversification. Not only are demographics becoming more complex; movements of the “politics of identity and difference” abound.12 Consequently, Nathan Glazer has concluded, reluctantly, that in the realm of education especially “we

On Courage and Democratic Pluralism


are all multiculturalists now”: “we all accept a greater degree of atten¬ tion to minorities and women and their role in American history and social studies and literature classes in schools. Those few who want to return American education to a period in which the various subcultures were ignored, and in which America was presented as the peak and end-product of civilization, cannot expect to make any progress in the schools.”13 Nor, I hope, are there many prospects for success for those who would turn back the clock in political, economic, cultural, and civic life generally to reestablish and relegitimate hegemonic white racial supremacy. No, we cannot realize the full democratic promises of this nation-state of nations by returning to a past that did not provide us with a viable and vibrant humanistic democracy unrestricted by in¬ vidiously racial, ethnic, gender, class, or other important distinctions of personal and social identification. However, as was the case for the Founders of the United States of America, we, too, are without a living example of a multiracial, mul¬ tiethnic nation-state that fully realizes the promises of the ideal of democratic humanism thoroughly conditioned by justice. Conceiving and endeavoring to realize just such a “deep democracy,”14 given our racial and ethnic demographic complexity and legacies, will require a great deal of courage from all of us. Certainly I, and I suspect a great many other black folks in this country, will need the help of living, con¬ vincing examples from many white folks that we now can do what James Baldwin was convinced we could not: “Most Negroes cannot risk assuming that the humanity of white people is more real to them than their color.”15 Yet not just white folks but all of us, ensconced in our often taken-for-granted racial and ethnic identities, are constricted, more or less, by very similar fears. These fears inhibit our taking the necessary risks to fashion and sustain a robust cosmopolitan, demo¬ cratic humanism that includes non-invidious provisions for racial and ethnic identities and opposes invidious and unjust racial and/or ethnic hegemonies. We must, then, have the courage to face our fears and take risks to realize this ideal. The immediate risk is psychic: letting go of the security of inhab¬ iting our identities as fortresses that protect us and “ours” from those unlike us. Ralph Ellison put the matter well: For many our cultural diversity is as indigestible as the con¬ cept of democracy in which it is grounded . . . the most agoniz¬ ing mystery sponsored by the democratic ideal is that of our


Courage in War, Peace, and Nation Building

unity-in-diversity, our oneness-in-manyness. Pragmatically we cooperate and communicate across this mystery, but the problem of identity that it poses often goads us to symbolic acts of disaf¬ filiation. So we seek psychic security from within our inherited divisions of the corporate American culture while gazing out upon our fellows with a mixed attitude of fear, suspicion and yearning. We repress an underlying anxiety aroused by the awareness that we are representative not only of one but of several overlapping and constantly shifting social categories, and we stress our af¬ filiation with that segment of the corporate culture which has emerged out of our parents’ past—racial, cultural, religious—and which we assume, on the basis of such magical talismans as our mothers milk or our fathers beard, that we “know.” Grounding our sense of identity in such primary and affect-charged symbols, we seek to avoid the mysteries and pathologies of the democratic process.16 However, our fears and suspicions of those unlike us are sources of much difficulty, particularly when persons conclude that they are compelled to defend their group-defined existence, physically or sym¬ bolically, by curtailing the existence of others. Thus we are called to work together to fashion identities, racial and ethnic still, that foster, and are in turn nurtured by, democratic humanism. Such a democratic humanism, which we have enjoyed all too little, would balance and enrich liberal individualism by nurturing respect for racial and ethnic diversity. Would that the promise of such a humanism, combined with a sober appreciation of the gross immoralities of the distant and recent pasts and the too-near present, give us the courage to proceed and the wise caution sufficient to stave off foolhardiness.

Ill Would that we cultivate and exercise the needed courage— courage to be moral beings in response to what is demanded of us in a multiracial, multiethnic would-be republic. And the quest for and practice of democracy as cosmopolitan humanism in a situation of dynamic racial and ethnic diversity complicated by our histories is a

moral matter of great consequence that indeed requires much of us. Democratic, cosmopolitan humanism is a moral ideal calling us to

On Courage and Democratic Pluralism


order our human associations in service to particular conceptions of a

good life, individually and collectively. The core of such an ideal is a notion of persons appropriate to democratic social orders. Persons are the fundamental moral and ethical element in any social ontology and philosophical anthropology that would undergird a theory of demo¬ cratic life. And since for most of the history of the United States most adult persons were not deemed suitable for citizenship, women and peoples of color especially, substantial effort has to be devoted to ex¬ tending the notion of democratic personhood to those previously ex¬ cluded from citizenship. The prevailing challenges of racial and ethnic demography require more work still, but this time to our notions of personhood. We need to expand the concept of personhood so as to include embodied, historicized, encultured social, as well as individual, identities. Yet we need to avoid the psychic loadings, the fears and greed, diat have fueled the distorted transformations of ethnocentrism and racialism into genocidal ethnic cleansing and imperialist racial supremacy. We require courage, then, to be democratic pluralists and humanists; to loosen our grip on our identities and to recognize our¬ selves as part of a nation-state of peoples, all making deposits to and withdrawals from a richly complex cultural storehouse. We require

courage to grow beyond the fear-driven belief that the racial and eth¬ nic ordering of our collective lives requires purity; that pluralistic, cos¬ mopolitan, democratic humanism is a prelude to chaos and death. James Baldwin, but one of many, has written powerfully and elo¬ quently of what is upon us: Everything now, we must assume, is in our hands; we have no right to assume otherwise. If we—and I mean the relatively con¬ scious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others—do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world. If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more

water, the fire next time!1' Have we sufficient courage to do what is required of us to avoid the fires that have burned, and are burning, with such destruction in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere? Courage to come to terms with


Courage in War, Peace, and Nation Building

raciality and ethnicity as constitutive of our identities, our commu¬ nities, our institutions, our nation? Courage to fashion an under¬ standing of democracy appropriate to our complex pluralism as a nation-state of nations, of peoples, who are makers and bearers of simi¬ lar, and different, and shared cultures? Can we find and sustain the courage to stay with the many-years-long efforts to craft an ideal of democracy that can unify us in and through our diversities? Courage to take on and stay with the demanding and exhilarating work of real¬ izing, as an ongoing project, such an imagined democracy? I hope, sincerely, that I can and will, and that many others also can and will.


1. Ralph Ellison, “Twentieth-Century Fiction and the Black Mask of Humanity, ’ The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison (New York: Modern Libraiy, 1995), p. 83. 2. See Joseph J. Ellis, “The Silence,” Founding Brothers: The Revo¬ lutionary Generation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), pp. 81-119. 3. Alexis de Tocqueville, De la Democratic en Amerique [Democracy in America] (1835). See, especially, the chapter “Some Considerations on the Present State and the Probable Future of the Three Races That Inhabit the Territory of the United States” in vol. 1. 4. Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop, “Editors Introduction,” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. and ed. Harvey C. Mans¬ field and Delba Winthrop (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press 2000), pp. lxi-lxii. 5. Joseph Ellis identifies the “Founding Brothers” as Aaron Burr, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, James Madi¬ son, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. 6. Ellis, Founding Brothers, p. 103. 7. Mansfield and Winthrop, “Editors Introduction” to Tocqueville, Democracy in America, p. Ixii. 8. Ibid. 9. Ellis, Founding Brothers, p. 107. 10. Ibid., pp. 104-5. ^11. See Immanual Kant, Was 1st EklarungP [What is Enlightenment?! 12. Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recog¬ nition, ed. Amy Gutmann (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994).

On Courage and Democratic Pluralism


13. Nathan Glazer, We Are All Multiculturalists Now (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997), p. 14. 14. Judith M. Green, Deep Democracy: Community, Diversity, and Transformation (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999). 15.

James Baldwin, “The Fire Next Time,” in Baldwin: Collected

Essays (New York: Library of America, 1998), p. 326. 16. Ralph Ellison, “The Little Man at Chehaw Station,” Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison, p. 503. 17. Raldwin, “The Fire Next Time,” pp. 346-47, emphasis in original.


