I passed a university bus this morning, and emblazoned on its side was the slogan “Driven to be Unstoppable.” All of the university’s busses presently sport such bumptious sentiments as part of an ongoing “national reputation campaign.” The eponymous slogan of this campaign is “Fearless on Every Front,” and the obvious purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness (and money) with some lively tub thumping.
The slogan is not absolutely true, of course, since it is fear that causes tubs to be thumped, and national reputation campaigns to be undertaken. The university is obviously afraid of what will happen if it is not more widely noticed. And in those quarters where it does not suffer from obscurity, the university is also, and just as obviously, afraid of a bad reputation.
Thus, taken at face value, the slogan “fearless on every front” is what logicians call a self-refuting proposition. To assert the slogan is to demonstrate its falsity.
You may waive this away as pedantic logomachy, and you may be right in doing so, but there is a deeper problem in this claim to comprehensive fearlessness. A man who fears nothing necessarily cares for nothing, since fear is an anticipation of harm to some good. The brave three hundred at Thermopylae were not fearless, since their bravery presupposed a profound fear of what would happen to Greece, and the honor of Sparta, if the Persian army made it through that pass.
It should be needless to say that wise and learned men have written a great deal about the virtue of courage, and have taken pains to distinguish true courage from qualities such as audacity or recklessness, which have a semblance to courage, but are essentially different. A courageous man does not “loose heart” in the just defense of that which he rightly fears to lose. He is not devoid of fear (i.e. “fearless on every front”), but rather fears what it is right to fear, and braves what it is right to brave.
If we dig into the fine print of the Fearless on Every Front campaign, we find that the university is not, in fact, fearless on every front, and that its fears are not restricted to fear of obscurity and fear of a bad reputation. The fine print explains that this “national reputation campaign” is designed to draw attention to the ways in which “Texas A&M is fearlessly addressing society’s most critical problems” and “fearlessly pursuing knowledge and excellence.”
From which it follows that Texas A&M fears a society in which these critical problems are unaddressed, and in which knowledge and excellence are unpursued. This is all well and good, but it is not comprehensive fearlessness. Comprehensive fearlessness implies apathy, not courage, since any eventuality is equally welcome to the man who fears nothing.
The man who is fearless on every front may fear nothing because he has taken the Stoic doctrine of απαθεια to its logical conclusion of utter indifference. Or he may simply be a fool.
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It seems to me that the slogan “driven to be unstoppable” expresses the same idea that Friedrich Nietzsche expressed with the phrase “will to power,” and that St. Augustine expressed with the phrase libido dominandi. It is a confirmation that Thomas Hobbes was right to say,
“I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.” Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan1.11.
I think Hobbs’ diagnosis is correct. Every natural man aspires to absolute despotism, or, if you like, is “driven to be unstoppable.” Every one of us has dreamed of a world in which our will is law, which is to say a world in which our will is not “stopped” by supervening laws of nature, morality, the state, or religion. Nietzsche gives the name superman to anyone who not only dreams of such a world, but is unstoppably driven to realize that world. St. Augustine calls this same man a sinner. In the philosophy of Hobbs, he is called a savage.
It should be needless to say that wise and learned men have written a great deal about the nature and exercise of human will. Until Nietzsche and the modern age, these wise and learned men viewed the will with grave suspicion, and advised that it be “stopped” in any number of ways. There were, of course, many unlearned men for whom “Driven to be Unstoppable” would have been a suitable motto. Genghis Kahn, for instance. And, looking a little higher than men, there is Satan. He was really “driven to be unstoppable,” so driven, in fact, that he declared it “better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.”
Wouldn’t that make a handsome slogan on the side a university bus!
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You may think that I am indulging in the worst sort of carping criticism, and that I am simply making hay out of advertising slogans that should be treated like the insincere folderol that they actually are. You may be right, but I have two repulsive stacks of papers to grade, and my drive to tap out carping criticism is well-nigh unstoppable just now.
But then again, you may be wrong, and these slogans may be omens of ill portent. Taken at face value, they absolutely repudiate the Great Tradition, with its subtle understanding of courage and its skeptical attitude towards the will. They exhibit a withering contempt for just about everything that wise and learned men have written for hundreds years, and would seem themselves to be expressions of Satanism. If you prefer the word Modernism, you’ll hear no objection from me, since the two words are synonymous.
When a medieval seat of learning chose its motto, it aimed to express Christian humility (i.e. fear of the Lord) in the scholarly language of Latin. For instance, Oxford University:
Dominus illuminatio mea
(The Lord is My Light)
When a modern seat of learning chooses its motto, it aims to express Satanic audacity (i.e. Will to Power) in the huckster language of Madison Avenue.