Courage Every Day

Courage: Heroes and Antiheroes ROBERT CUMMINGS NEVILLE

Courage is the heart to get started and keep going in the face of temp¬ tations to the contrary. For serious courage, the temptations are in¬ vitations to spiritual, cultural, or personal death. We can name the qualities of courage by the temptations faced and the kinds of death they invite, and I shall enumerate some of these here. You must know at the outset, however, that this characterization of courage rests on a paradox. We all die in the end, and so it would seem that courage is ulti¬ mately defeated. One high kind of courage is to fight death on many fronts—in battle, the hazards of ordinary life, disease, or old age—knowing widi certainty that some battle will mean final defeat. A higher courage is to surmount the temptation to pretend that death can be escaped. That higher courage affirms the life in which death is in¬ evitable, laughs to wrestle death gladly in the last battle, and gives thanks for the opportunity to have lived and died. I weep that so many of us will never have that courage because of sudden death, the dis¬ tractions of illness, or senility’s unraveling. Before treating such high levels of theological courage, how¬ ever, I want to explore more common kinds, beginning with the simple

courage to dare. By this I mean the courage to try something in life, to identify with something and risk failure. Some people manage to go through the necessary stages and institutions of life without ever really investing themselves in anything. They can make friends, but they don’t work much at friendship. They can have families, but not work hard for them, emotionally investing in love and nurture beyond keeping things going. They can hold jobs but not identify with them. And when they die, they will be missed a little, but not much, because it’s almost as if they had not lived except for those depending on them directly. 119


Courage Every Day

Perhaps we should not say these people who lack the simple courage to dare are tempted by any kind of death. Rather they never engage life in some elementary sense and so have very little to die from. The enjoy life in their way, especially simple pleasures such as good company and food. They are missed by family and friends, but because they do not try much, do not invest themselves in much, do not risk much, not much is different with their passing. These are common antiheroes of our time. The simple courage to dare points up an important character of the human condition, namely, that life needs to be chosen. Its possible, of course, to slide by and let the inertia of ones conditions of birth and community supply a trajectory for life, even a career with the appoint¬ ments of friends and family. If you are well enough born you can drink your way through a Yale education, as some of my classmates did, hav¬ ing a good time, but never really being alive, a land of “Gentleman’s C” zombie. Part of the evil of a consumerist society is that constant enter¬ tainment can blind us to the undead-unlife of not having chosen to be or do something, with attendant ordinary risks. To live only vicariously in others is to have not chosen life yourself. The simple courage to dare does not require anything extraordi¬ nary to dare—just investment in ordinary human relations where you make a difference to family and friends, commitment to a job so as to find some meaning and accomplishment in it, perhaps nothing more than earning a living. The simple courage to dare means taking ordi¬ nary citizenship seriously, caring for neighbors, schools, social institu¬ tions, and the rest. Though the simple courage to dare need not move beyond the ordinary things shared with neighbors throughout the com¬ munity, it involves risk because it is always possible to tell when you have failed in an invested friendship, family, job, or community role. When Moses (Deuteronomy 30) summed up his life’s work by telling the people that he (in God’s name) set before them life and death, bless¬ ing and curse, and challenged them to choose life that they might live and prosper, he did not have in mind the heroism that might be involved in conquering Canaan. Nor did he mean to choose between Yahweh and Chemosh. Rather he challenged them to choose the good life God had prepared, or fail to choose and therefore have no life to speak of.

The heroic courage to dare differs from the simple courage by having extraordinary projects. People with heroic courage to dare are usually blessed with friends and colleagues who tell them they can’t do

Courage: Heroes and Antiheroes


what they propose. The project is beyond reasonable expectation, or is untimely and out of fashion, or puts in jeopardy the possibility of hav¬ ing an ordinary life. I’ve been told for years that metaphysics is impos¬ sible and systematic philosophy even worse; theological bureaucrats have assured me that seminary faculties can never be changed or inno¬ vation accomplished. Friends have insisted that I should never have supported my family’s high culture by means of creative debt man¬ agement rather than the more modest lifestyle that could be paid for by my salary. But I am a heroic geek and have dared live out the dreams of an academic Walter Mitty. Thurber s Walter Mitty, of course, just dreamed them. What counts as an extraordinary project is a relative matter, as my own example illustrates. The really serious projects change the course of the world, and they don’t have to be violent like Alexander’s or Tamerlane’s. Imagine how Bach had to overcome the contempt of his children to write his outmoded style of music. Imagine the drive of Mansa Musa to establish the greatest university in the world in 1500 at Timbuktu. Think of the heroic daring of Cheng Ho, the Moslem eunuch and Ming Dynasty admiral, who established trade under the sway of the Chinese navy from Sumatra to Ceylon, Africa, Aden, and Hormuz, receiving tribute from Mecca in 1433. What aviator would dare be first to cross the Atlantic in a single-engine plane? What hero would go first into space, walk on the moon? Who would risk life to seek peace in Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Iraq, Israel, Northern Ireland? Who would march in front at Selma, at Tiananmen Square? Who would undertake to be an artist, a poet, or a playwright and step beyond fash¬ ions and conventions? Who would start a new business, invent a new product, change an established way of life? If one has a dream beyond the ordinary, it takes heroic courage to dare act upon it, for too many people would say the funded experi¬ ence of the race and simple prudence are against it. The dreams dif¬ fer from the grand to the sublime and to the ridiculous ambitions of academic geeks, but each defines a project for courage. Two kinds of temptation to death must be overcome by the heroic courage of daring. One is the death of not dreaming at all, and the other is the death of the dream itself. I said earlier that one important part of the human condition is that life must be chosen. Now I add that the human condition is such that we can distinguish between the actual and the possible, and the


Courage Every Day

better and the worse, and therefore between the ideal and the inertial. The inertial forces of life will carry us somewhere, but likely not toward the best that we might accomplish with deliberate effort. Most of us have ideal dreams despite the fragmentariness of our knowledge, the prejudice in our prescriptions, and the ease of self-deception regard¬ ing what is likely to happen and how that differs from what might hap¬ pen if we put our heart into action. For the simple courage to dare, those ideals are very ordinary, ones that would apply to everyone, and we think of them as moral ideals or obligations. For the heroic courage to dare, the ideals are larger, on the scale of genuine imaginative con¬ structions, and we usually don’t hold everyone to be obliged by them. People are heroic to the degree that they adopt them when they don’t have to and could follow a more ordinary way. Even though simply courageous people without heroic daring are not obligated to dream, they lack a creative dimension of life. To adopt a dream and define one¬ self by it is to create oneself a partly new person, risking ordinary stability to acquire and exercise whatever energies and abilities are necessary to achieve the dream. Failure to have at least modestly heroic courage is to fail human creativity. It is also to fail the dream itself. Many people define themselves by fine dreams large or small, and identify themselves with the life required to achieve them. Heroic courage to dare requires more than adopting the dream; it demands committing oneself to all the means necessary to achieve it. I wager that a great many adults dreamed, as children, of being a concert pianist or great musician but failed to com¬ mit ourselves to the practice necessary to get to Symphony Hall, Nash¬ ville, or the rock concert arena. However talented we once seemed, and despite encouraging parents, we soon let the dream die. That dreams death is a common part of our culture. Even the uncommon dreams are usually left to die, however, when it comes time to com¬ mit the real organization of life around the discipline to achieve them. Most people in universities are following some dream to which uni¬ versity study is a means, which requires much discipline. My experi¬ ence, however, is that most people dream big to begin with and then trim the dream to fit the inertia of the discipline required. To be a genu¬ inely creative philosopher requires study of the history of philosophy; most people in graduate school drop the risk of philosophical creativity to dream of studying only other philosophers. Dreams die when the risky life required to achieve them is not chosen.

Courage: Heroes and Antiheroes


I said at the beginning that courage is the heart to keep going in the face of temptations, and this needs special stressing here. Both the simple and the heroic courage to dare are not one-shot matters but require constant reaffirmation. The courage to stick to it is subject to various temptations to death. The first and most obvious is the temptation to give up when things get hard and obstacles are encountered. Everyday life is filled with difficulties, and dreams of a heroic scale are usually innocently vague with respect to the obstacles to their fulfillment. Not to give up in the face of difficulty, trouble, obstacles, and opposition is a base¬ line meaning of courage so well understood that I need say little more. In fact, the difficulties of sticking to it are the reasons usually given for declining to dare simple engagement of life and heroic projects alike. The second class of temptations assaulting sticlc-to-itiveness comes from the seductions of inertia. Simply to choose life requires serious organization and commitment, a lifestyle that shapes energy to bring order out of processes tending toward entropic chaos. We enter into studies as a shape for life and let study unwittingly become an inertial path that has no life in it. We enter into marriage with patterns that slowly take for granted some of the very things that make marriage exciting and creative. Careers become trajectories defined and fol¬ lowed without the excitement of attending to new possibilities. Even the heroically courageous pursuit of a fine dream can get bogged down in perfecting the means to achieve it, and the inertia of the means misses the dream. You can’t courageously stick to life or the pursuit of a dream if you let the inertia of the means define the goal. Inertia itself seems to me a fundamental theme of temptation in the human condition. Inertial forces such as the steadiness of the natu¬ ral environment, biological urges, social structures, personal habits, and achieved patterns of life are powerful forces of order, economizing the precious energy of human life. Nevertheless, the nature of existence is also filled with play and randomness, with chance happenings and sud¬ den new possibilities. Part of the human condition is to face new pos¬ sibilities and the sudden disappearances of old ones. Elementary creativity is required of human beings to adjust their inertial forces, dis¬ cern new directions, and undertake serious change. A pattern for life or the pursuit of a goal that works with great economy for a while slowly becomes ineffective, misses coping with new issues, and becomes less and less relevant. After a while, too much energy is spent sustaining the


Courage Every Day

pattern while events around it are getting out of hand. This is human entropy with a vengeance. A crucial part of the courage to stick to it is vigilance about the need for change and the heart to make changes to keep on course. Sticking to it is not doing the same old thing but constantly changing sails while tacking, reaching, and running to stay on course. The courage to stick to it is having the heart to give up the value of the steady and proven for the chance to attack entropy from a new direction. People will tell you that changes are bad because the old patterns achieved your goals in the past. If you believe them, you will let your goals die by cleaving to faith in repetition. The dimensions of courage I have mentioned—the simple courage to dare, the heroic courage to dare, and the courage of sticking to it—are somewhat universal across cultures and are ideals for nearly everyone. Now I want to mention some more particular dimensions, beginning with what I call the courage of self-identity. The courage of self-identity is the heart to accept and build a life upon elements of life that are both given in some sense and problem¬ atic. That they are problematic is likely to be a function of culture. I have in mind the fact that being bom white in the United States is not problematic and does not require any special courage; being bom black does require special courage. To be white in Zimbabwe requires courage like being black in the United States. Having physical dis¬ abilities for whatever reason is a problem in most societies that requires a courageous response, though we can imagine a society in which that would not be problematic. The religious world these days seems to be focused on issues of gender identity as many people face up to being homosexual, issues that are particularly sensitive in undergraduate uni¬ versity life because most people face gender identity around that time. To oversimplify the issue, in our society there is little need for courage to be straight but a lot of need for courage to be gay or lesbian. The reason this is an oversimplification is that nothing in human life is simply given. Everything given is also taken up into what I call a person s intentionality structure. Some babies are bom with an excitable, irritable nervous system; others seem laid back and ready for whats next. Although the biological conditions of the nervous systems are given in each case, people respond to such babies differently, and then the babies have to respond to how they are treated. Before long the babies are developing habits of coping with the fact that people treat

Courage: Heroes and Antiheroes


them as irritable or laconic. They don’t necessarily become more irri¬ table or laconic. They do, however, develop intentionality structures that reflect not only their biology but their reception of how they are treated and habits of responding in turn. Sexual dispositions are surely given in biological makeup, and small children respond to their own ele¬ mentary feelings. But they also are treated differentially according to expectations of those around them, sometimes in ways relevant to the elementary feelings and sometimes not. Very small children develop sexual intentionality structures that are shaped by biological givens, family conditions and responses, specific events of their lives, and their own developing habits of interpreting and responding. As they mature, these sexual intentionality structures begin to play roles in family patterns that recursively lead to even greater definiteness in sexual identity within intentionality structures. Even if sexual genetics turns out to be as simple as a couple of dozen genetic variables, the responses of others, the events of life, and the constant coping with these in pat¬ terned and repatteming ways lead to extraordinary particularity in the intentionality structures of sexual feelings and identity. This highly par¬ ticular character of sexual intentionality structure, as idiosyncratic and variable for heterosexual as for homosexual people, then is complicated by having to be accommodated to the social conventions defining social sexual identity. Young people in our society are forced to identify them¬ selves as hetero- or homosexual and to play those social roles when their own feelings and consciousness at the surface of their intention¬ ality structures are far more particular than those extremely general categories. This is not to say that those categories are not real, that they are pure social constructions. But they are at least social constructions that define public identity and they need to be integrated into far more complex sexual intentionality structures of identity. Where does courage come in? On the one hand is the courage to admit to and build a life upon the public identity as generally de¬ fined in the culture, playing the roles appropriate to that. For AfricanAmericans this means accepting that identity, identifying with other African-Americans, cultivating solidarity, and preserving and perfect¬ ing institutions peculiar to black culture. For people with physical dis¬ abilities it means finding a way of life that accepts the disability and gets on with whatever still is possible, often as much as is possible for those not disabled. For gay and lesbian people it means accepting their sexual classification, finding expressions for their sexual feelings, coming out to those who care, establishing friendships and loving relations, and


Courage Every Day

finding good public roles and ways of life that build on that public sex¬ ual identity. On the other hand, the courage of self-identity also means not let¬ ting oneself be wholly defined by publicly defined roles. One has to dis¬ cover and reaffirm the particularities of the sexual dimensions of ones intentionality structures. This is as complicated for heterosexual as for homosexual people. Precisely because of the social pressure to identify with social conventions regarding sexual identity, people are encour¬ aged to forget or suppress the singularities of their intentionality struc¬ tures. In cultures where straight men are supposed to be macho and straight women dainty, it takes courage for heterosexuals to remember that their intentionalities are much more complicated and perhaps not macho or dainty at all. Far more courage is required for homosexual people to remember that their sexualities might not fit the social stereo¬ types and to take pains to be true to that. Sexual identity is a combina¬ tion of both social roles and individual intentionality structures, and courage is required of everyone to attend properly to the development and expression of both; gay and lesbian people need very much courage in this regard. The same is true of ethnic identity. People differ significantly in what their racial color means to them, however much those of a race are validly linked in social categories. Tiger Woods simply cannot honor the Thai heritage of his mother in addition to the African-American heritage of his father when most Americans, white and black, insist that African-American identity is exclusive. What sportswriter has written about the Wunderkind of Asian-American golfers? Every AfricanAmerican has a unique way of being African-American, and needs the courage to discover and develop that as well as play roles defined by conventions of ethnicity. Another important form of courage is the antithesis of identity, namely, the courage to face random harm. Whereas the issues of iden¬ tity have to do with a meaningful, if sometimes problematic, lifeworld, human lifeworlds are sometimes blown away as irrelevant by other forces. Nature sends floods, droughts, plagues, and pestilence. Good human societies tiy to take protective measures, but often fail, and for ordinary people these are anonymous destructions. Most ordinary people are helpless pawns in the wars that wash over their lands, as we have seen so tragically in Rwanda. Social upheavals ruin lives in a moment. And then there is plain random violence and hurt: auto acci¬ dents, lethal germs, the chance meeting of deadly forces. I know a

Courage: Heroes and Antiheroes


woman whose daughter was killed on the street in a random drive-by shooting. How can that woman face life after that? It takes courage. The courage to face random hurt includes but is more than the courage to dare and to stick to it in the face of obstacles. Random hurt, especially serious hurt, displays yet another dimension of the human condition, namely, that die sphere of human meaning is relatively small and very fragile. The issues of the courage of self-identity, as well as those of the simple courage to dare and its heroic expansion, all have to do with building and sustaining the sphere of human meaning. Ran¬ dom hurt teaches all of us the lessons of the twentieth-century exis¬ tential thinkers, namely, that the universe is largely indifferent and human meaning is only what we make it. Natural goods for human life exist. Rut no natural purposes are built into the mechanisms of nature or society that guarantee that the struggles to build a world of human meaning will succeed. Meaning can be wiped away by forces that have no meaningful relation to human intentionality whatsoever. The exis¬ tentialist antihero is the person who accepts the meaningless universe. The recognition that meaning depends on human projects rather than natural givens has compounded the problem of meaningless¬ ness in the twentieth century. The grand projects to create and con¬ trol political meaning—the Nazi and Communist experiments, for instance—produced unpredicted forces with chance consequences. The projects to extend human will over nature have done the same: medical and agricultural improvements have created population explo¬ sions that devastated cultures and environments. Improved animal feeds cause mad cow disease. Technical agents to improve life destroy and deplete environments, turning lands and waters toxic. To have courage in the face of vicious random terrorism and thoughtless ado¬ lescent violence is hard enough. How much harder is it to have courage when our best efforts provoke unintended disasters that randomly destroy the sphere of human meaning? Up to a point we can seek com¬ fort in admonitions to take great care with technological innovations and to be socially conservative. At some point, however, it dawns on just about everyone that human beings and their society are themselves wild things. The human effort to tame nature to the scale of human meaning does not itself fall within tamed nature but is a wild force like a hurricane or a blindly hurtling comet. So the courage to face random harm only partly means the courage to pick up and go on after some disrupting hurt. It also means daring to be human in a wild and indifferent universe where ones own


Courage Every Day

best actions, ones culture s greatest achievements, might themselves be more like expanding gasses than the shaped forms of human excel¬ lence. Have we the courage to go on when human meaning so easily kills itself? Coming close to the end of my catalogue of dimensions of courage, I want to call attention now to the courage to be alone. This is not the ultimate courage, but close to it. Of course no one can be really alone— we need human society in order to exist in any form. I mean rather the courage to press on with life in recognition of the fundamental onto¬ logical loneliness of personal existence. Let me explain in terms of what has been mentioned about the human condition. The web of human meaning in social, political, interpersonal forms, and in the technical ways of modifying nature to sustain a human niche, is a fragile condition of evolution set within a much larger array of natural forces that are wild and indifferent to the human sphere. All the conditions for human sociality, family, friendship, and public life are serendipitous flukes that can be wiped out. Of course we might be killed in that Armageddon and there would be no more problem. But the destruction of the human sphere is rarely total—even for one per¬ son who, say, loses all family, friends, and work. Such a person still lives, but is bereft. Loneliness comes in part from the jeopardy in which we all lie to be rendered bereft of meaningful associations. Another aspect of the human condition I have noted here is the unique individuality of human intentionality structures. To be sure, both objective biological givens and socially constructed meanings are incorporated into a person s growing intentionality structure from the earliest moments. A person cannot be human without learning the meaningful gestures, language, and social roles of some culture. But an intentionality structure has a direction to it: a person looks out on the world in response and action. The person is a subject and the world is filled with objects, with subjectivity and objectivity connected by the developing intentionality structure that defines how the person con¬ strues and inhabits the physical and social world. For all the things that people share, they each share from the perspective of their own inten¬ tionality, their own outward-looking inwardness. Even if our shared world of meaning were not fragile and in jeopardy of destruction, we still are other to one another. We can be intimately together. But we can¬ not be merged as parts of a greater reality without denying the di¬ rectionality of our intentionality structures. We search for someone

Courage: Heroes and Antiheroes


who can know our inward intentions as we ourselves know them. Even if we could find such a person, however, which is unlikely, that would not be enough. We want someone to share our subjectivity when we are only objects even to ourselves. The more another knows and relates to us from another perspective, the more the otherness of perspective accentuates our loneliness. Add to this ontological perspectivalism the fact that cosmic en¬ tropy calls upon human creativity to devise new economies of order, and the human condition is revealed to be lonely indeed. For, even to cany on life a wee bit requires daring to sustain or enhance the already fragile human structures that require constant modification if they are not to sour. Even the simple courage to dare in engaging some insti¬ tutions fostering cooperation in communal living is the assertion of the individual’s personal contribution to human life and the universe. Only that individual can make that contribution, and hence it is lonely work despite a crowd of companions. I see the failure of the simple courage to dare as a kind of false hope that inertia is not on the side of entropy, that intentionality does not approach the world from an inward per¬ spective, and that some magic guarantees the stability of humanly meaningful existence, all of which are contrary to fact. To put the point another way, even the simple courage to dare ordinary life involves accepting the assertion that the meaningful universe depends on you. How tempting it is simply to pass. Isn’t it easier not to take up real life in the first place than to accept the responsibility of acting alone with your own creativity? I have returned closer to my initial theme of life and death but want first to point out one more element of courage, namely, the courage

to love. The greatest temptation in the face of cosmic loneliness is to sulk and pout, and blame God. To have the courage to be alone and carry on with life requires a correlative courage to love. Wesley Wildman has argued that love and loneliness are ontologically correlative, that they are not only the supreme twin human virtues but the funda¬ mental characters of God and cosmos.1 What follows is my own take on his point. The courage to be alone without sulking requires giving yourself to the world in all its fragility, otherness, and need of constant crea¬ tive input. This is love. Love is investing yourself in family and friends whom you know can turn on you, or, worse, die on you. Love is invest¬ ing yourself in the nurture of institutions you know are ambiguous and


Courage Every Day

flawed, and that might be powerfully destructive in the end. Love is delighting in and deferring to the natural world that has built death into your genes and might even kill you prematurely. It is safer to rail against nature, complain about society, and avoid emotional entanglements so that you won’t get hurt. Love is always costly and it inevitably loses in the long run. But it is the fullness of life, the closest human beings can come to imitating God the lonely creator. Just as the courage to be alone requires also the courage to love, so the courage to love requires the courage to be alone, to accept the ontological loneliness of the human condition. Saint John’s Gospel far more than the others dwells on Jesus’ personal friendships with his dis¬ ciples. It ends, you remember, with Jesus taking a private walk with Peter after breakfast to talk about love and work, and to repair the friendship that had been broken by Peter’s three denials of Jesus. Even in that intimate conversation, Jesus asserted his right to have a more intimate relation with the Beloved Disciple who was following at a dis¬ tance. I’ve never been tempted to identify with either Peter or the Beloved Disciple. But I surely understand Maiy Magdalene in the gar¬ den of the empty tomb. She is my biblical hero. Peter and the Beloved Disciple had run up at her call, understood nothing of what they saw, and run off again. Mary remained weeping for her friend Jesus who had been all the world to her, and whose death had meant the loss of that world. With great courage to be alone, and great courage to love despite devastating loss, she struggled to carry on, hoping to find and rebury Jesus’ missing body. Suddenly Jesus stood before her alive again, calling her name. She turned, reaching, and said “Rabbouni!” “Noli me tangere, he replied—“don’t touch me.” If the courage to be alone requires also the courage to love, the courage to love still does not over¬ come loneliness. I come finally to the greatest courage of all, the courage to love God who creates this cosmos and this human condition. Or if you don’t like theistic language, it is the courage to give profound thanks, and shape one’s life around the giving of such thanks, for the life we have with all these ambiguous elements. The courage to love God involves loving the life that has suffering and death within it, the life that comes to fullness only in the embrace of inescapable loneliness and in the love of what perishes and ultimately cannot be touched. The religious tra¬ ditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have affirmed that loving God is the greatest of all virtues and prime analogate of all other loves.

Courage: Heroes and Antiheroes


Loving God is both a matter of choice and a long process of growth. To love God is to have a special, supremely capacious, and also singular intentionality structure. To develop it requires years of small decisions, with all the kinds of courage I have talked about and more. It requires opening oneself to the challenges of creativity and the pains of failure, to intense identification with the institutions and relations of human mean¬ ing and also with their loss and distortion. In particular, to love God requires mastering the courage of being alone and the courage to love. Nevertheless, having all those other kinds of courage, engaging life in all its dimensions, one still might not have die courage to love God. To love God requires approving of and being grateful for life whose otherwise supreme virtues are the twins of loneliness and love. Does anyone have the courage to love the God who creates this life? Let me close with a final question. Some people might long for loving God in a way that moves beyond the dual particularity of love and loneliness into a primal unity, a divine equilibrium or symmetry prior to any determinateness. Plotinus and the Neoplatonic tradition have interpreted loving God this way, a flight of the alone to the Alone that abolishes odiemess and loneliness in the fullness of being and love. Buddhist metaphors of nothingness reinforce the point. Other people long for the courage to love die Creator of precisely diis singular world, the God explicitly defined by the particularities of creating this world, more like Crazy Yahweh than the One or Act of Esse. For these people, of whom I am one, God is to be loved just for creating this world where love and loneliness are the virtues of the human condition. To love this God is not to fall into warm divine unity or ultimate dissolution of otherness, but to be brought to ecstatic joy and told not to touch. I long for the courage to love this tilted God just beyond reach, sustained on the tilt myself, wholly defined by the God who gives me all of, but no more than, my portion of loneliness and love. Ultimate courage, I believe, is to live, love, and work when your heart is broken because you’ve befriended the God whose singular creating is infinitely more loving and lonely than yours. Is this the truth about God?

NOTES 1. Wesley Wildman, “In Praise of Loneliness,” in Loneliness, ed. Leroy S. Rouner (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998), pp. 15-39.

Guts Is a Habit: The Practice of Courage



THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF COURAGE The theme of courage immediately brings to mind an exchange I had with a wise and provocative friend a long time ago. I needed to make a dramatic change in my life, but I was paralyzed with fear—-fear of the unknown, fear of people s opinions, fear of fear. I was stuck. My friend said to me, “Your problem is that you don’t have any guts.” I answered, “Where do guts come from?” My friend replied, “Guts is a habit. You do one brave thing and then another. You have to practice.” The bad news was that I was gutless. The good news was that I could get some. What I will explore in this essay is the acquisition of courage through practice. I will investigate some of the many forms and even disguises this practice might take, as well some of its misleading imitators, with the aim of constructing a model of the building blocks of courage. An inventory and evaluation of conceptual tools is useful in build¬ ing a model. What terms will be most useful for my purpose? My sub¬ title is “the practice of courage.” The argument of this essay makes use of two senses of the word “practice.” One is the idea of practice as in “the doing of something repeatedly by way of study for the purpose, or with the result, of attaining proficiency.”2 The other is the idea of a spiritual practice, as in a dedicated and mindful orientation to life. The appeal to these two meanings asserts that courage has a practical “doing” aspect in the sense of an improveable skill and that it has a transcendent “being” aspect in the sense of mindfulness. The multi¬ dimensionality of the idea of practice is important to the understanding of courage that I will lay out below. I must qualify my use of the word “guts,” also in my title. I used it because it was part of a direct quotation and this friendly colloquial 132

Guts Is a Habit


shove was important to my own early “practice of courage.” As a con¬ ceptual tool, however, the term has limitations. This is not because it is slang, but because “guts” in the sense of intestinal fortitude and its syn¬ onyms of backbone, heart, nerve, spunk, pluck, and balls allude spe¬ cifically to physical courage and connote fearlessness as well as the appearance of fearlessness to others. Courageous action may, indeed, involve physical feats, but even in these cases, the physical will only be part of the story. A more important limitation of this term is the para¬ dox that the social presentation sense of “guts” can sometimes actu¬ ally thwart the practice of true courage. And finally, fear and courage are often close companions and are certainly not mutually exclusive. “Heroism” is a word often used mistakenly as a synonym for courage. It refers, however, more to the opinion of ones actions by others than to the process that led up to being able to take the coura¬ geous, but only possibly heroic, action. Heroism is a label that pack¬ ages and evaluates an action after the fact. In this paper I hope to strip away post facto labels and packaging to look at the building blocks of courage, those things that make courage possible. “Bravery” has limitations similar to those of “heroism” and “guts.’ It has connotations of bravado, swaggering, and display. To some degree it is a posture. The audience in bravery is implicit. Whereas heroism is a kind of external label, bravery might be seen as a selfreferential, self-conscious claim of heroism, with the same kind of limi¬ tations, diverting us from our true topic. So I am left with tire word “courage” and its connotations of heart, spirit, intention, desire, liveliness, and confidence.3 This word suits my purpose very well, as I want to argue that courage is multidimensional and that it is the result of a process that engages many parts of the self. Although courageous acts often involve a connection to the world, to institutions, or to others, the ability to be courageous and actions that are courageous begin and end with the self. Let me lay out the skeleton of my argument about the practice of courage and courage as a practice. Then I will introduce some narra¬ tives about courage that I hope will put meat on the bones of my thesis. Even though it now appears that some individuals are bom more extroverted and more prone to take risks than others, perhaps making it easier for them to take bold action, people are not bom with courage. Courage is not a genetically grounded personality trait like shyness or sociability. Nor is it an emotion such as fear or the absence of emotion


Courage Every Day

such as fearlessness.4 Neither is courage an acquired character trait that abides in a person s “nature,” like the virtues of honesty or faithfulness. This is not to say, however, that courage does not interact with char¬ acter traits or virtues. Yet unlike the other classical virtues, courage can¬ not be imagined in the abstract or measured against an ideal. Courage exists in application. It is an action, not an attribute. It is an action even in the paradoxical form of restraint, as in refraining from acquiescence with evil. As I asserted above, courage is the end result of a complex inter¬ nal process. The possibility of courageous action is something that can be enhanced and developed through practice. Sometimes this practice takes the form of preceding courageous acts. Sometimes it takes the form of exercising some of the building blocks that make courage pos¬ sible. Sometimes, and this is a central idea in this paper, practice takes the form of what we would conventionally call failures of courage. I argue that if we were to dissect an episode of courageous action, we would find a combination of the following preexisting mental and spiritual labors (although not necessarily in this order) making the courageous action possible: inner honesty consciousness of choice vision of the courageous action intention decision to act5 By inner honesty, I mean self-evaluation that is devoid of denial, illusion, and defense. By consciousness of choice, I mean the rejection of passivity. Some people might call this agency. I think that con¬ sciousness of choice often results from an ability to reframe ones inter¬ pretation of “reality” or circumstances. Consciousness of choice, of course, plants the seed ol a vision ol the courageous action. Here I am arguing that creative imagination is part of this complex process of becoming courageous. Imagining what courage would be in a specific instance is a form of practice. This step is part of what makes courage different from a spontaneous bold reaction to immediate danger, often understood as physical courage.6 One is an action; the other is a reac¬ tion. Intention might also be thought of as commitment. I think of intention as the transition from a static to a kinetic posture. This shift takes place when one identifies with or internalizes the vision of coura-

Guts Is a Habit


geous action. The self is now attached to this vision. Finally comes the decision to act. This is when all of these pieces come together and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. I would now like to turn to some examples to breathe life into this model of the building blocks of courage. All of the examples come from two books I teach in a First Year History and Society Founda¬ tion Course at Babson College—a course named “Memories, Stories, Histories: Constructing Identity in the Twentieth Century.” Two of the eight books I am currently using are Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi and The Things Tlieij Carried by Tim O’Brien. From these I will take my examples.

PRIMO LEVI: CERTAIN HABITS OF THE HUMAN MIND Primo Levi was a young Jewish Italian chemist when he was cap¬ tured and sent to the slave labor death camp at Auschwitz in Febru¬ ary 1944. Most dramatically, Survival in Auschwitz is a memoir of his experience there until he was liberated—and liberated himself—in January 1945. His preface to this 1947 book tells us, “As an account of atrocities . . . this book . . . adds nothing to what is already known to readers throughout the world on the disturbing question of the death camps. It has not been written in order to formulate new accusations: it should be able, rather, to furnish documentation for a quiet study of the human mind.”7 Levi wants to understand how the common but ran¬ domly distributed idea that “every stranger is an enemy” could become the basis for an entire system of reason, the logical conclusion of which was the death camps. The title of this book in Italian, Se questo e un uomo, is directly translated as: Is This a Man? Levi asks the question, “At what point does a human being cease to be human?” He wants to engage us, the readers, in this question. He studies the process of dehumanization between the perpetrators and the victims and the process by which humanity, for some, is regained. He investigates the minute details of how certain individuals are able to practice their humanity (which, in this context, I would call courage) and the minute details of how this capacity is eroded in other individuals. He also explores the pro¬ cess by which certain people are able to maximize the possibility of survival while others are not. Needless to say, these two processes,


Courage Every Day

maximizing humanity and maximizing survival, are not always in par¬ allel and are even sometimes opposed. Let me provide some illustra¬ tions of his “microscopic” study many of which, I think, are examples of the practice of courage. The washhouses had hygiene posters in them that Levi saw as Teutonic mockery. The posters showed a “good” prisoner stripped from die waist up washing carefully and a bad prisoner “with a strong Semitic nose and a greenish color, bundled up in his ostentatiously stained clothes with a beret on his head, who cautiously dipped a finger into the water of the washbasin. Under the first was written: ‘So bist du rein’ (like this you are clean), and under the second: ‘So gehst du ein’ (like this you come to a bad end).”8 Early on Levi found these instructions bitterly absurd, as washing widiout soap in the cold wasted calories and risked illness. Later on he came to see that while washing in dirty water was pointless for cleanliness and health, it was “important as a symptom of remaining vitality, and necessary as an instrument of moral survival.”9 Levi watched his fellow prisoner, Steinlauf, wash methodically every day. Steinlauf explained “that precisely because the Lager was a great machine to reduce us to beasts, we must not become beasts; that even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to sur¬ vive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the scaffolding, the form of civilization. We are slaves. Deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last—the power to refuse our con¬ sent. So we must certainly wash our faces without soap in dirty water and diy ourselves on our jackets. We must polish our shoes, not because regulation states it, but for dignity and propriety. We must walk erect, without dragging our feet, not in homage to Prussian discipline but to remain alive, not to begin to die.”10 In this anecdote we can see that Steinlauf was able to exercise all the building blocks of courage. Inner honesty: he did not delude him¬ self. “We are slaves. We are condemned to certain death.” Conscious¬ ness of choice: “we have the power to refuse our consent.” A vision of the courageous action: grooming oneself meticulously in brutal con¬ ditions in the total absence ol resources. Intention: refusing consent while appearing to obey. Decision: habitually performing a ritual of personal hygiene every day. At the time he witnessed this ritual and listened to Steinlauf’s rationale, Levi found it irksome to take on Steinlauf s system, think-

Guts Is a Habit


ing it more realistic to have no system, to try to survive contingently moment-by-moment in a contingent world. Later, looking back, he could see that Steinlauf s was a moral and spiritual habit and that Steinlauf was practicing to survive. He was flexing whatever area of choice he could find and maintaining consciousness of it. Levi could not yet see the use of practice, nor could he see the great courage in it. Levi tells us the story of Steinlauf, but he also tells us that he, him¬ self, failed to follow his example. He could not identify with this action. This was an act of defiance, but not a refusal to consent in the sense that Steinlauf was refusing his consent. “No, the wisdom and virtue of Steinlauf, certainly good for him, is not enough for me.”11 However, the quiet drama of this most mundane scene stays with Levi. It becomes part of his study of “certain habits of the human mind.” I suggest that the example of Steinlauf as well as Levi’s failure to follow it become part of Levi’s practice. It becomes part of his cultivation of inner hon¬ esty and consciousness of choice. Levi also studies Alberto. He is interested to explain how Al¬ berto managed not to be corrupted in the camp when nearly every¬ one else was. Alberto is my best friend. He is only twenty-two, two years younger than me, but none of us Italians have shown an equal capacity for adaptation. Alberto entered the lager with his head high, and lives in here unscathed and uncorrupted. He understood before any of us that this life is war, he permitted himself no indulgences, he lost no time complaining and commiserating with himself and with others, but entered the battle from the beginning.12 Certainly this took courage. Alberto rejected passivity. He was able to reframe the prison /slave/death camp as a war. This allowed him to see choices, to imagine action, and to dedicate his energy. In the framework of war, potentially equal adversaries are both in a proactive, strategic, creative posture. They have agency; they have choice. In a prison/slave/death camp framework, on the other hand, there are the dominators and the dominated. The former are agents, the latter objects. Alberto’s reframe put him in a kinetic posture. According to Levi, this saved his soul—though not, alas, his life. Understanding Alberto was part of Levi’s practice. Deep into his time in Auschwitz, Levi describes a moment in which there appeared to be no possibility of agency, no memory oi dream of choosing to refuse consent. Yet prisoner saboteurs had miraculously


Courage Every Day

blown up one of the crematoriums in Birkenau. “The fact remains that a few hundred men at Birkenau, helpless and exhausted slaves like our¬ selves, had found in themselves the strength to act, to mature the fruits of their hatred.”13 A prisoner who had allegedly had contact with the rebels was to be hanged as “an example” in front of the prisoners. The German guard gave a long warning and then shouted “Habt ihr verstanden?” (Have you understood?) Levi writes: Who answered “Jawohl”? Everybody and nobody: it was as if our cursed resignation took body of itself, as if it turned into a col¬ lective voice above our heads. But everybody heard the cry of the doomed man, it pierced through the old thick barriers of inertia and submissiveness, it struck the living core of man in each of us. “Kamaraden, ich bin der Letz!” (Comrades, I am the last one!) I wish I could say that from the midst of us, an abject flock, a voice rose, a murmur, a sign of assent. But nothing happened. We remained standing, bent, gray, our heads dropped, and we did not uncover our heads until the German ordered us to do so. The trapdoor opened, the body wriggled horribly; the band began playing again and we were once more lined up and filed past the quivering body of the dying man. . . . To destroy a man is difficult, almost as difficult as to create one: it has not been easy, nor quick, but you Germans have succeeded. Here we are, docile under your gaze, from our side you have nothing to fear; no acts of violence, no words of defiance, not even a look of judgment. Alberto and I went back to the hut, and we could not look each other in the face ... we are oppressed by shame.”14 Levi offers this story as an example of complete defeat, complete passivity and acquiescence, total dehumanization. The resignation of these men had a life of its own almost outside of them. Their individual voices were gone and were replaced by a collective voice that belonged to everyone and no one at the same time. Their selfhood seemed to be gone. To the question, “Is this a man?” Levi would answer, “No, this is no longer a man.” Yet within the shell was a living core, an ember, which was still capable of witnessing courage and of recognizing agency. That is where the shame comes from. Shame is a very simple form of consciousness

Guts Is a Habit


of choice, only it sometimes occurs after the apparently singular and irretrievable moment has passed. The Oxford English Dictionary says that shame is “the painful emotion arising from the consciousness of something dishonouring, ridiculous, or indecorous in one’s own conduct or circumstances (or in those of others whose honour or disgrace one regards as ones own).”15 My contention is that even in this most abject moment of dehuman¬ ization, there remained at least one of the raw materials of courage and that the possibility of courage was still being nurtured by the experi¬ ence of shame. It is not that Levi felt shame in remembering, although he might have. He tells us that he felt shame at the time. The painful emotion came from being able to evaluate his own conduct and find¬ ing a discrepancy between what he had done and what he wished he had chosen to do. At the time he had consciousness of choice and he had the inner honesty to acknowledge it, as his shame reveals. He was practicing. At the time of this episode, Levi was not able to honor the dead by assigning his own meaning to the removal of his hat by removing it before being ordered to do so. He could only obey mechanically. Gradually, Levi’s luck improves. He becomes clever at surviving and he does survive. On the last page of the book, the Russians are com¬ ing from the east and the Germans have fled to the west, abandoning the slave death camp. Levi and his friend, Charles, are carrying the body of their comrade outside to be buried individually, a unique inno¬ vation, mass graves having been the rule until this time. Levi writes, “Charles took off his beret. I regretted not having a beret.”16 Levi’s regret is not shame as in his earlier reflection. It is desire and inten¬ tion. His ability to create meaningful gestures has been restored. This is a man. Levi’s book does not entitle us to be very optimistic about the human race. But that is not the point of it. It is a study of certain habits of the human mind. Among the habits of the human mind that we can examine is the habit of courage. Two important principles emerge from this examination. One is that there is something “fungible” about the practice of courage. In other words, even in the absence of his own courageous actions, the courage of Steinlauf, Alberto, and the prisoner saboteur was available to Levi as part of his practice

practicing inner

honesty, practicing consciousness of choice, practicing creative imagi¬ nation, practicing refraining, practicing intention—as Steinlauf said,


Courage Every Day

“one must want to survive.” It is veiy economical that we human beings can practice courage, can stretch our capacities for courage, and can prepare to be courageous by reflecting on and identifying with the courage of others. This is due to our ability to think and learn symbol¬ ically. When we identify with an action, that action symbolizes or stands for the self we are creating. The process is fluid. Although courage begins and ends with the self, the self is a scavenger, capable of testing, risking, and incorporating new patterns of behavior, often unknowingly bequeathed to us by our fellow human beings. A related second principle is that if we put a narrow frame of time around a particular event, like Levi’s failure to honor the saboteur, we might be inclined to label it as a failure of courage. If however, we reframe, and put this event into a wider time context, contemplation upon this “failure” can become part of a practice of reflection, con¬ sciousness, and agency, important building blocks of possible future courageous action. The shard of past action is broken into still smaller pieces—that is, analyzed— and can become useful in the future in new and unimagined ways. Past courageous action has vitality as a resource as long as it is the subject of consciousness and identification. This men¬ tal and spiritual labor is very different from the kind of remembering that glorifies and thus seals off the vitality of courageous action as a “fungible” or circulating resource.17

TIM O’BRIEN: “I WENT TO THE WAR BECAUSE I WAS EMBARRASSED NOT TO” These two principles of “fungibility” and “reframing” can also usefully be applied to understanding the practice of courage in Tim O Brien’s The Things They Carried. This book, which can be read both as a novel and as a collection of stories, is explicitly about the before, during, and after experiences of a number of U.S. infantry soldiers who fought in Vietnam. Critic Thomas Myers summarizes the book’s main themes to be “the search for a workable definition of courage, the need to transmute terrible memory into a livable present; the responsibility of the living to the dead to keep them alive somehow; the wonderful, terrible nature of storytelling itself.”18 For Tim O’Brien storytelling is practice: it can make the past present, making it vulnerable to a new knowing and feeling. It can make memory vital and useful in nurtur¬ ing the possibility of future courageous action. “Forty-three years old

Guts Is a Habit


and the war is half a lifetime ago and yet remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it for¬ ever. That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future.”19 This is an excellent expression of what I mean by refraining. In his search for a workable definition of courage, O’Brien spends a lot of time clearing away the brush of what courage is not as well as identifying the camouflage that courage often wears. He particularly confronts the masculine burden of appearing courageous to oneself (bravery) and others (heroism) that is so heavy, costly, and relentless and so often at odds with the cultivation of true courage. In the title story, “The Things They Carried,” O’Brien lyrically unpacks the sol¬ diers’ gear from the tangible to the intangible, making the reader feel the unbearable weight. They carried infections. They carried chess sets, basketballs, Vietnamese-English dictionaries, insignia of rank. Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts, plastic cards imprinted with the Code of Con¬ duct. ... They carried the land itself.... They carried the sky.... They plodded along slowly, dumbly, leaning forward against the heat, unthinking, all blood and bone . . . just humping, one step and then the next and then another, but no volition, no will, be¬ cause it was automatic, it was anatomy, and the war was entirely a matter of posture and carriage, the hump was everything, a kind of inertia, a kind of emptiness, a dullness of desire and intellect and conscience and hope and human sensibility.20 In this last line O’Brien has essentially given us the diametrical opposite of the model of courage proposed above. Certainly desire, intellect, conscience, and hope are essential to the being and doing dimensions of practice that have been outlined in this essay. O’Brien shows us in the most understandable way that just showing up required the dismantling of many of the building blocks of courage. He tells us this spiritual dullness and mental inertia is necessary to disguise fear, which is mistakenly thought to be inconsistent with courage. This mis¬ take, of course, is a central tenet of the masculine socialization all these young men had received. He continues to describe the terrible weight: They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice barely restrained, the instinct to run or freeze or hide, and in many respects this was the heaviest burden of all,


Courage Every Day

for it could never be put down, it required perfect balance and perfect posture. They carried their reputations. They carried the soldiers greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed and died, because they were embarrassed not to. .. .21 The secret, the posture, the reputation, and the embarrassment all attend to the perception and judgment of others, displacing power outside the self. O’Brien studies this unwieldy and isolating burden in minute detail. In the story “On Rainy River,” O’Brien’s narrator reflects back twenty-five years to his decision to comply with his draft board and go to Vietnam rather than to Canada as he had been poised to do. He revisits the consciousness of the young draftee and studies the defenses that prevented inner honesty and agency. He had thought of courage as a kind of finite resource to be saved up and spent very care¬ fully, but he can now see that the “capital building” model of courage was a hiding place. “It was a comforting theory. It dispensed with all those bothersome little acts of daily courage; it offered hope and grace to the repetitive coward; it justified the past while amortizing the future.”22 This model of courage does not work when courage is needed. It leads to a moral freeze, the parent to the numbness and inertia that followed. Now, perhaps, you can understand why I’ve never told this story before. ... I couldn’t decide, I couldn’t act, I couldn’t comport myself with even a pretense of modest human dignity.... I under¬ stood that I would not do what I should do. I would not swim away from my hometown and my country and my life. I would not be brave. I could not risk the embarrassment. It was as if there were an audience to my life. . . . Traitor! They yelled. Turncoat! Pussy! I felt myself blush ... and right then I submitted. I would go to the war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was em¬ barrassed not to.”23 At the time, like Levi witnessing the execution of the saboteur, O Brien knew what he should do. He had consciousness of choice and a vision of the courageous action and thus he had shame that he could not make the leap to intention and a decision to act. His courage was incomplete. Here we can see the difference between shame and embarrass¬ ment. Shame refrained is useful memory because refraining opens the

Guts Is a Habit


passage between the past, the present, and the future. Embarrassment seals off agency because the power to evaluate and create meaning is in the hands of others, not the self. In this case the self becomes a reac¬ tor, not an actor, and courage is not possible. We can see from O’Brien’s narrative how gender socialization, secret fear, and embarrassment col¬ luded in thwarting the practice of courage. In the last story of the book, “The Lives of the Dead,” O’Brien takes us back to the early moments of this socialization process. He was in fourth grade in 1956. He deeply loved a little girl named Linda who would soon die of leukemia. She had lost her hair due to radiation treatment. Over the next few weeks Linda wore her new red cap to school every day. She never took it off, not even in the classroom, and so it was inevitable that she took some teasing about it. Most of it came from a kid named Nick Veenhof. Out on the playground, during recess, Nick would creep up behind her and make a grab for the cap, almost yanking it off, then scampering away. It went on like that for weeks: the girls giggling, the guys egging him on. Naturally I wanted to do something about it, but it just wasn’t possible. I had my reputation to think about. I had my pride. And there was the problem of Nick Veenhof. So I stood off to the side, just a spectator, wishing I could do things I couldn’t do. I watched Linda clamp down the cap with the palm of her hand, holding it there, smiling over in Nick’s direction as if none of it really mattered. For me, though, it did matter. It still does. I should’ve stepped in; fourth grade is no excuse. Besides, it doesn’t get easier with time, and twelve years later, when Vietnam presented much harder choices, some practice at being brave might’ve helped a little.24 Tim O’Brien came to understand that he needed practice to be coura¬ geous. He had neglected the “bothersome little acts of daily courage” that might have helped him make the leaps from consciousness to intention to action when Linda was humiliated or when he needed the courage to tolerate looking like a “traitor, turncoat, and pussy” in 1968. As he said, “some practice might have helped.” In the present O’Brien does practice. “As a writer now,” he says, “I want to save Lindas life. Not her body—her life.”25 And he does by remembering with humility, openness, gratitude, and emotional truth.


Courage Every Day

O’Brien saves Lindas life with a story. Her practice of courage is entirely vital and available to us to identify with and incorporate into the building blocks of our own future actions. Her courage is fungible. O’Brien also saves his own life with a story. His failures of courage are useful to his practice of courage. By refraining, by making things present, he exposes the secret of ubiquitous fear, the fear that made him numb and sometimes passive. I was afraid to look. And now, twenty years later, I’m left with faceless responsibility and faceless grief. . . . What stories can do I guess is make things present. I can look at things I never looked at. I can attach face to grief and love and God. I can be brave. I can make myself feel again.26

CONCLUSION: PEDAGOGY OF COURAGE What Primo Levi and Tim O’Brien and other authors we read teach my “Memories, Stories, and Histories” students and me is that our humanity is fragile and that we must practice to be courageous. No small action in this area, even tipping a hat, is wasted. O’Brien’s story of his failure to perform the bothersome little daily acts of courage that he feels might have helped him is quite likely more useful to us in establishing our practice than the story of one hundred successes. These shards of mundane practice are invaluable, as I hope this excerpt from a student journal shows: Before this class unfortunately if a friend did make a rude com¬ ment about a Jew, black, lesbian or whatever it was, I would prob¬ ably keep it inside of myself that what he is doing is wrong. But now that I realize what people went through, for example in “The Sundial’ (by Duba) and Dorothy Allison, I now am going to try to express my feelings more to my friends and hopefully it will change their mind just a bit.27 It is heartening to see in this short journal entry all the building blocks of courage. Inner honesty: the writer is able to critically describe his earlier behavior. Consciousness of choice: he can see that both silence and speaking up were choices but that he chose silence. Vision of the courageous action: he knows clearly and specifically what the new behavior looks like. Intention: he identifies with and is committed

Guts Is a Habit


to the new behavior. The last block, the decision to act, can only be present in the specific instance of application. The student is both re¬ fraining his own experience and internalizing the example of others. He is practicing. We can only hope that this practice becomes a habit.

NOTES 1. This essay is dedicated to Harriet Lansing, who practices every day. 2. Oxford English Dictionary, 2d. ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989). 3. Ibid. 4. For an extensive discussion of the distinction between cowardice and courage see Douglas Walton, Courage: A Philosophical Investigation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), pp. 81-82. 5. This working model is deeply influenced by the insights of Harriet Lansing, especially into the role of the intellect in the nurturing of courage. I was also influenced by Wayne Jennings’ model of personal change as related to me by Harriet Lansing. 6. See Walton, Courage, pp. 97-99, for a discussion of courage, brav¬ ery, and intrepid action. 7. Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz (New York: Touchstone Books, 1996), p. 9. 8. Ibid., p. 39. 9. Ibid., p. 40. 10. Ibid., p. 41. 11. Ibid. 12. Ibid., p. 57. 13. Ibid., p. 149. 14. Ibid., p. 150. 15. Oxford English Dictionary, 2d. ed. 16. Levi, Survival in Auschwitz, p. 172. 17. The idea of vitality through human circulation comes from Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (New York: Vin¬ tage Books, 1983). 18. Thomas Myers, “Tim O’Brien,” in The Dictionary of Literary Biog¬

raphy, vol. 152, ed. James Giles and Wanda Giles (Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale Group, 1995), pp. 140-57. 19. Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried (New York: Broadway Books, 1990), p. 38. 20. Ibid., pp. 14-15. 21. Ibid., p. 21.


Courage Every Day 22. Ibid., pp. 39^0. 23. Ibid., pp. 57, 59. 24. Ibid., pp. 233-34. 25. Ibid., p. 236. 26. Ibid., p. 180. 27. Chris Patrinos, unpublished student journal. Spring 1998.

Author Index

Aristotle, 18, 36, 44, 48, 55, 65-67, 69-71, 76-78 Augustine, 41 Aurelius, Marcus, 36 Averroes, 47-48

Hobbes, Thomas, 45, 49 Hoby, Sir Thomas, 3, 54-55, 57-59, 61 Hocking, William Ernest, 36 Horace, 50

Baldwin, James, 113 Berrigan, Daniel, 5, 8, 94-101 Brague, Remi, 3, 43-53

Ivanhoe, Philip, 4-5, 7, 65-82

Calvin, John, 39 Castiglione, Baldassare, 54-56, 61 Darling-Smith, Barbara, 1-10 Desmond, William, 1-2, 3, 8, 11-29 Ellis, Joseph, 105 Ellison, Ralph, 111-12 Elyot, Sir Thomas, 3, 54-55, 57-59, 63 Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 43 Epicurus, 49 Farabi, 48 Galileo, 49 Glazer, Nathan, 110

James, William, 36, 37 Kant, Immanuel, 23-24, 43, 105,110 Kierkegaard, Spren, 40, 94 Kipling, Rudyard, 33-34, 35 Levi, Primo, 7, 135-40,142, 144 Lucretius, 49 Machiavelli, Niccolo, 58-62 Mansfield, Harvey, 104-5, 106 Marx, Karl, 31 Mengzi, 4-5, 7, 67-78 Munro, Donald, 71 Neville, Robert, 6-8, 119-31 Newman, John Henry Cardinal, 94 Niebuhr, Reinhold, 38 Nietzche, Friedrich Wilhelm, 3, 12, 16, 18, 26-29, 37, 46-47, 49-51

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 11-12, 28 Heidegger, Martin, 12 Hill, Geoffrey, 3, 54-64

O’Brien, Tim, 7, 135, 140-44 Outlaw, Lucius, 5-6, 102-18 147


Author Index

Pascal, Blaise, 49, 51 Peck, Scott, 37 Plato, 26, 30, 44-45, 47-49, 59 Platt, Katherine, 7-8, 132-46 Plotinus, 44 Randall, John Herman, 38 Rouner, Leroy, 2-3, 6, 8, 30-42 Salustios, 44, 50 Shakespeare, William, 3-4, 14, 16-17, 54, 56-64 Spinoza, Benedict, 12, 15

Tillich, Paul, 2, 3, 30-32, 34-42, 43,51 Tocqueville, Alexis de, 104-5, 106 Van Norden, Bryan, 71-73 Wallace, James, 71-74 Welsing, Frances Cress, 103-4 Whitehead, Alfred North, 37, 94 Wildman, Wesley, 129 Winthrop, Delba, 104^5, 106 Wordsworth, William, 15 Xinyan, Jiang, 71-73

Taylor, John, 4-6, 8, 94-101 Thurber, James, 121

Yearley, Lee, 71

Subject Index

African-Americans, 5-6, 103-8, 110-11, 113 124-26, 144 Anglo-Americans, 5-6, 102-7, 110 anxiety, 31, 37, 41 asceticism, 46 Asian-Americans, 126

faith, 30-31 fear, 5,19, 36-37, 45, 49-50, 56, 65, 71-75, 76-77, 102-3,106-7, 108, 111-13,133 femininity, 126 friendship, 36, 119

Being, 2-3, 13-29, 30-32, 41, 42, 44, 50, 52 bravado, 67, 84, 133 bravery, 83, 85-86, 88, 133, 141

gay/lesbian issues, 6, 124-26, 144 God, 1, 2-3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 25-26, 28, 29, 32, 33, 36, 38, 39-42, 90, 94-97, 99-100, 104, 120,

Chinese philosophy, 38 Christianity, 2-3, 24, 30-42, 44, 46, 57, 62, 91, 94, 96, 100-101, 130 civil rights movement, 110 Civil War (American), 5, 7, 21, 84-85, 88-90,106-8 communism, 86, 109

129-31 Good, 3, 4, 44, 50, 52, 68, 77 guilt, 30-31, 37-39, 41

danger, 56, 69, 75 death, 2, 20, 22, 25-26, 31, 32, 36, 37, 39, 51, 65, 74-75, 96, 98,

habituation, 8, 69, 70, 77, 132-45 heroism, 6, 7, 120-23, 124, 133, 141 honesty, 3, 8, 46-47, 49, 93, 134, 136, 139, 142, 144 honor, 4, 67-68, 84, 95, 139 hope, 6, 8, 41,100, 114,141, 142, 144-45 humanism, 2, 35-36, 106-8, 111-13

119-20 despair, 1, 8, 31, 32, 37, 96

Islam, 38, 130

duty, 4, 8, 84-85, 91 Judaism, 38, 46, 101, 110, 130, 144 Enlightenment, 47, 110 Epicurean philosophy, 50 ethical self-cultivation, 4, 70-71, 76-78,132-45

King, Martin Ludier, Jr., 67, 94 loneliness, 2-3, 8, 30, 40-42, 128-31

ethics, 22, 32, 66 149


Subject Index

love, 1, 2, 6-7, 8,15, 35, 39, 72-73, 98, 119, 129-31, 143-44

Reason, 35, 106, 110 reproduction, 51-52

magnanimity, 4, 55, 59, 64 martial courage, 3-4, 36-37, 48, 65-66, 70, 76, 77-78, 84-87 masculinity, 16, 18, 19-20, 126, 141-42 meaninglessness, 31, 32, 37, 126-27, 129 metaphysics, 3, 32, 43, 51, 52, 121 modernity, 3, 44-47, 49, 110 morality, 4, 46-47, 69-70, 93, 112

salvation, 34, 39, 41 science, 49 self-affirmation, 12-15, 23, 31, 40,51 self-knowledge, 57 serenity, 1 sin, 30-31, 37-42 Socrates, 28, 30, 34 spiritual practice, 8, 132-33, 137 Stoicism, 2, 24, 32-36, 41-42 truth, 49

Native North Americans, 103 nature, 3, 49-50, 98, 101, 126-27 neo-Buddhism, 32-33 neo-Hinduism, 32-33 nonviolence, 67, 101 nuclear disarmament, 8, 96-97, 99 pain, 1, 2, 15, 32, 35-36, 41, 48 political philosophy, 45-46, 106 pragmatism, 37 probity, 46-47, 49

Twelve-Step movement, 1 United States democracy, 5-6, 102-3, 106-8, 111-14 virtue, 4, 30, 43-45, 61, 64, 65-66, 75, 76-78, 89, 93, 130 war, 4-5, 21, 26-28, 83-93, 94-101 Western philosophy, 65 will, 11, 13-14, 26-27 World War I, 86

Quakers, 105, 107

World War II, 21, 83, 86-88, 92-93

racism, 5-6, 103-8, 110-13

Yugoslavia, 109-10